This poor guy in the navy t-shirt was absolutely robbed. He had this Manny Machado two-run home run ball!
It was going to plop right down into his hands. But then Dodgers left fielder A.J. Pollock just leaped up into the middle of the frame to steal it for himself. The incredible action not only preserved a 1-0 Dodgers lead in an eventual 5-2 victory last night, but also created this amazing little mini-drama in the first row.
That tragic trio, unfortunately, reminds me a lot of the San Diego baseball team right now. The fans are the Padres. The ball is the National League playoffs. And A.J. Pollock is … the Reds, I guess? What I’m saying is that the ‘Dres have spent the past month or so completely spiraling out of what was once a ridiculously competitive NL West battle, and now, thanks also to the improvement shown by Cincinnati, they’re not even in prime position for a Wild Card berth.
Here’s how quickly everything has gone topsy turvy for San Diego. On the morning of Aug. 11, they were 66-49, and while the Giants and the Dodgers both had a sizable advantage on them in their stacked division, they retained a 4.5 game lead on the Reds for that last WC spot. Today, on Aug. 25, they are 68-59—including seven losses combined to the lowly Marlins, Diamondbacks, and Rockies—and the Reds are up on them by a game.
Injuries are an easy and not altogether unfair scapegoat in this case. As of two weeks ago, Man-Games Lost’s most recent update had the Padres leading the league in games missed by players due to injury with 1,669, and those have been some key guys, too. Their once-fearsome pitching rotation has been decimated by IL stints from guys like Yu Darvish, Chris Paddack, and too many more. In their desperation, the Padres had to turn to frickin’ Jake Arrieta, of all people, and then even he got hurt. Their top slugger and the leading NL MVP candidate, too, has struggled physically in the dog days, as Fernando Tatis Jr. had to spend the early part of August nursing his shoulder and currently has just one hit and seven strikeouts in his last five games.
This is all a real bummer, not just because Tatis and the Padres were so much fun to watch earlier on as they nipped at the heels of the veteran Giants and the juggernaut Dodgers, but also because they did the right thing and really went for it in recent offseasons. After years of complete irrelevancy, they positioned themselves as the Dodgers’ chief competitors by going out and getting guys like Machado and Darvish and Blake Snell. But now it’s the Giants who have taken on the role of being west-coast troublemakers, and the Padres’ games against the Dodgers are starting to be less about any kind of playoff preview and more about an overmatched team struggling to grab as many wins as possible so they don’t lose more ground on Cincinnati.
“I feel like we’ve talked about it enough,” reliever Emilio Pagán said on Tuesday night. “There’s no need to harp on the negatives that have been the last 14 days or so. It’s up to us to get in there and turn it around. We’ve definitely got the group that can do it. At this point, it’s time to get going.”
This is sometimes how it goes, I guess. Sometimes the injury bug stymies your best and most sincere efforts at putting together a champion, and sometimes the guys you assumed were totally past their prime suddenly reemerge to make you an afterthought. That’s baseball, and, if pressed, I would probably admit that I find comfort in the unpredictability of it all—in the fact that there are always going to be crazy momentum swings that define a season one way or another, and that predicting greatness is still far more difficult than a deep dive into FanGraphs can make you believe. But I liked the Padres, and I loved Tatis. And nothing against the Reds at all, but I was pulling for more postseason chapters in the San Diego-Los Angeles rivalry sooner rather than later. Maybe there’s still time for the Padres to bounce back and regain that old magic, even with their brutal September schedule and the Reds’ fairly easy one. But it isn’t looking good right now.