Title references this lovely article by Rebecca.
When I was making my predictions for the 2010 season, I was fairly sure of one thing: the San Diego Padres would be cellar-dwellers in the NL West and owners of the worst record in the National League. In 2007, the team was three outs away from a playoff berth multiple times, and won 89 games, but in 2008, the team lost 99 games in an incredibly weak division. They didn’t do a whole lot better in 2009, coming in fourth place in the NL West with a 75-87 record. They scored a pathetic 638 runs.
Going into 2010, the team’s rotation was a bunch of unknowns (probably at least partially my own ignorance) and unproven young players; they’d traded Jake Peavy who, while not at his Cy Young peak, was still a very good pitcher; and they had an offense that could be best described as a “noffense.” (I also stated, multiple times, that the Blue Jays would have the worst record in baseball so if you want to dismiss me as an idiot and stop reading this here, I will understand.)
Well, the 2009 Padres had actually gone 18-11 in September and October. I don’t know if that carried over to 2010 or if they were just better, but the 2010 Padres went an impressive 15-8 in April. Rather memorably, in their home opener, they crushed Atlanta 17-2. They had an eight-game winning streak toward the end of the month. But – whatever, it was just April. The Padres were competing. The Red Sox weren’t. April is weird. This wouldn’t continue. Right?
Oh ye of little faith (Padres, get it, I’m hilarious). From April 20 to September 27, the worst the Padres were out in the division was by only a game. They spent most of that time in first place all by themselves, by as much as 6.5 games – and that was on August 25. And on that aforementioned date, they hadn’t lost more than three games in a row all season.
I was right about their offense. The Padres scored only 665 runs all season, good for 22nd in all of baseball, 12th in the NL, and among such non-contenders as the Dodgers and Oakland. The difference was their pitching. They had a 3.39 ERA, good for second in all of baseball, only 0.03 behind the Giants. They allowed the fewest runs in all of baseball. Most of their pitchers outperformed expectations, both in the rotation (Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, and Jon Garland all posted sub-4 ERAs) and in the bullpen (Heath Bell was great as expected, but guys like Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams came out of nowhere to be flat-out dominant).
Unfortunately for YCPB, that August 25th date was the beginning of the end for the Padres. They beat Arizona 9-3, then lost to them 11-5 the next day. That was August 26, and they wouldn’t win again until September 6, ten straight losses. Crazily enough, they were still in first place after the streak ended, but a 6-game lead in the division had dwindled down to just one, and they lost their lead in the NLW to the Giants soon after. At this point, it was clear that the Phillies were going to win the NL East, leaving Atlanta fighting for a Wild Card spot, in addition to both the Giants and Rockies seriously challenging the Padres for the NL West. There were four spots for two playoff spots; obviously, two teams would be left behind. The Padres had looked like a lock a few weeks earlier, but now their situation was very precarious.
It came down to the last series of the season. The Giants had taken a three-game lead in the NL West, but if the Padres swept them they would win the division due to a tiebreaker. With little momentum, and the Giants absolutely tearing through September, the Padres took the first two games of the series. They just needed to win on the last day and they’d at least get a chance at the postseason. They lost, though, shut out 3-0. They’d gone 90-72 – and if you told me they’d have that record at the beginning of the season, I think I would have laughed in your face – and while that was a success by any measure for this team, it was a disappointment at the same time, because they were one game away from the playoffs. The Padres had gone from a joke to a team where it was a surprise when they didn’t make the playoffs. Baseball is weird. Unpredictable, even.
Where do the Padres go from here? I know I assumed Adrian Gonzalez, their only great offensive player, would be long gone to Boston in July 2010, but he managed to stick around San Diego until December. They got some new infielders, like Jason Bartlett (yes, that trade did eventually go through) and Orlando Hudson. I don’t think the Padres will really compete in 2011 – their pitchers have absolutely no room for error with their offense as it looks now – but then again I thought they’d be the single worst team in the NL in 2010. Like I just said, baseball is unpredictable, and every year some team will emerge from nowhere to surprise us all, in a good or bad way. Sure, it’s easy to despair if you’re, say, a Mariners fan and you expected a lot from 2010 – but on the other hand, you could be an unexpectedly delighted Padres fan. All this unpredictability is at least part of why we keep watching.