The San Diego Padres have probably waited too long to find their level, but their recent scorcher has at least raised the possibility that they'll salvage what's been for the most part a profoundly disappointing 2023 season.
The Pads, to the credit of owner Peter Seider, are running the highest payroll in MLB of any team not located in New York City, and along the way they've put to bed to the notion that small-market clubs can't invest in a contention-grade roster. While they've thus far fallen well short of expectations, their struggles have been driven by poor luck and randomness – the kinds of things that tend to get corrected in the subsequent season. Now, though, success in the current year is back on the fringes of the radar.
That's because Bob Melvin's squad going into Friday's slate having won seven games in a row and having gone 13-5 for the month of September. At 75-78, they're the closest they've been to the .500 mark since early August.
That's all well and good from the Friars' standpoint, but the calendar is working against them. The onset of the penultimate weekend of the regular season finds them four games out of final wild-card position in the National League with nine games left on their schedule. They're also behind four teams in that particular queue. Those realities for the Padres yield, according to SportsLine, less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs.
There is, however, at least a sliver of hope, and it lies in the remaining schedule. Here's how the Pads' remaining slate looks:
- Three games at home vs. the Cardinals;
- Three games on the road vs. the Giants;
- Three games on the road vs. the White Sox.
That's an accommodating mix of teams. The Cardinals and White Sox are both bad teams, and the Giants – one of the teams the Padres are pursuing – are now below .500 and 6-13 in September. As well, the Giants haven't clocked a winning month since June.
So in that wild-card chase, the Padres at this juncture are in pursuit of the Giants, Reds, Cubs, and Marlins. Here's how those remaining strength of schedules look like as measured by opponents' average win percentage:
- Marlins: .498
- Cubs: .500
- Reds: .473
- Giants: .546
- Padres: .482
The good news is that the Padres have a (very slight) edge over three of the four teams they're chasing when it comes to remaining schedule. The bad news is, as suggested above, they have head-to-head cracks at only one of those teams.
The other bit of bad news is the tiebreaker situation. MLB, to its profound discredit, no longer indulges in tiebreaker games to decide postseason berths. Instead, they use mathematical tiebreakers so that they can cram as many playoff games into the calendar as possible. For the Padres, this means they would win a potential tiebreaker scenario against the Marlins, Reds, or Giants. However, they would lose a tiebreaker to the Cubs and, should they drop into contention for the last NL playoff spot, the Diamondbacks. All of this means that if the Padres wind up tying the Marlins, Reds, or Giants for the final berth, they're in. However, if they tie the Cubs or D-backs, then they're out. The Padres need all of these teams to falter the rest of the way, but they need the Cubs in particular to falter worse than the rest.
To put this in specific terms, let's explore a couple of hypothetical outcomes for the remaining schedule. We'll leave Arizona out of this since the Padres have effectively no chance of catching them.
If the Padres go 8-1 the rest of the way, that gets them to an 83-79 record. That means they need the following things to happen:
- For the Cubs to go 3-6 or worse the rest of the way;
- For the Marlins to go 4-5 or worse the rest of the way;
- For the Reds to go 4-4 or worse the rest of the way;
- For the Giants to go 7-2 or worse the rest of the way.
If the Padres somehow end the regular season on a 16-game win streak by winning out, that gives them 84 wins. That means they need this to happen:
- For the Cubs to go 4-5 or worse;
- For the Marlins to go 5-4 or worse;
- For the Reds to go 5-3 or worse;
- For the Giants to go 8-1 or worse.
Suffice it to say, the Padres would do well to indeed win their last nine games, even if that's an exceptionally tall order in a sport like baseball. The hopes for San Diego are faint ones, but those hopes are real just the same. Each day will be more telling than the last – such are the margins with which they're working.