On Thursday night, the Dodgers completed a sweep of the Padres, winning 12-3 and ending San Diego’s playoff dreams in the NLDS.
OK, yes, it was not exactly a surprise that the top seed of the 2020 playoffs—not to mention the unambiguous best team for the entire regular season—would go on to thump the underdog Padres. But it’s a shame all the same because of what a joy the Padres were to watch this year.
This was, after all, a team that earned the nickname “Slam Diego” after setting a record for most consecutive games with a grand slam (four)—a feat made even more impressive given how many different members of the team contributed: Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Wil Myers, and Eric Hosmer (plus second baseman Jake Cronenworth, who didn’t technically add to the streak but hit a fifth grand slam just a game after it ended). This was also a team that loudly flouted some of the older, stuffier traditions of a sport that can sometimes seem more interested in unwritten rules than the game itself—most notably when Tatis hit one of those slams after swinging at a 3-0 pitch during an August game against the Rangers.
“I was locked in on the game, just trying to produce for my team,” Tatis said afterward.
That moment set off a wave of controversy, with Rangers manager Chris Woodward scolding the shortstop and saying that he “didn’t like it, personally.”
It’s a dustup likely to be remembered for years to come as baseball is dragged, inch by inch, toward the adage that MLB loves to use in ads and which the 2020 Padres thoroughly embodied: Let the kids play. As Zach Davies put it: If you don’t want a batter to hit a home run off you, “make sure your 3-0 pitch is a little bit better.”
While San Diego’s season may now be through, don’t expect the Padres’ success to be a one-off. In 2019, the team signed former Orioles superstar Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract, then the largest free-agent contract in the sport’s history. Tatis—son of Tatis Sr., who incidentally once hit two grand slams in a single inning—made his big league debut that spring and is just 21 years old. And with a flurry of moves at the trade deadline, including the acquisition of Cleveland ace Mike Clevinger and Austin Nola from the Mariners, it’s clear that San Diego is both young enough and sufficiently stuffed with fresh talent that we’re likely to see many exciting seasons to come.
Even with the sweep, this series against the Dodgers had the feel of the opening salvo of what could be baseball’s next great intradivisional rivalry. It might well be a fiery one, if recent history—namely L.A. pitcher Brusdar Graterol’s flamboyant celebration of Cody Bellinger’s home run robbery and Machado’s, erm, colorful complaints about it—is any indication. Both teams will remain contenders in the NL West for years to come and will see an awful lot of one another, in the regular seasons and quite possibly Octobers still to come.
For now, San Diego is packing its bags and heading home—but next year, expect plenty more fireworks.