Three weeks ago, two hardcore Padres fans I know texted each other with the following: 76-49.
They texted no other commentary. For them, 76-49 said it all. It was like looking at the Hope Diamond. The mythical Padres of '98 were the franchise's only other team to rise 27 games above .500. For these Padres to reach 76-49 was one of those stupendous stories that makes sports fun. I picked the Padres for 79 victories and fourth place, ahead of only the Diamondbacks. And I was more bullish on the Padres than most pundits (in fact, I heard in March that even in San Diego's front office, some folks regarded Arizona as the favorite in the NL West).
Maybe this is a goofy way to look at it, but when the Padres were 76-49 and playing with house money, I figured that no one should be surprised if the Padres played losing ball henceforth. Let's say the Padres were to go 18-19 in their final 37 games. They'd still end up with 94 wins. Which should win the West. Unfortunately for the Padres, the losing took on a life of its own. They dropped 10 in a row, something the club had lost done in 1994. Overall the Padres are 4-13 since waking up on Aug. 25. On that morning, they were kings of the NL universe with the 76-49 mark.
Yet, as Heath Bell kept pointing out on Sunday after the Padres lost to the Giants, the Padres are still in first place. I asked Bell if it felt like they were still in first, and he allowed that to some of the players, it did not. The Giants are next to the Padres atop the NL West. But if the Padres win tonight in Colorado, they will be alone in first with 19 games to go. A much-needed off day looms on Sept 20. So do series remaining with laggards such as the Dodgers and Cubs. The Giants have their own set of challenges. One of their best all-around players, Andres Torres, required an appendectomy on Sunday and will be out at least 10-14 days; and their second baseman, Freddy Sanchez, limped out of Petco Park on Sunday and today will have his knee examined.
The Rockies are a game-and-a-half out of first. They are riding a 10-game winning streak, but they're just now going through the rotation without pitcher Aaron Cook, a Padres nemesis who suffered a broken leg last week.
I wonder if being refitted with the underdog's cloak will suit the Padres. San Diego sports teams tend to fare better when wearing that garb.
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, none of these other factors will matter much to the Padres if their offense remains dormant. The Giants held them to five runs in the four games. Padres hitters should welcome the trip to Denver. On the subject of hitting, Giants catcher Buster Posey is one guy who knows how to use a bat. For Padres fan, this looks like the start of a long and unhappy relationship.