After playing the Los Angeles Dodgers tough in a September three-game set, the San Diego Padres had every reason to look with confidence on their postseason showdown.

At full strength, the result might have been different. But with Mike Clevinger, a crucial piece of their August trade bounty sidelined for all but one inning of the playoffs, and a bullpen approaching its limit, the Dodgers swept the Padres in the National League Division Series with relative ease.

The disappointing end to the Padres’ first October baseball since 2006, though, does not spoil a breakout season that young star Fernando Tatis Jr. sees as a harbinger of the future.

“This is a special group and we know what we’re going to be capable of the next six or seven years,” he said after his team’s Game 3 NLDS defeat. “Let’s see what happens.”

Tatis emerged as the viable superstar the Padres – and the city – have dreamed of. Manny Machado, who, like Tatis, posted MVP-type numbers, enjoyed a bounce-back year. So did Wil Myers, who observers point to as a NL Comeback Player of the Year candidate.

In addition, Dinelson Lamet emerged as a special starter and Jake Cronenworth, considered a throw-in to the off-season Tommy Pham trade, put himself into the conversation for NL Rookie of the Year.

First-year manager Jayce Tingler called the progress “significant steps forward.” Yet he and the team expect more.

“We’re still not where we want to be,” he said. “We know we’ve got some work to do.”

For instance, as MLB.com noted, the Padres, despite their gains, have to answer some serious off-season questions, largely about pitching. There’s the status of Clevinger’s and Lamet’s injuries, Chris Paddack’s 2020 regression, and whether free-agent closer Kirby Yates will return.

The team, though, improved from two consecutive last-place finishes in the NL West to second place in the coronavirus-shortened season. They also posted the NL’s second-best record, better than the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs, the NL East and Central division winners.

And in so doing, the Friars suddenly have raised expectations – major expectations – for future success, despite the Dodgers sweep.

“Yet even in defeat,” wrote The Athletic (paywall), “the Padres looked defiant, dynamic — and dangerous for years to come.”

Tatis, the poster child for that dynamism, made a promise to the city following Game 3.

“We’re just getting started,” he said.

San Diego can’t wait.

– Staff reports

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