San Diego Has Season of a Lifetime
It seems like just yesterday, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Player’s Union were going back and forth and back again about whether a season during the pandemic was even feasible. And now we’re heading into the World Series after a 16-team playoff run many weeks later. The Padres’ 2020 season went so fast that it’s hard to reflect on all the good parts.
But if you’re a fan of the San Diego Padres, chances are you’ll remember this year better than most. Let’s recap the one of the best baseball seasons in San Diego history.
Padres Hit the Ground Running
Think back to Opening Day on July 25th. Fans (from a distance) smelled chances for a playoff berth for the first time since 2006. The Padres took the field in an empty Petco Park with hearts full of hope for a 60-game season to go their way. Black Lives Matter t-shirts and masks among players reminded us just how unusual the 2020 season would be. But nonetheless, Opening Day raged with possibility for the Padres.
San Diego started with two wins over the Arizona Diamondbacks. They became one of the only three teams to win their first two games of the season. It was here where fans saw Manny Machado‘s first home run of the season, Chris Paddack’s first shutout start of the year, and tremendous plate discipline throughout the lineup.
The biggest trademark for the Padres this year has to be rallying to win. The Padres had 23 come-from-behind wins this season, the most in the league. The first was back on July 31, when Fernando Tatis hit a two-out bomb in the top of the ninth to tie it up 5-5 against the Colorado Rockies. San Diego would go on to win 8-7, becoming the first team in the MLB with six wins atop the National League (NL) West standings.
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) August 1, 2020
Enter Jake Cronenworth, now a candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year. His two triples and a double, plus his impressive defensive plays, in the first game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 3rd solidified his position in the starting lineup. Fun fact: Cronenworth played every position in the infield aside from pitcher and catcher this season. Anyways, the Padres would go on to beat L.A. 5-4–with a little help from Wil Myers, Trent Grisham and Tatis, who each crushed solo home runs.
Welcome to Slam Diego
Fast forward a few wins and a split-series with the Dodgers later. We’ve reached the part of the season where you may have had to pinch yourself because it seemed too good to be true. The Slam Diego Padres were born, and along with it, the beginning of a new kind of baseball.
Let’s start from the beginning. On Aug. 17, Tatis launched a 3-0 pitch low and away into right field to give the Padres a 14-3 lead over the Texas Rangers. This of course stirred up tons of drama. Many argued that Tatis disrespected the unspoken rules of baseball. Others claimed that this grand slam, and his overall energy as a player, brought the flash and fun that the game so desperately needed. Either way, his swing made history.
FERNANDO TATIS JR. IS THE FACE OF BASEBALL pic.twitter.com/QLEMp0hXOT
The next game, Myers opened the top of the 1st with a grand slam against the Rangers. San Diego would go on to win this one 6-4. Queue another comeback, grand slam win the following night – this time from Machado. Down 3-2 with the bases full in the bottom of the 10th, he blasted a walk-off bomb to deep left field. Keep the ball rolling.
On Aug. 20, the Padres became the first team in MLB history to hit grand slams in four consecutive games. Eric Hosmer smoked one into the right corner bleachers in the 5th inning, and Cronenworth hit a game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th to sweep the Rangers. This wild, crazy and historic night for San Diego marked the mid-way point in the season. More importantly, it showed the world that their lineup was a force to be reckoned with.
— MLB (@MLB) October 2, 2020
Padres Push for Change
One of the bigger moments to be proud of this team didn’t have anything to do with baseball but more to do with fighting for racial injustice. On Aug. 26, the Padres postponed their game against the Seattle Mariners in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake. This team, along with many others across all sports, demanded change within the police system and justice for Black lives.
Every Rose has its Thorn
It’s great to remember these moments of glory, because this team’s efforts this season were quite glorious. But the Padres had their fair share of blunders this season, and boy they weren’t pretty.
Their bullpen’s blown 6-0 lead over the San Francisco Giants on July 29 – which resulted in a loss off a walk-off home run – showed the first signs of concern. Their former All-Star Kirby Yates was supposed to be a strength to their relief corps. Instead, he was a must-replace-immediately kind of closer. Luckily, Drew Pomeranz filled in. Other weak links in their pen needed fixing. Matt Strahm and Craig Stammen, who both allowed crucial go-ahead runs in multiple outings. General manager A.J. Preller did just that at the trade deadline, especially with Mike Clevinger and Trevor Rosenthal.
The second half of the 60-game sprint brought more walk-off wins, another grand slam and dominant pitching. Starter Dinelson Lamet flirted with several no-hitters this season, and earned the number one spot in the pitching rotation until an elbow injury ended his season. Zach Davies’ changeup was deadly all year, and he finished with an impressive 2.73 ERA. Clevinger and Paddack added not only solid starts but also put the Padres in contention with the best long hair of 2020.
Legends Are Born in the Postseason
Ultimately, the best of San Diego’s play this year came in the postseason. For the first time in 14 years, the Padres earned a trip to the playoffs. Their Wild Card Series against the St. Louis Cardinals was also a come-from-behind battle. Without their two aces, Clevinger and Lamet, they used 26 pitchers to cover 27 innings. And again, they did it in style.
Facing elimination in Game Two of the series, Tatis lifted a three-run bomb into left field to bring the Padres within one. Machado tied it up 6-6 with a home run of his own. The next inning, Tatis smashed another one with a bat-flip on top. The Friars went on to force a Game Three, which they won handily 4-0. This series might have caused heart attacks, goosebumps and tears all at once, but San Diego stayed alive nonetheless.
— MLB (@MLB) October 2, 2020
And finally, we have reached the devastating end to the season in the NLDS, against L.A.. Even though the Padres were swept by the only team in the NL with a better record, they fought hard until the end. The Dodgers won with better pitching and stellar defense, but the Padres proved they could finally hang with the top dogs in the NL West.
Even though the year of 2020 didn’t end with a World Series title, this team fired up a city who hadn’t experienced moments like this in over a decade. They brought fun back to baseball, on the field and off. This team was a joy to watch, and the 2021 season can’t come soon enough. Until next year, Slam Diego.
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) October 3, 2020
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images