The San Diego Padres blew it again on Saturday night, losing even more ground on the team currently occupying the second wild card spot in the National League. San Diego starter Yu Darvish pitched a gem, and a flurry of hits in the fourth put the Padres up on the Cardinals 2-0 for much of the game, but the shaky-of-late relief pitcher Emilio Pagan arrived in the eighth to allow St. Louis a double, a sac fly, a walk, and a home run. Those few batters were enough to win the Cardinals the game, 3-2, and clinch this three-game weekend series against their wild card rivals. The final score, meanwhile, forced San Diego to fall 2.5 games back of St. Louis with just 14 games left in their season.
The big story from this game is not the final, but the middle. And it’s not what happened on the field, but what went down in the Padres dugout in the fifth inning. After Fernando Tatis Jr. struck out looking on a pitch that looked fine, he reacted with a kind of stunned exhaustion, dramatically standing in place in the batter’s box for several seconds before slowly trudging his way back to the dugout. Just a few moments later, Padres manager Jayce Tingler was thrown out of the game—not in a scene-making ejection, but the kind that happens automatically when you chirp about balls and strikes.
In the aftermath of this sequence of events, all the bad feelings about this disappointing Padres season seemed to flare up in an instant as Manny Machado went off on Tatis, who had slammed his helmet on the bench.
“It’s not about you! It’s not fucking about you!” Machado shouted loud enough for all the fans around the dugout to hear over Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” as San Diego made their way back out into the field for the bottom half of the inning.
The Padres, as if they didn’t have enough to try and explain already, had to do their best to downplay the incident in the postgame.
“It’s not viewed negatively,” Tingler said. “We’re a family. We’re not going to discuss the details, but we care. There’s passion. There’s frustration. Those are all emotions that are natural, and those things happen.”
He added, “I think any time stakes are high and everybody knows what’s at stake, anything can happen. We can have disagreements, but we still love each other, we play for each other, we care about one another, and so when you have those strong emotions on both sides, things happen.”
While not exactly good, there’s nothing inherently disastrous about this moment. Tingler’s right when he says that players can get briefly loud and emotional with each other in the final stretch of a long and grueling season. But the spat is remarkable just for how uncannily on-the-nose it is in symbolizing the state of the 76-72 Padres at this point in September, as a team that could have been the darlings of the NL instead find themselves with just a prayer of extending their season beyond what’s already on the schedule.
At the start of the year, the Padres were ambitious and trendy and projected to top 95 wins, per PECOTA. Coming off the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2006—and a year where they won more playoff games than any other in this millennium—San Diego’s front office added a bunch of enticing arms to what was already a charismatic and dangerous roster, seemingly building the Padres into a serious threat to the Dodgers’ supremacy. (Justin Turner notably said of the Padres back in spring training, “We’re going to get 19 World Series games this year.”)
But the unexpected rise of the San Francisco Giants in the NL West, dips in production from guys like Wil Myers and Machado, and injury problems with last year’s ace Dinelson Lamet (not to mention everywhere else on the pitching staff) have all combined to produce a forgettable year whose postseason hopes are currently hanging by a thread. Baseball-Reference’s playoff odds, which a month ago gave the Padres a one-in-three chance of finding the postseason, now allows the team just the slimmest of hopes—a 2.2 percent likelihood of making the wild card game. That drop has come as San Diego has gone just 23-32 over the second half of this season, and, more recently, 2-7 over their last nine. And if the streaking Cardinals finish off the sweep on Sunday (a real possibility with Jake Arrieta and his 7.05 ERA making the start against them), the Padres’ dream of postseason baseball will almost certainly remain just that.