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San Diego Padres do have a path to the MLB Playoffs: How it might look

This season hasn’t gone the way anyone predicted for the San Diego Padres as far as their record is concerned. At 74-78 with just under two weeks remaining in the regular season, their chances of reaching the playoffs are pretty slim.

In fact, the chances of them making the postseason barely exist at 0.2%. Not only is their elimination number (the opposite of the more common magic number) six, there are three teams ahead of them that are also on the outside of the Wild Card hunt looking in.

Still, the Padres have rattled off a season-high six-game win streak and are still technically alive in the hunt for October. San Diego’s remaining schedule is the third-easiest in baseball with one more game against the Colorado Rockies (55-94), then a three-game series against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend. The Padres wrap up the regular season on the road with three against the struggling San Francisco Giants (76-75) and the rudderless Chicago White Sox (58-93).

The path for an amazing push into the postseason isn’t quite as straightforward as beating up on bad teams, however. They also need to make sure the sand in their elimination number hourglass doesn’t run out, which means that the teams ahead of them all need to play at best .500 ball the rest of the way while the Padres keep racking up wins.

Why have the San Diego Padres have struggled?

MLB: San Diego Padres at Oakland Athletics
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

This is a question that will be asked all off-season if the Padres fail to make the postseason. It’s a question that was asked frequently in Oakland over the weekend, and one that there’s not a clear answer to. The most likely explanation for the disappointing season is a combination of a few reasons.

They have the fourth-best run differential in the National League at +79, trailing just the Braves (+213), Dodgers (+190) and Cubs (+86). They have as much star talent as any team in baseball. Yet, they sit four games under .500. One reason for their record not matching their performance on the field overall has been their record in one-run games, which stands at 6-22. For some, they see that stat and it’s an open and shut case. If the team had a .500 record in one-run games, they’d be in playoff position right now.

If you add in that the 2023 Padres aren’t necessarily known for comeback wins late in ballgames, you have a recipe for what we’re seeing this year. When San Diego trails after six innings, they are 4-59. This is a team that boasts Fernando Tatís Jr., Manny Machado, Juan Soto, and Xander Bogaerts. While Soto is still mashing, the other three aren’t hitting quite as they have in past seasons. Tatís holds a 119 wRC+ (100 is league average). Machado, who is reportedly set for elbow surgery as soon as the team’s season is over, has been 11% better than league average. Bogaerts, who was added in the off-season as a bonus piece to the lineup, boasts a 119.

It’s not like they’re playing bad comparatively to the rest of the league, but each of those three players just hasn’t quite lived up to their own previous greatness in 2023.

It’s also worth noting that the Padres sent 17 players from their organization to the World Baseball Classic earlier this season. The issue here isn’t necessarily that they participated in the WBC, but more so that their routines and workloads weren’t specifically being watched over by the Padres coaching staff to make sure they’d be ready to start the season.

San Diego also ranked fourth in baseball, second-most in the NL, in travel miles with 44,208. The Milwaukee Brewers, who lead the NL Central, and the Cincinnati Reds, who are ahead of the Padres in the wild card race, have traveled 25,426 and 27,772 miles respectively. While it may not seem like much on paper, over the course of a 162 game season when one-run games are potentially going to be the reason the Padres don’t make the postseason, those miles matter.

The Padres will travel 51,690 miles next season–most in the Majors.

One reason could also be that with so many headlines being made in Slam Diego, other teams put forth a slightly better effort against them than they would on most nights. The Padres entered the season as a “measuring stick” team–one that other clubs would want to compare themselves to. It stands to reason that they took on a couple of extra losses along the way.

National League Playoff picture

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The team directly ahead of them just so happens to be the San Francisco Giants, who dropped three of four to the Rockies last weekend and then lost to the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night in Arizona. San Diego can have some say in San Francisco’s record.

Then there’s the Miami Marlins (79-73) at half a game back of the third wild card spot, who are having quite the September, going 12-6 with series wins against the playoff-bound Dodgers and Phillies, and a sweep of the Atlanta Braves over the weekend. Getting them to slow down may be difficult with four left against the Mets, three against the Brewers who are fairly set in their playoff spot, and wrapping up with three against the Pirates.

The Reds (79-74) are a half-game behind the Marlins and a full game out of the third wild card spot, currently held by the Chicago Cubs. They have one left against the Twins after splitting the first two, then they face the Pirates this weekend. During the final week they’ll have a two-game set against Cleveland and wrap up against the Cardinals. The Cubs (79-72) could have a difficult path to wins, but it’ll all depend on how the Braves and Brewers line up next week with the playoffs looming. They have two against the Pirates and three against the Rockies to finish up this week.

The Diamondbacks (80-72) currently have the second wild card spot, but may have the toughest schedule remaining. They’ll wrap up a quick two-game series at home against the Giants on Wednesday, then fly to New York to take on the Yankees, followed by three in Chicago against the White Sox. The final series of the regular season will be at home, but it’s against the defending World Series champions. Houston currently leads the AL West by a half-game over the Rangers and Mariners, but the next week or so will determine how the Astros approach that final series.

San Diego Padres path into the postseason

The way the math shakes out, San Diego basically has to win out the rest of their games, finishing with an 84-78 record. With games against the Rockies, Cardinals, Giants, and White Sox, it’s not an impossible task, but it’s pretty difficult to count on running off another ten victories in addition to the six game win streak they have already banked.

Yet, if they were able to win out and finish with 84 wins, here is how the rest of the teams in the race would have to finish:

Arizona would have to go 3-7 the rest of the way since they own the tiebreaker over San Diego, going 7-6 against the Padres this year. The Cubs also own the tiebreaker against San Diego after winning their season series 4-3. They would have to go 4-7 for the Padres to have a chance. One of those two teams needs to collapse in order for any of this to be possible.

From there, the Marlins could finish with an identical 84-78 record for the season, splitting their final ten games, and be edged out by the Padres after going 2-4 in the season series. The Reds have the fewest games remaining with nine, and they could even finish out the season 5-4 and be tied with San Diego before the tiebreaker knocks them out. The two clubs split the season series at three games apiece, but the Padres 23-18 intra-division record is better than the Reds’ 19-27 record against the Central, giving the second tiebreaker to San Diego.

Finally, there’s the Giants. They could go 8-3 the rest of the way–as long as those three losses were against the Padres–and still not make the playoffs due to a tiebreaker. The Padres lead the season series six games to four, so they only need one win to secure the tiebreaker, but they also need to win every game in the scenario presented to have any semblance of a shot at postseason baseball.

Is it likely to happen? Not really. Yet, we see comebacks like this now and again in baseball. The Padres have the talent on their roster and the schedule to make it happen. They’ll just need some help to pull it off.