2021 has been one of the most memorable Major League Baseball seasons of all time. This may sound like recency bias, but I truly believe the storylines are unmatched, starting with superstar two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who has set the world on fire with all-star seasons from the mound and the batter’s box. And we’re seeing the most current all-stars being moved at the trade deadline in more than 50 years!
Among the storylines are two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum, the Toronto Blue Jays, who were not considered serious championship contenders, and the San Diego Padres, who were expected to be a top-three team in the MLB by most projections.
When analyzing what has gone right or wrong for a particular team’s season, context has to be taken in account with variables such as injuries and coaching.
With a week left in the season, the Padres have been eliminated from playoff contention after an abysmal record of 25-38 in the second half, leaving them sitting at a 78-77 record.
What has gone wrong for the Padres?
Well, to start you have to take a look at the prized off-season additions and their performance. Blake Snell and Yu Darvish were seen as additions that could transform the pitching rotation into an elite group. Neither has been as advertised, with Darvish posting a 6.28 second half ERA allowing a .509 SLG to opposing hitters. Lately, Snell has been solid, but his first half was plagued by issues similar to the ones Darvish is dealing with currently.
Next, the coaching staff has been knocked all season which resulted in the firing of pitching coach Larry Rothschild on Aug. 23. Whether or not manager Jayce Tingler remains at the helm for the 2022 Padres is going to be an extremely interesting conversation.
I personally believe it’s an easy choice. When Tingler was originally hired, the team was coming off of a rebuilding year and not expected to win quite yet. With the emergence of Fernando Tatis Jr, the plan was sped up and perhaps Tingler was not quite ready to deal with a team full of stars and well respected veterans. With the trend of older, more experienced managers getting chances once again, GM Aj Preller could look to follow the Astros and White Sox who have had success with that choice.
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While injuries could also be at fault for the lack of success down the stretch, with a team as talented and deep as the Padres, blaming injuries feels like an excuse to disregard the lack of consistency all around (besides Fernando Tatis Jr.).
The exact plan of retooling and new direction for the Padres has not been decided yet, but it sure seems likely.
What has gone right for the Blue Jays?
To start, Robbie Ray’s career resurgence has had the greatest impact on the Blue Jays. The potential AL Cy Young award winner has always had a great wipeout slider and a plus fastball, but the difference is the walks per nine innings have been lowered by 1.6 from his career average.
Along with Ray’s contributions, rookie Alek Manoah and touted trade deadline acquisition Jose Berrios have shown up with surprising consistency and stability that the rotation badly needed. While Hyun Jin Ryu has not been as impressive as past years, he’s still extremely reliable and gives quality innings every five days.
Along with the solid pitching rotation, the real strength of the team is the powerhouse lineup of sluggers. Led by potential triple crown winner Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the middle of the order includes zero room for opposing pitchers to make any sort of mistakes, with all-stars Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, and Teoscar Hernandez all simultaneously having career years.
Even with all of the positives, doubts about getting a chance to get into the postseason with a week left are creeping up due to the team unfortunately playing in the loaded AL East. Sitting at 87-69 currently, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays are battling for two spots with about a week left to play. They are one game back of the second wild card spot to the Red Sox.
While a playoff berth would come as a surprise and serve as a potentially overachieving season to many, I feel that it may be needed for the team to take advantage of this competitive window. Most players are under control for future years, but key contributor Marcus Semien is due for a massive payday, and I’m not sure that the Blue Jays will be able to match the offer more desperate teams could potentially make.