The San Diego Padres lost the battle on Sunday but won the war.
After losing to the Chicago White Sox 2-1, the Padres celebrated clinching a wildcard spot after the Miami Marlins defeated the Milwaukee Brewers in extra innings.
“It’s not the end of it. We’ve got a long way to go,” Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove said. “But getting in is the first step of the way, and sometimes it can be the hardest one. For a day, you can kind of cut loose and celebrate.”
It’s ironic for Jorge Alfaro, who was the last out of the game with a chance to win the game for San Diego. After spending the last three seasons with the Marlins, he reaches the postseason with the help of his former team.
“It would have been nice to take care of it on our own. There was some drama at the end,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin, who has led a team to the postseason for the eighth time in his career. “I’m glad Alfaro got a chance to get that last at-bat because of what he’s meant for the team this year, all the walk-offs and so forth. Regardless of the outcome of this game, you have to realize what we’ve been through and how hard it’s been and celebrate.”
The Padres made the playoffs in 2020 but this will be the first time San Diego reached the postseason in a full season since winning the National League West in 2006. It’s the Padres’ second postseason in three years since going through a total vibe change from the boring blue to the refined throwback combo of yellow and brown.
2020 was an odd season due to the coronavirus pandemic forcing people in their homes and out of the ballparks. 162 games turned into 60, a marathon has turned into a sprint and playoffs were expanded so that a team with more losses than wins could come within a game from the American League pennant.
“It was definitely different in ’20.” A sixty-game season, no fans — it was kind of just us,” Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth said.
While the core of the current team was there for the 2020 season, this playoff appearance means more.
“There’s a difference in the grind of two months and six months,” said Will Myers, who has been with the Padres longer than anyone else on the roster. “The six-month grind, with the ups and downs, makes this even more worth it.”
“The ups and downs, the struggles, the good, the bad,” Cronenworth said. “Everything that comes along with it, to get to this opportunity that we have in front of us makes it even more special.”
Postseason road map
The road to hosting a playoff game for the first time in 16 years will be a bit longer than before. In the newly expanded playoffs, the third best division winner and the top wild card winner gets to host the best-of-three wild card round. As of this moment with three games to go, the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets would be the sites of the National League Wild Card Series on Friday.
It would certainly be like 2006 all over again. Back then, the Padres lost to the Cardinals in the NLDS who then went on to beat the Mets to reach the World Series and eventually win it.
If the Padres were to slip to the third and final wild card spot, which is possible because they enter the final series with a game up on the Philadelphia Phillies (with the tiebreaker on their side), they would play the Cardinals. If that were to happen, it would be the fourth straight time these two teams meet in the postseason. Of the Padres’ six previous postseason appearances, four of them involved the Cardinals. 2020 was the first time San Diego came out victorious over St. Louis.
If the Padres were to go that route and beat the Cardinals, they would face the NL East winner on their way to the NLCS. The Atlanta Braves currently have a two-game lead over the New York Mets going into the final series and have the tie-breaker.
If the Padres hold on to their current position, the top wild card winner (currently the Mets) would host the wild card series and the winner would face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. The Dodgers defeated the Padres in the 2020 NLDS and won this season’s series 14-5.
It would be better to have a rematch with the Dodgers in the NLCS rather than the NLDS but regardless, the Padres would have to finally overcome their big brother in order to achieve their championship goals.
“We’ve got 14 games to win to bring a championship,” Manny Machado said. “That’s all that matters.”