Padres Sinking Fast After Another Feeble Loss to Cubs
With their hitters again swinging as if standing on the nearby ocean floor, the Padres lost 1-0 to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, ending a four-game series that also began with a 1-0 defeat.
San Diego's playoff chances that were so bright five weeks ago, when the team led the National League West by 6 1/2 games, are all but irretrievably lost thanks to a 12-22 swoon fueled largely by offensive futility.
"Our pitching's done everything possible," said Adrian Gonzalez, the team's best hitter. "We should be celebrating right now -- but we haven't hit. Plain and simple, we've got to hit."
The Padres have three game left in San Francisco, where they are 5-1 this year but must face a Giants club that has won its last four games and is three games ahead.
Absent a Padres sweep, the Giants will win the National League West.
In the wild-card race, the Padres are two games behind the Atlanta Braves, who draw the NL East champion Phillies in the final three games. The Phils will rest two of their aces and perhaps other frontliners.
"We're not done," said Padres manager Bud Black, who was semi-delirious after watching his hitters.
Gonzalez's remedy for the floundering batsmen?
"Go out there and swing hard, and you might run into something," he said.
Watching Padres hitters swing late on routine fastballs, or early on 2-0 changeups, West Coast Bias saw a kelp bed growing near the batter's box at San Diego's ballpark, and I think Padres hitters such as Ryan Ludwick had saltwater seeping from their ears afterward.
"I'm getting pitches to hit," said Ludwick, a .218 hitter since the Padres acquired him from the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline. "I just don't know what to tell you. It's one of those things. Can't tell you. At times, I'm late. At times, I'm early. It just hasn't been consistent."
Padres ownership should spring for an oxygen tank, as the hitters are turning blue from lack of oxygen.
It's the pressure of a pennant race, inducing the bends.
And, it's the law of average swatting an under-talented team in the noggin.
It's a shame for the Padres, because Jon Garland pitched his best game of the year on Thursday, and the bullpen remains the league's best, but this isn't soccer. No points given for scoreless ties. The offense suffered its fifth shutout in the last 31 games.
For the 18th time in its 34-game descent, the Padres ended up with zero, one or two runs.
"We just haven't been very good," said Gonzalez, who hit a 2-1 fastball from Cubs starter Tom Gorzelanny (4.09 ERA) for a key double play. "We've got to find a way to be very good for the next three days."
On Aug. 26, the Padres woke up with a 76-49 record and that 6.5-game lead over San Francisco, and you wondered if the baseball gods were Franciscan monks.
Every baseball season has its stunning storylines, but the No. 1 team stunner this year was the Padres zooming to 76-49. Hence the text message between two Padres baseball executives on Aug. 26. It simply read: 76-49. The numbers glowed. They inspired a mixture of awe, euphoria and perhaps disbelief. Only one other Padres team had risen 27 games above .500 in a season, and that was the best Padres team of them all. That team won 98 games in 1998. In the playoffs, it would upset powerhouses from Houston and Atlanta. It had Tony Gwynn and Steve Finley. It had Kevin Brown and Andy Ashby. It had Ken Caminiti and Greg Vaughn. This Padres team? It has one good hitter -- Gonzalez. Its $38 million payroll ranks next to last in the majors. Only Pittsburgh's is lower. Thursday, the Pirates lost their 103rd game.
In late August, you knew there had to be some sort of correction before season's end. The only question was, how sharp would it be? The Padres hadn't lost more than three games in a row all year. As the ballplayers say, they were living in a tree. The correction came. And it was a doozy -- 10 consecutive losses for the first time here since 1994. The Giants took advantage. And then some. The Giants have closed the season with a tremendous pitching run. Their manager, Bruce Bochy, formerly of the Padres, kept his eye on the ball. Bochy also has a team whose payroll is $50 million more than San Diego's. If the Padres do not reach the playoffs, the explanations will make sense. The Padres never were supposed to get close to the playoffs. "We were supposed to be one of the worst teams in baseball," utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. told me Thursday.
But division titles are fairly precious. For all the baseball talent that has run through Denver and Miami since major league franchises debuted there in 1993, neither the Rockies nor the Marlins have won a division title.The Padres didn't win one until their 16th season. A playoff trip is also profitable. A trip to the divisionals alone can be worth a few million dollars to a franchise. The greater windfall comes in the offseason, when a tickets are sold and sponsorships expanded.
When the fifth-place Cubs reached San Diego on Monday, the Padres were a game behind the Giants and half a game ahead of the Braves. The Cubs looked awful when they last played the Padres. They dropped all four games at Wrigley Field. But they'd played better since hiring Mike Quade, a longtime minor league skipper who now stands a chance to become their manager for next year.
Quade's Cubs played well against the Padres here, winning three of the four games. For older Cubs fans, maybe it was a small measure of payback for San Diego's upset of the Cubs in the 1984 League Championship Series. One of the Cubs' contributors on Thursday, though, said the team took no pleasure in deflating San Diego's playoff chances.
"You take the field every day to win games, whether it's Opening Day or it's at the end of the season and you're out of it," said Cubs first baseman Xavier Nady.
There was some irony in what Nady did to the Padres in the ninth inning, with the score 0-0. A prolific slugger for the Cal Bears, Nady was signed by the Padres for $2.95 million, well above his second-round slotting, because San Diego envisioned him as a top-flight slugger. So what does Nady do to the Padres Thursday? He drops a rare sacrifice bunt that leads to the game's only run.
Nady, the No. 5 hitter in the lineup, bunted Aramis Ramirez to second base with none out. Ramirez had dumped a broken-bat single off closer Heath Bell (6-1).
Brad Snyder (pictured at right), making like the Padres' icon Gwynn, then grounded a single through the "5.5 Hole" into left field.
"He dorked it," Black said, and wouldn't Black love his hitters to dork a few?
The kicker was, it was Nady, not Quade, who made the decision to sacrifice. The sacrifice bunt was only his seventh in 795 career games. Nady guessed that all six of the others came under manager's orders.
"It actually was on my own, and I don't even know what happened," Nady said, sounding like a 2010 Padre back in the days when Black's club was dorking its way to wins. "I just figured the way things were going in this game, and the way that I've been swinging, I felt like, 'Hey, get him in scoring position.' "
FanHouse TV's Steve Phillips previews the Giants-Padres series. Click to watch: