There are more than the usual reasons to celebrate Opening Day in 2021.
For one thing, after the pandemic barred them last season, Padre fans can attend games this year. For another, they sure will have something special to see.
If the Padres showed the baseball world last year that the tide has turned in San Diego, this is the year they can make themselves a force, led by one established star and another who has all but exploded on the scene. That’s not to mention a revamped pitching staff to rival any in the sport.
Their 2021 campaign begins Thursday as the Padres face the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 1:10 p.m. contest at Petco Park.
As the team and baseball returns to a full season of play despite the continuing pandemic, the Padres have become one of the sport’s better storylines, a perennial also-ran that has gone all in.
They’ve committed major money to two stars, and re-shaped the roster via aggressive trades, topped by the off-season acquisition of starters Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish, who will make his debut as the Padres’ Opening Day starter.
And though they aren’t quite the weakling David anymore, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the reigning World Series champs, are certainly Goliath, having won eight straight National League West titles.
With the rise of Fernando Tatis Jr. and the addition of Darvish and Snell, many baseball observers rank the Padres and the Dodgers as the best teams in the NL, if not the majors.
“It’s what baseball should be about,” Snell told MLB.com. “It’s going to a fun [season] that everyone around the world is going to want to watch.”
It’s a season Padre fans deserve. The team, which had a woeful decade leading into 2020, had finished last two years straight, and had not played .500 ball since 2010.
During last year’s 60-game season, they finished second in the division to the Dodgers and won 37 games, a .617 clip. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2006, falling to the Dodgers after a first-round victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
For a team that’s so often been an afterthought, the hype is nice. Expectations weight heavy though.
As Yahoo Sports wrote, “The problem for the Padres isn’t that they might be bad — they won’t be — it’s that the whole baseball world might be disappointed if they’re anything short of the best.”
Manny Machado is aware of the predictions. The Padres have the “the offense to out-hit teams” and “the pitching staff to out-duel teams,” he noted, but they have to maintain their focus on their clubhouse, not on the talk.
“If we can do that, then the sky’s the limit with this ball club,” he said.