Point/Counterpoint: Are the Padres legitimate?

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The San Diego Padres took the MLB trade deadline by storm, making eight total trades in August and four on deadline day alone. The Friars are sitting in second place in the NL West division, 4.5 games out of first place, but they are firmly in a playoff position with the new postseason setup for the shortened season. Now that they’ve added a frontline start in Mike Clevinger, a few bats and a few bullpen pieces, staff writers Jorge Eckardt and Mike Mavredakis ask the question: Are the Padres a legitimate threat to win the World Series? 

San Diego Padres starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz works against the Colorado Rockies in the eighth inning of a baseball game Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Denver. The Padres won 6-0. Photo by David Zalubowski/AP

Mike Mavredakis: After seeing AJ Preller trade away seemingly half their farm system in the past few days, it’s clear that the Padres are pushing in their chips this season. The Los Angeles Dodgers have been at the top of the NL West in each of the past seven seasons, this is San Diego’s chance and they are taking it. The Padres haven’t been to the postseason since they won the division in 2006. That 2006 team was led by a 37-year-old Mike Piazza, 33-year-old Mike Cameron and a young Adrian Gonzalez — just so you have an idea of how long ago that was. 

Looking at this 2020 Padres team, coming into the trade deadline they had eight players on their roster who have been worth at least 1.0 bWAR. No other top NL team has more than four. The first place Dodgers, for instance, have just two players worth at least 1.0bWAR — Mookie Betts and Corey Seager. This team is led by Fernando Tatis Jr., who has easily been the most exciting player in baseball so far this season. He is a vibrant 21-year-old shortstop who is one of the few players in the game that gives me real hope for the future of the game. It also helps that he’s leading the majors in seven offensive categories right now, including home runs and RBIs. He is an absolute stud.  

Jorge Eckardt: I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. As much as I would love to see the Padres make a serious run at the World Series, let’s be honest, they’re still the Padres. The only person I’m actually scared of in that lineup is Fernando Tatis Jr. Everyone else is just wildly overperforming. Wil Myers, at 29 years old, is having the best season of his career by far, as his OPS currently sits over 130 points higher than what he had in 2013 when he won Rookie of the Year. Thirty-year-old Eric Hosmer is right there with him, with his OPS being the best in his career and over 40 points higher than his next best season, 2017. Jake Cronenworth is on pace to have the third-highest OPS of any rookie who will play enough games to put them in Rookie of the Year discussion. Even Manny Machado, who had a previous season high OPS of just over .900, is very close to putting up a 1.000 OPS this season. 

I know what you’re thinking — those are all good things, right? Well, yes, but what I’m saying is their level of success right now is unsustainable. Everyone on that team is playing out of their mind. It’ll be enough to get them into the playoffs, but to actually make some serious noise? I just don’t see it happening. 

MM: That might very well be true; they may be overproducing right now, but they don’t have to overproduce for much longer for them to stumble into a championship. Even if their major performers cool off a bit, they added a considerable amount of talent in the past week.  

They had weaknesses in their rotation, behind the plate, bullpen and DH. They went out and got the best starter on the market in Mike Clevinger, who had been toiling away at the Cleveland Indians alternative site so he will be even fresher than most starters despite it being a shortened season. Clevinger has a 3.18 ERA this year, which would be the highest in his career since he broke into the bigs in 2015.  

San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., left, celebrates with center fielder Trent Grisham, center, as left fielder Jurickson Profar looks on after a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Denver. The Padres won 6-0. Photo by David Zalubowski/AP

Before picking up Clevinger, they decided to trade away Taylor Trammell, which I didn’t love, for Austin Nola and bullpen help. They also acquired a March to October legend, Jason Castro, to use on the other side of a platoon with Nola. I almost forgot — they went out and picked up Mitch Moreland, who would be third in the majors in OPS if he had enough at-bats, with a whopping 1.114 OPS through 23 games. They did all of that without giving up any of their super high-end prospects. 

They are compiling talent for this season, while setting the stage for the rest of their young talent to come through in the next few seasons. San Diego is here now, but they are going to be here for a long time. I think there’s a chance one of Preller’s new assets brings a World Series to the sunny shores of San Diego. 

JE: Sure, they don’t have to keep it up for much longer, but twenty-plus games is no small amount, especially after already riding a hot streak for so long. How often do we see hot streaks last 40, 50 or even 60 games? It’s only natural that they fizzle out at some point, and with this team I just think they peaked too soon. They’re going to be very reminiscent of the 2017 Cleveland team that won 102 games. That team ended the season on an absurd 33-4 run and then proceeded to lose to the Yankees in the ALDS in five games. Clevinger is going to have to relive a very similar experience this season. 

They did also add a bunch of talent at the deadline, I’ll give you that one as well, but I’m not sold on them all being real difference makers. Aside from Clevinger, I’m not completely sold on any of Moreland, Nola, Castro or Rosenthal. They’re solid additions, but none of them are winning you a championship. And who knows if all the time at the alternate site helped Clevinger by keeping him fresh or if it hurt him by making him more rusty. Besides, in a 60 game season, starting pitchers are making 12-13 starts maximum. I don’t think arm freshness will be a problem when the good ones are used to making 25-35. 

The Padres are a good team, don’t get me wrong. They’re just not at that upper echelon of teams that are championship contenders. Think about it like this — everything has gone right for the Padres this season and they’re still four and a half games back of the Dodgers in the NL West. When things inevitably start going wrong, so will the Padres. As much as I want to see those beautiful brown and mustard pinstripes in the World Series (I’m completely serious, their new uniforms and color scheme is one of my favorites in the MLB), it’s a long, tough road ahead I just don’t think they’re built for. 

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