A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Playoffs


Today I’ll go to my last Padres game of the year. I remember thinking when I bought these tickets back in March that there was a pretty good chance that this game could have playoff implications, that the Padres might be playing some relevant games in late September. Well, that didn’t turn out to be the case, but it will be good to head down to the ballpark nonetheless.

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A funny thing happened on the way to the pennant race. Not so much funny like “LOL”, but more like “my stomach feels kind of funny.” The team that was supposed to give San Diego fans their first whiff of the playoffs in nearly a decade will instead finish about ten games under .500 for the fourth year in a row.

All those trades, all those All-star players coming in. And here we are, with a week to do in the season, and there’s no real change in the won-lost record.

This bites.

What happened? How did a roster with Matt Kemp driving in 100 runs, Justin Upton being the first Padres outfielder in 14 years to hit 25 homers, and James Shields and Tyson Ross becoming the sixth and seventh Padres pitchers in history to strike out 200 hitters in a season, end up with the same record as the team that almost set the record for the worst offense in the history of baseball in 2014?

If you’ve been watching all year, you know the reasons. The starting pitching fell apart, with only Ross putting up an ERA under. 3.85. The middle relief, a major strength last season, has been dreadful. The offense, although significantly improved from last year, is again at the bottom of the list in batting average and on-base percentage.

And the team’s mediocre record at the trading deadline seemed to paralyze the front office, as they failed to make more than a single minor trade, neither adding nor subtracting players, as if they couldn’t decide whether this year was worth continuing to fight for. As it turned out, it was not. And now we’ve got a handful of veterans who will be free agents a week from now.

But the season did provide some entertaining moments. It was fun watching Justin Upton’s easy swing drive balls for extra-base hits. Derek Norris gave the team a toughness we haven’t seen since Ken Caminiti scowled out from under the bill of his cap in the nineties. The end of the season has seen two Padres with plus-plus speed, Cory Spangenberg and Travis Jankowski, stretching singles into doubles and making plays in the outfield that certainly weren’t being made when the starters were Upton, Myers, and Kemp. And the resurgence of Jedd Gyorko as a legitimate power threat has been a big relief.

So now, with a week left in the season, we do what Padres fans do. We go to the ballpark for the sheer love of baseball. We cheer for the home town team, not because a win might be the difference between third and fourth place, but because they have played their hearts out for the last six months. Because they are our guys.

But it’s different at this time of year. During a weekend game, we find ourselves checking the football scores more often than the baseball scores. As baseball fans in other cities, cities like St. Louis and New York, and even Chicago and Toronto, prepare for the excitement of the postseason, the eyes and minds of San Diego baseball fans begin to drift away from baseball, and toward other pursuits. Because a week from Monday, baseball in San Diego will be over until next April.

Another season has passed us by.

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