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COMMENTARY: Brown is back, and so are the San Diego Padres

Fernando Tatis Jr.

Fernando Tatis Jr. Wikipedia.

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

It’s often said that image is everything and if that is true, then the San Diego Padres have become relevant again. The Padres went back to its roots when they first entered Major League Baseball in 1969 and overhauled its team colors and uniform by going with the brown and gold, adding pinstripes to their home and road jerseys for the first time since 2000 and bringing back the “Swinging Friar” patch on the sleeve that was the team’s primary logo from 1969-1983.

The result was a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2006 and the best regular season winning percentage in team history, .616, as the Padres went 37-23. Their record was the third best in 2020, trailing the two World Series opponents. Not too bad for a team that was predicted to finish just above .500 or just below .500. And the fact that this was done in a 60-game season makes no difference. Numbers don’t lie.

Now, if only the Padres can find a way to solve the Los Angeles Dodgers, then they’ll have the National League West Division to themselves for the first time since 2006. It’s been 2010 since the Padres won a season-series over the Dodgers. I mean, that streak of eight straight division titles the boys in blue have can’t last forever, right? At least I can still enjoy the misery of the postseason failures the Dodgers have had prior to this season, not winning the World Series since 1988.

I know, I know, I’ve heard all the jokes and comments from my friends who like to brag about the Dodgers winning the World Series and the Padres haven’t, and it doesn’t bother me. But there was a time when the Dodgers missed the playoffs 14 out of 18 years since their last World Series titles. I guess they were human after all.

But I digress. The success of the 2020 San Diego Padres can actually be traced back to Dec. 19, 2014 when outfielder Wil Myers was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team, 11-player trade. That season, the Padres were active in the offseason, bringing Matt Kemp, Will Middlebrooks, Derek Norris, James Shields, Justin Upton and Jose Valverde on board. Only Myers remains with the Friars and is now the longest-tenured position player as catcher Austin Hedges, who also began his career with San Diego in 2015, was traded to the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 31. He can enjoy his lifetime .198 batting average in 1,232 at-bats there, thank you very much.

One year later, it became a reality that the Padres would be on the verge of something good by about now. The date of June 4, 2016 should be one for fans to remember. That day, the Padres sent underachieving pitcher James Shields to the Chicago White Sox for a top prospect, Fernando Tatis Jr. I guess the Padres had seen enough of Shields, who allowed 40 home runs that season, including one to New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon on May 7. You know, “that guy”, who ended his career one home run.

Immediately, the San Diego radio sports talk shows were taking about the future of the Padres and were projecting Tatis Jr. to be the next Padre inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame after Trevor Hoffman was enshrined in 2014.

The top brass of the Padres kept telling the faithful fans to be patient and trust the process, and it paid off this past season. The past five years have been nothing but drafting good prospects and building the farm system to be among the top five in baseball. They also opened their checkbooks like never before and signed key free agents like first baseman Eric Hosmer in 2018, third baseman Manny Machado in 2019 (remember him, Dodger fans) and making a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers for pitcher Zach Davies and outfielder Trent Grisham, while sending Hunter Renfroe to the Tampa Bay Rays for outfielder Tommy Pham and second baseman Jake Cronenworth, who is in line for winning the National League Rookie of the Year. Mix in the acquisition of outfielder Jurickson Profar from the Oakland Athletics, and San Diego was talking playoffs once the shortened season began in late July.

But it didn’t stop there as the Padres were further committed to winning now and in the future with a slew of trades at the end of August. Exit Hedges (no loss there) and 17 players, two of which are players to be named later and enter first baseman Mitch Moreland from the Boston Red Sox, starting pitcher Mike Clevinger, outfielder Greg Allen and a player to be named later from Cleveland, relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal from the Kansas City Royals, catcher Jason Castro from the Los Angeles Angels, and relief pitchers Austin Adams, Dan Altavilla and Taylor Williams and catcher Austin Nola from the Seattle Mariners.

With a starting rotation of Clevinger, Davies, Dinelson Lamet, a 2014 international free agent signing and Chris Paddack, whom San Diego acquired in a 2016 trade with the Miami Marlins for Fernando Rodney, the Padres are set for bigger and better days.

Then there’s the top pitching prospects in the farm system like 22-year old Anderson Espinoza (2016), 21-year old Mackenzie Gore (2017, third overall) and 20-year old Luis Patino (2016), to name a few. In 2016, San Diego traded relief all-star pitcher Drew Pomeranz to Boston for Espinoza, who has been unable to pitch because of a pair of Tommy John surgeries. The Padres then brought back Pomeranz, who spent last season with Milwaukee and the San Francisco Giants, prior to the 2020 season. Talk about things coming around full circle.

The Padres made national attention in August when they became the first team in MLB history to hit a grand slam in four consecutive games. That led to the nickname ‘Slam Diego’ and the Padres proceeded to hit another grand slam two nights later. Those five grand slams were among seven for the season and part of a season-high seven-game winning streak that brought the Padres from fourth place in the division to second place where they remained for the rest of the season.

When the playoffs started earlier this month, the Padres drew postseason nemesis St. Louis for the fourth time. In 1996, San Diego led the Cardinals for just four innings in a three-game sweep. In 2005, another St. Louis sweep, the Padres never led and the next season, the Padres got to St. Louis in Game 3, winning 3-1 and led after half an inning in the next game.

This season, it was different as the Padres took down the Cardinals in three games before falling to the Dodgers. It was San Diego’s first playoff series win since 1998. Again, baby steps.

There were so many other positives that came out of the 2020 season for the Padres, especially not only Tatis Jr. being mentioned as a possible National League Most Valuable Player, but also Machado and Myers. I’m positive that the tide may be changing in the N.L. West sooner than later and that the Padres will be contenders rather than pretenders. The days of fourth and fifth place finishes are behind the fans of America’s Finest City and the days of sub .500 seasons will soon be a distant memory. Yes, the Padres are back, and I can’t wait for bigger and better things in February when the 2021 spring training season gets underway, then on Apr. 1 when San Diego hosts the Arizona Diamondbacks for its season-opener. GO PADS!

 

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