Change-UpSeptember 15, 2010
Checking In On the NL West
By Patrick Sullivan

At the conclusion of play on August 25th, the San Diego Padres had amassed a 76-49 record, and were 6.5 and 10.5 games clear of the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies, respectively. With a little more than a month to play, a club supposed to be in rebuilding mode was running away with the National League West title.

They had done it by averaging a respectable 4.5 runs per game when you consider their home ballpark, and their pitching and defense had been in top form all season long. From the beginning of the season through August 25th, the Padres were only yielding 3.4 runs per game. A closer look at the personnel might have given some pause about this team, but 125 games into this season they looked every bit the part of a legitimate contender.

Over their next 17 games, 14 of them at home, the Padres would go 4-13. Prior to the start of Monday’s series in Denver against the Rockies, from August 26th through September 12th, San Diego averaged just 2.2 runs per game while yielding 4.2. They were awful, and the division seemed to be slipping away. Their playoff odds, a lock just weeks ago, had dwindled down to the 50% mark.

The collapse was a total team effort, saving maybe superstar Adrian Gonzalez. His production remained steady. But other key contributors for the Padres were cratering. David Eckstein had held his own for much of the year but is at just .197/.242/.213 since August 25th. Yorvit Torrealba had been a nice surprise but he’s hit .219/.306/.333 from August 1st through today. Newcomers Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada faltered badly, too, as the former has slugged just .323 since the losing began while the latter has managed just a .253 on-base.

Meanwhile, the Rockies got hot. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki went nuts, and their pitching has improved as well. While San Diego went 4-13, the Rox ripped off a 14-4 stretch. San Francisco was playing better baseball, too. They went 10-6 over that same stretch. The NL West was shaping up to be one heck of a race.

Over the last two nights, however, things have taken yet another turn. The Padres won consecutive games on the road in Colorado thanks to a couple of huge home runs, one from Matt Stairs last night and another from Miguel Tejada on Monday. Also of note, Jon Garland bounced back and pitched well last night after a dreadful month for him. The Padres playoff odds are back up around 70%, thanks not only to their two-night resurgence, but also to Clayton Kershaw’s complete game shutout in San Francisco last night.

San Diego now has two games in the loss column on the Giants and four on the Rockies. The Padres have eight games remaining on this road trip, including another in Denver, four in St. Louis against the flailing Cardinals and three at Dodger Stadium. Then it’s the Reds and Cubs at home before what could be one of the most exciting season-ending series in a long time: three in San Francisco against the Giants.

Everything is more or less settled in the American League, faux AL East drama and all. The Phillies have scooted ahead of the Braves, but the Braves seem poised to take the NL Wild Card (although the two teams do have six games remaining against one another). That leaves the NL West, where you’ll want to remain focused if pennant race drama is your thing this time of year.


I've seen this scenario before. The preseason forecasts for the Padres were accurate, they really are still rebuilding but are not that good a team. But they got very lucky in the first half of the season. They were probably helped by the Dodgers' problems. They are now falling to earth and two better teams are catching up. But those first season wins still count and may be enough to win the division for the Padres anyway. And in the postseason, anything can happen.

What sticks in my head is the 1990 Cincinatti Reds, a World Series winner that didn't really do anything before or after that one year, but happened to have an injury free season, built up a huge cushion by winning what seemed like every game in April and May, and then got hot again in the post season. Though I'm not a fan of the wildcard, this is a good example of how regular season records can be deceptive.

Also for the Padres, playing in a weak division helps. They couldn't pull this off in the Eastern divisions of either league.