By Max Brown
Watch out baseball, there’s a new powerhouse in town. As of recently, the San Diego Padres have made strides in improving their already impressive roster to contend with the National League West and Major League Baseball as a whole.
For years, the team to beat in the NL West has been the Los Angeles Dodgers, who in 2020 marked their eighth consecutive divisional title and went on to win the World Series in a year that would be forever marked by a shortened season due to COVID-19. Of course, there have been a few breaks in the Dodger’s divisional dominance over the last few years — Who can forget the reign the San Francisco Giants had with the help of Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum? Or the fateful years in the 1990s and early 2000s when the Rockies team aptly nicknamed the “Blake Street Bombers,” manned by Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki, grabbed the division by its neck. But the Padres have not been one of those teams. The last time San Diego won the NL West was in 2006, and many of their playoff runs have been short lived. The Friars are on the list of teams never to have won a World Series. However, with notable pitching additions this offseason, multiple allstars and a flashy Dominican shortstop looking to change the culture of baseball altogether, America’s Finest City might just have a chance to run away with the pennant in 2021.
The Padres showed their strength in 2020, and it looked like they might run away with the NL West early in the season. Finishing with a 37-23 record in the shortened season, San Diego fans had nothing but excitement for the years to come. The Padres secured themselves the number four seed in the NL playoff race, and breezed by the St. Louis Cardinals in a five-game series. Ultimately, it would be the Dodgers that proved to be their downfall. The showdown in Southern California resulted in Los Angeles sweeping San Diego in the first three games of a five-game series.
Still, the Padres scored two of the top five NL MVP finalists, with third baseman Manny Machado coming in third and the hotshot shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. coming in a close fourth. For what seemed like the entire sixty-game season, all the MLB could talk about was Tatis Jr. Just one of many of the fantastic shortstops in this generation, Tatis and his bleached dreadlocks took the league by storm. He finished second in home runs, with a .277 batting average and an impressive .366 OBP. With an impenetrable defense full of stars like Eric Hosmer, Austin Nola, Trent Grisham and Will Meyers all around him, Tatis is hardly the only star.
What’s more impressive about what the Padres have done with their roster is who they have acquired in the off season. Headlines broke when Major League Baseball announced a trade had been made by the Padres to acquire right-handed Japanese all-star, Yu Darvish. The baseball world lost its mind when the league again announced that San Diego had also acquired Blake Snell from the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays. Snell was one of the big reasons Tampa Bay had made it so far into the postseason in 2020. The Rays seemed to have endless pitching, but in the end succumbed to outstanding performances by a stacked Los Angeles Dodgers team. The Friars also picked up former Astro Dallas Keuchel. While Keuchel’s reputation may be tarnished while being on the Houston team that notably cheated during the 2017 and 2018 playoff season, his stuff on the mound is hard to match, and is a formidable foe for any batter stepping into the box.
This year, the Padres could have enough arms and overall talent to beat the Dodgers and the rest of the league. In a game that is ever-revolving around pitching and how deep teams can go into their bullpens during the postseason, the Padres have a shot of finally being on top of the competitive National League. The Padres exemplify a movement in baseball in which teams are starting to do more with less. Even though the Dodgers took the crown last year for the first time since the 80s, they did it with a total of $79 million in Opening Day contract deals. San Diego, by comparison, only spent $59 million. These fast-moving teams like the Padres sign quick deals during the offseason and bolster their roster for the near future instead of the long run. In their minds, they’ll have a shot to make a run at the playoffs in the the upcoming seasons, instead of maintaining dominance for the next twenty.
These lower contract deals mean that San Diego can spend its money elsewhere, like on it’s farm system. MLB ranked the Padres as having the best minor league programs in baseball in 2019 before the start (and eventual delay) of the season. Eleven of these athletes were ranked in the top 100 of major league baseball’s top recruits for that season. A Major League team’s farm system is arguably the most important aspect of the organization as a whole. Unlike the NFL or NBA, where drafted players see professional action during their rookie seasons– drafted players in the MLB have to work their way through an extensive minor league system, climbing the ranks and hopefully being called up to The Show someday. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddock who made notable differences in the Padres impressive record last season both were brought up from the team’s double A affiliate, the Amarillo Sod Poodles.
The biggest question for San Diego will be how they respond to their success in a short and unpredictable season as 2020 was. The team may come out to be the biggest story in the National League for a second straight year, posting numbers unheard of and finally ousting the Dodgers as most fans would hope. Or– the team could be just as average as they have been for most of their tenure as a major league team. The Major League season is unmatched by any other sport– and 162 games is a grind for even the most elite athletes. Even though the Padres has a fantastic run in the shortened sixty game season, they’ll have to put together a better one in 2021 with enough stamina to secure a high seed in the playoffs.