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One Step Forward, One Step Back for the Padres

Hovering in the middle of MLB standings, will the team’s talent turn things around in time for the playoffs?
Photo Courtesy of the San Diego Padres, IG

One out, bottom of the fourth, man on second. Tie score in the Padres’ June 10 game against the Oakland Athletics. Pads shortstop and fan favorite Ha-Seong Kim is at the plate. He lashes at a fastball, the bat-on-ball sounding like someone stomped on a bag of chips. Fans at Petco Park erupt as the A’s left fielder watches the ball sail over his head, though he collects it after it caroms off the wall and flings it toward the infield. Those in the stands who jump to their feet only get a better view of Kim getting thrown out at second base.

One step forward, one step back. Such is the story of the 2024 San Diego Padres. 

“It’s been a confusing, back and forth season,” says AJ Cassavell,’s Padres beat reporter. The team has hovered around .500 and have been unable to separate from the pack in a wide open National League wild card race. That’s in large part because, “the star players haven’t been up to their normal standards,” according to Cassavell. The stats bear that out.

Limited by a lingering elbow injury and a recent strain in his hip, franchise cornerstone Manny Machado is having the most difficult season of his illustrious 13-year career. Second baseman Xander Bogaerts struggled before a broken shoulder shelved him indefinitely. Right fielder Fernando Tatís—arguably the most talented player in baseball—played like a mere mortal during the first two months of the season. The Padres’ most productive player by Wins Above Replacement, a metric that quantifies overall value, is outfielder Jurickson Profar, a journeyman signed to a one-year, $1 million deal.

It’s not all bad. It can’t be when a team wins roughly half its games. Cassavell credits this to the “role players who have been really good,” including center fielder Jackson Merrill, infielder and hitting machine Luis Arráez, and reliever Jeremiah Estrada, who as recently as November could have added #OPENTOWORK on his player profile and by June had struck out 13 consecutive batters, an MLB record. “The Padres might have found the best bullpen bargain in baseball,” proclaimed Sports Illustrated

Padres general manager A.J. Preller has long focused on big free agent signings and splashy trades. At last, he found worthy compliments to a high-priced core, and despite Kim’s baserunning mistake it seemed to have all come together against the A’s on Monday, June 10.

Starting pitcher Dylan Cease scattered eight hits across six innings. Tatis scalded a ball that left the yard so fast it belonged on the Autobahn. Second baseman Jake Cronenworth hit a gentler homer, though one that scored a run all the same. Closer Robert Suarez struckout the side in the ninth to end the game. The stars played like stars, and to Padres manager Mike Shildt the 6-1 victory served as “the blueprint for winning baseball games. You get your starter [to] limit damage, then you get an offense that just completely takes relentless at-bats.“

True to form, the Padres didn’t follow that blueprint for very long. After sweeping the A’s in the three-game set, they flew to New York and gave those three games back to the Mets. The Pads then traveled down I-95 to Philadelphia, only to continue scuffling. They won five of the six games prior to heading east, then lost five of six on the road trip. One step forward. One step back.

Still, Shildt stands by his team. “Short-term? We got to figure it out. We need to be a little more consistent, a little better,” he said after a 9-2 loss to the Phillies. “Long-term concern? None. Zero. I know we’re going to end up right where we want to end up, and that is in October.”

Fans appear to share in the belief that their team will make the playoffs. The Padres rank 15th in winning percentage, smack in the middle of MLB’s thirty teams, but rank second in total attendance. It’s as if Padres fans are motivating the role players to step up, and willing the star players to shine again.

“Can we go on a [playoff] run? Absolutely,” says Hugo “Randy” Salgado, a longtime season ticket holder. Salgado and his family are such big Padres supporters his nickname derives from his father’s fandom of legendary Padres pitcher Randy Jones. Salgado’s little brother’s given name? Randy. 

From his seats in right field Salgado sees the struggles of the team’s core, but he also recognizes what could be. “We’re weathering a perfect storm” of injuries and tough scheduling, he says, and making the playoffs “would mean everything to this city, it would mean everything to us fans.”

The team seems to feed off that energy, that belief. In the June 20 matchup against the Milwaukee Brewers, Cronenworth hit a walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, marking the third consecutive home game that the Pads won in the final frame. Petco Park exploded after each game-winning homer, the fan base euphoric over a team that never quits.They don’t call them the Friar Faithful for nothing.

By Brendan Dentino

Brendan Dentino is a U.S. Navy veteran, writer, and public servant based in San Diego. He writes weekly about baseball and politics at Out in Left.

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