So this is less fun than I think we all immediately expected. After an enthralling debut performance last Wednesday in which the new-look San Diego Padres showed off all their flashy new acquisitions in a win over the Rockies, the team has since gone on a five-game losing streak. They fell in the last meeting of that Colorado series on Thursday, got swept out of Los Angeles by a pissed off–looking Dodgers squad, and then, given ample opportunity to reverse course back home against the Giants, couldn’t score a measly run in a 1-0 defeat.
It wasn’t that the Padres played horribly last night—Blake Snell worked his way out of multiple jams in a strong 5.2 innings, the bullpen only let one runner reach base, and Juan Soto made a brave, painful-looking catch out in right field. The difference between a win and a loss was just a few small plays, specifically Manny Machado’s tape-measure single in the fourth, which just missed leaving the yard, and the brilliant San Francisco execution on this play at the plate, which got Brandon Drury called out after a review (much to the chagrin of those in the bleachers).
But even if Monday was an unlucky failed chance at reversing momentum, the previous four days were nothing but ugly beatdowns, as uncharacteristically janky starts from pitchers like Mike Clevinger and Joe Musgrove combined with weakened bats from everybody except Soto. After a flashy fireworks show on Wednesday, the Padres have scored just seven runs in their last five, with none of them coming by way of the dinger. Not that they seem to be all that worried.
It is of course a disappointment that what is on paper the freshest and most intriguing team in baseball is slumping. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and this underwhelming stretch could weigh down the excitement and optimism that surround this team. The Padres, after all, did everything they could to try and put together a roster worthy of the Dodgers, and in their first challenge they got flattened like flies by the perennial windshields of the NL West.
But Machado’s confidence is not misplaced. Even with a banged-up and lesser roster for most of the year, and even with this very recent ugliness, the Padres still hold a playoff spot, sitting one game up on the Brewers in the final wild card. Even with just a marginal improvement—and with the pending return of Fernando Tatís Jr. on top of the expected rebounds from their other stars, a marginal improvement seems pretty likely—their place in the postseason is fairly secure. In the old days, with just the one wild card, they’d already be feeling anxious about chasing down the Braves, but the goal for the Padres in the final third of the season is to simply not be the worst team out of themselves, Atlanta, Philly, and Milwaukee. Seems easy enough.
And once they get to the playoffs, just as they could be sapped of all their power in stretches like this past long weekend, they could see each of their guys play to their full potential, which would slice apart almost any squad unlucky enough to meet them in a series. The baseball schedule is a marathon whose weeks blur together as the season marches on, but its titles are won in bursts of greatness, and San Diego is still better equipped than most to achieve those bursts in October. While having a team that dominated immediately after upgrading would have been the coolest possible outcome, the Padres’ ceiling remains basilican.