As far as disappointments go, the 2023 edition of the San Diego Padres rank pretty high.
Baseball writers have spilled a lot of ink examining why the Friars – and not them alone, the New York Mets too – flopped despite having invested tens of millions of dollars into shaping a playoff-bound roster.
In lengthy critiques, both heavily reliant on unnamed sources, the Athletic pointed at executive A.J. Preller and franchise culture, while the San Diego Union-Tribune pointed at Manny Machado and clubhouse leadership.
Via the Associated Press, however, Preller and some players, including Machado and Joe Musgrove, added perspective to those accounts, while defending the team’s culture.
“By no means is it a dysfunctional organization,” Musgrove told AP.
So what went wrong with the 82-80 Padres, who stunned the baseball world in 2022 by reaching the National League Championship Series only to be eliminated with two games left in the season a year later while finishing a distant third in the NL West?
The Padres completed the campaign on a roll, with a 2-1 victory to sweep the Chicago White Sox Sunday – they needed 11 innings to do so, winning only their second game of the year in extras.
“A little irony there with a one-run, extra-inning win to finish it off,” manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com.
But it took a season-ending a 20-7 streak to pull them back above .500 for the first time since mid-May.
“The sad part is, it was in there the whole time,” Xander Bogaerts, a newcomer in 2023, told MLB. “We did it … It was just too late.”
Why? Here’s a few factors, leaving out the culture questions the team faces in dealing with Preller, Melvin and whether there’s an on-field leadership void.
Machado, for instance, played below his best, finishing with a .258 average, 30 homers and 91 RBIs, but also kept with it when an elbow injury that will require surgery forced him into an exclusive DH role over the season’s final weeks.
And the big four – that would be Machado, Bogaerts, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr., did not meet what were sky-high expectations. Soto, who made the All-Star team, stood out, with 35 homers and 109 RBIs, and Bogaerts, with a late push, finished with a .285 average.
In addition, outside of those stars, as a team the offense never jelled. Whether looking at the Padres’ record in one-run games (9-23) or in extra innings (2-12), batters failed to rise to the challenge in crunch time, as other starters, such as Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham, who hit .229 and .198 respectively, did little to contribute.
And no team escapes injuries, but the Padres, despite tearing up a host of sub-par teams in September, also might have been able to improve quicker with a healthy Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, and Michael Wacha, who was able to return from his IL stint. Set-up man Robert Suarez also wasn’t available until the second half.
Blake Snell, however, was on fire from June on, shooting ahead in the competitive NL Cy Young Award race. He finished the season with a 14-9 record, 234 strikeouts and a 2.25 ERA, tops in MLB.
But even Snell, who could win his second Cy Young while on the cusp of hitting the free-agent market, wonders what might have been for the 2023 San Diego Padres.
As he told MLB.com, this season is “going to be one that stings because I don’t know if I’ll ever play on a team this talented and this good.”