Well, well — it’s the last series of the year, between two teams who entered this decade ready to rule it. This is square in the window of contention for the White Sox and the Padres, who took two different routes toward a rebuild — the Sox with a meticulous curation of talent, and the Padres by augmenting their homegrown stars with a bottomless wallet — but have arrived at the same place: nowhere.
Both teams are huge disappointments, though a recent hot streak by the Padres has made them much less so. Their window still might be open, while the Sox are a 100-loss team starting another rebuild. To say that both teams have underachieved is an understatement, though, and both are staring at a long and difficult offseason.
The White Sox are 9-6 all-time against the Padres, including taking two of three last season.
So How Are They Doing, Anyway?
A strong September has reversed a really bad August for the Padres, and they look like a .500 team. There have been flashes of what this team could have been, but it is MOST LIKELY too little and too late. As of right now, they have not been eliminated, and a sweep of the White Sox with some collapses by Miami, the Reds, and the Cubs give them an outside shot. They’re 8-2 in the last 10, and have a very outside shot of being the last Wild Card team.
The weird thing is that, in a season of dissension, discord, and frustration, they actually have a +97 run differential. That’s two behind the Cubs, and far ahead of the Reds, Marlins, and Diamondbacks, all of whom are negative. Baseball is weird. Now, granted, their run differential is far behind the Braves and the Dodgers, but they are the Braves and the Dodgers. They’re so good!
The thing is, though, the Padres were built to beat the Dodgers. Baseball is unrelenting and inventive in its cruelty. The Pads had some bad breaks and played bad ball at bad times, but they are still a good team overall. The second half of that sentence doesn’t really matter, though, if they end up with the same offseason schedule as the Rockies.
How Are Their Hitters? Need I Fear Dingers?
Oh yeah, dude, you gotta fear some dingers. Though it feels like Juan Soto fell off the map, he’s sitting at 35 homers, and Manny Machado, who never really slowed down, is at 30. Fernando Tatís Jr. has been frustrating, but only by his high standards. There’s still an enormous amount of baseball talent on this team.
Ranked by WAR (FanGraphs), they are sixth in baseball, with a 25.9 team WAR. To put that in contrast, the Sox are 3.3. So to say that the window for San Diego is closed might not be entirely true.
And the Pitching Matchups? What of Them?
Well well well, here seems to be the problem: the Padres pitching WAR is ranked a terrible … wait, sixth, tied with Baltimore at 17.3. What the hell? Baseball is so relentlessly cruel.
Friday, September 29
Sox: Dylan Cease (7-8, 4.66) is really looking forward to 2024. This has been a nightmare season, though his FIP and xFIP are actually fine, so there might have been bad luck.
Padres: Nick Martinez (5-4, 3.59) has pretty much just been there to eat 100 innings.
Saturday, September 30
Sox: SP5 (9-8, 3.40) is hopefully making his last start in a Sox uniform.
Padres: Micahel Wacha (13-4, 3.39), with a 4.50 xFIP and 2.3 WAR is a great response for old-timers to tell statheads to shove it. He’s 13-4, who cares if his peripherals are middling?
Sunday, October 1
Sox: José Ureña (0-7, 7.45) has the pleasure of pitching for the Sox and the Rockies this year, so while he hasn’t pitched well, exactly, he has paid for whatever sins he may have committed in his life. It is fitting that he’s closing out our season.
Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day for the White Sox. They are appreciating the fans by ending their season. Thank you, White Sox.
Why Do We Hate the Padres?
One doesn’t get literature nerd points for dropping the first line of Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s probably one of the five or 10 most famous lines in literature. But there’s a reason for it being such a useful cliche: It’s usually true.
The Sox and the Padres have both been unhappy teams this year. We know all the failures of the Sox. They didn’t fill any holes, they thought having depth was for cowards, they banked on everyone being healthy and having career years, etc. They spent, but poorly, and in ways designed to not get any real stars. They didn’t try, because actually trying is not the White Sox way. Getting lucky is.
The Padres, though, boy howdy: They’ve tried! I mean, they’ve done everything I wanted the Sox to do. The last few years I’ve gnashed my teeth at the cosmic unfairness of it all. Why wasn’t I a Padres fan? Why do I just want my team to act like them acquiring through trade or free agency some of the best players of this generation. They just went for it.
And it hasn’t worked. They’ve had more success than the Sox, but barely, and it has felt like the team is on the edge of collapse. As we said, they haven’t been bad, just unlucky. But with the Dodgers not slowing down at all, it’s hard to say that the future is bright.
Look, baseball reverts to the mean more often than not. The D-Backs are, statwise, pretty middling. The Padres are good. Never year they’ll probably be good, record-wise. As good as the Dodgers? Probably not. Is this superteam just going to middle and muddle along? Maybe.
And that’s the problem. It’s very easy for cheapskate owners to look at the Padres and the Mets to justify their own lack of spending. After all, you can go for it, and not get it. So why bother? Why not hedge the margins and hope that you catch all the breaks, or at least enough to keep the rubes satisfied? That’s just smart business. The checks come in either way, brother.
The Padres did everything right and so far it hasn’t worked out. The Sox did nothing right and it hasn’t worked out — in fact, it has been a disaster. But crooked fingers can be pointed toward paradise with sneers and mocking jibes about the foolishness of effort. And yeah, it would be frustrating to be a Padres fan.
But which position would you rather be in?