The 2021 season brought the most hype for any campaign in San Diego Padres history. There was sufficient reason for excitement: a stirring rise in 2020; Fernando Tatis Jr.’s ascension to superstardom; Manny Machado’s third-place finish in National League MVP voting; and an offseason that featured trades for Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove. The arms race between the Padres and Dodgers invited comparisons to the Yankees–Red Sox arms race from the early aughts. We at The Ringer celebrated with a whole week of Dodgers-Padres material as part of our season preview. I predicted San Diego would win the World Series.
Now, rather than asking whether the Padres will compete for the franchise’s first title, or win 100 games for the first time, or at least make the Dodgers sweat, the most pertinent question is whether San Diego will even finish with a winning record. The Padres are 78-78 after losing three straight to Atlanta over the weekend, officially eliminating them from playoff contention. With remaining series against the Dodgers and Giants, more losses are likely on the way.
A final losing record would add copious insult to injury—and San Diego sure has suffered from injuries over the last few months. Where did the Padres’ dream go so wrong?
It didn’t, at least for a while. On the morning of May 31, after taking two of three in a weekend series against Houston, the Padres led the NL West by half a game. At 34-20, they were tied for the majors’ best record. They boasted the majors’ best ERA (2.69) by nearly half a run.
Yet since that final divisional peak in late May, the Padres hold a 44-58 record—24.5 games worse than the Giants and Dodgers over that span. During that time, San Diego has won fewer games than the Rockies and Royals and ranks just 21st in ERA.
The first problem is that the lineup hasn’t mashed like it did last season, dropping from third in runs per game to 14th. The starters have been fine—especially a phenomenal infield core of Jake Cronenworth, Machado, and Tatis, who leads the NL with 41 home runs. Each member of that trio ranks among the five most valuable players at his position, according to FanGraphs.