Last season, I picked the Texas Rangers as the most disappointing team of the 2020 MLB season, even though the Colorado Rockies, Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies were also painfully disappointing to watch in a 60-game sample.
This year, however, there is a near unanimous selection, and it belongs to the San Diego Padres. The second-best option was the New York Mets, but the Padres had loftier expectations in mind from the start. Their star power was so massive that some people picked them to win their first ever World Series in a division where they were expected to trade blows with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL crown.
San Diego could blame their lost season on the Giants becoming elite out of nowhere or the Cardinals winning 17 straight games in September, but neither of those reasons come close to fully explaining the colossal failure that the Padres had this year. It goes much deeper than that.
There’s no official start to this major letdown. San Diego returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 last year and got their revenge on the Cardinals for the 2006 NLDS. After defeating them in the NL Wild Card Round two games to one, they got swept by the talented Dodgers, but the potential was bright for this team.
With that potential in mind, the front-office, led by GM A.J. Preller, went all-in over the offseason to one-up their Southern California rivals and the rest of the NL.
The Padres made most of their blockbusters during the heat of the offseason and the winter meetings. San Diego had a strong rotation in 2020 and only made it stronger by trading for Cubs ace Yu Darvish, 2018 AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell and San Diego native Joe Musgrove. Getting both Darvish and Snell to set up the rotation to be one of the top five in the league, while Musgrove became part of the added depth (not like he would pitch the franchise’s first no-hitter or anything).
The biggest free agent pickup for the Padres was getting Ha-Seong Kim on a four-year $28 million deal to provide more infield depth. The biggest deal San Diego made overall was extending Fernando Tatis Jr. for 14 years and $340 million effective immediately.
With their roster set, the Padres could focus on their main goal: winning. San Diego started out slow with a 15-12 record in April before jumping ahead of the pack with a 19-9 May that saw them a half-game behind the Giants. Led by a plethora of breakout superstars, the Padres entered the All-Star break with a record of 53-40, good for third in the NL West and second NL Wild Card spot.
Most things were clicking for the Padres. Tatis was leading the NL in most categories from home runs (28) to RBIs (60). Jake Cronenworth was not having a sophomore slump as he was selected to the All-Star game behind his sensational glove. Manny Machado went back to the All-Star Game; the Darvish trade was looking like a win for San Diego and reliever Mark Melancon was having a career year.
The only thing going against them were injuries. Dinelson Lamet was not the ace he was in 2020 because he was hurt. Everyone else from Tatis to Trent Grisham to Eric Hosmer went on the injured list for a variety of reasons. Although most of these injuries were not long term, they were stunting the potential that San Diego had to be a great team.
The Padres knew they needed reinforcements at the trade deadline. Especially with all the injuries they faced, they needed starting pitching. They couldn’t call up top pitching prospect Makenzie Gore yet because he was underperforming in the minor leagues. San Diego needed a solution.
The big move they had in mind was picking up Max Scherzer, who was vying for the milestone of 3,000 strikeouts. As it was the final year of his seven-year deal and the Washington Nationals were struggling, a trade was imminent.
Their plan was working as several writers were reporting that Scherzer was heading to the Padres in a blockbuster deal. Here’s the problem: the deal never went through. San Diego did not fret because that probably meant Scherzer was going to stay in Washington. However, Scherzer got traded to the Dodgers alongside all-star Trea Turner in a mega deal that altered the league.
The best move the Padres could make was picking up All-Star Adam Frazier from the Pittsburgh Pirates while trading away small parts of the prospect pool, but even he regressed in the second half, hitting just .267 in San Diego compared to his .324 batting average in the steel city.
From there, it fell apart. The Padres went 10-15 in August, but it kept getting worse. When Machado yelled at Tatis saying that “it’s not all about you”, there was a feeling that the season was over. The Padres prematurely ended their alleged title season with a 7-20 record over September and early October.
By the time the season came to an end, the Padres’ main role in their marquee rivalry against the Dodgers was playing spoiler to their division hopes instead of vying for the playoffs. Before the NL Wild Card game led to the first-ever Dodgers-Giants postseason matchup, manager Jayce Tingler got the boot for letting the fans down despite most issues being out of his control. I feel bad for him, but the fans were ready to put him on a stake for the team’s colossal failures and the Padres had no choice but to cut him.
Overall, a 79-83 record and third place in the NL West is something no one saw coming from the perennial World Series contenders. They had the pieces to be dominant. Tatis had a 40-homer season and Darvish had 199 strikeouts. Melancon led all of baseball in saves with 39. They just could not survive the other two NL West teams in California nor themselves.
Despite all these failures and shortcomings from the Padres, we should not be surprised with this outcome. In fact, we should treat it like the Mets and Phillies and call it a disappointing reality. What if I told you that this was not the first time that we have experienced this from the Padres?