In a public letter to Nationals fans from the Lerner family, published in the 2022 Nationals Media Guide, Washington’s principal owners wrote: “What more can you say about Juan Soto? He has become a pillar of our organization and one of the best players in Major League Baseball right before our eyes. Not only does he have incredible talent, but his attitude, energy and enthusiasm are infectious.”
On Sunday, in a game streamed live on Peacock beginning at 12 pm ET, Juan Soto’s attitude, energy, and enthusiasm will once again be on display at Nats Park in D.C. But now, he is a pillar of a different organization: the San Diego Padres.
The Padres believe that to win a World Series, you need elite players. To get elite players, you need an elite set of prospects, and elite talent evaluators. San Diego put all their chips in the middle of the table at the trade deadline, acquiring Josh Bell, Brandon Drury, Josh Hader, and the uber-talented Soto.
Is that good? Only if you don’t mind adding a player (Drury) whose slugging percentage (min. 400 PA) is among the top 11 in the sport, actually tied with Padres’ superstar Manny Machado. Only if you don’t mind taking on the closer (Hader) with the most saves in the sport since 2019. Only if you think a cleanup hitter having a career season (Bell) could improve on San Diego’s woeful production from the No. 4 spot in the order so far in 2022 (.215/.292/.346, with 11 HR through Wednesday). And of course, adding Soto, one of the top talents in the game.
Of course, a cynic might say what do the Padres know about winning a World Series?
It is that time, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, to travel back in the WABAC (Way-Back) Machine to examine the Padres’ history — and how they’ll always be connected with the team they’ll face on Sunday, the Washington Nationals.
Padres and Nationals linked by history
We are going to set the WABAC to May 27, 1968. Now, when most people remember or study 1968, they think of events like the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Apollo program and space travel, the music of the counterculture, etc. Not me. I’m taking you to a meeting in Chicago among National League owners on May 27, 1968. On the 16th secret ballot — after more than 10 hours of discussion and argument — the National League finally agreed to expand from 10 teams to 12, adding the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos (who would become the Washington Nationals decades later) beginning in the 1969 season.
And how have the two franchises from the Class of ’69 fared in their 54 seasons?
San Diego: 3,925-4,546
Both teams have just six postseason appearances. The Montreal/Washington franchise has one World Series championship, and that did not happen until 2019. But that’s still better than the Pads.
San Diego is one of six franchises to never win a World Series title. The Padres have been around since 1969, and in all those years, have won exactly 1 World Series game (Game 2 of the 1984 World Series). The Pads lost in five games in 1984 to the Tigers, and were swept in 1998 by the Yankees.
The Cleveland Guardians haven’t won a World Series title since 1948 (73 years) but at least they came close (they lost in 10 innings in Game 7 to the Cubs in 2016).
The Texas Rangers have not won a World Series title ever. But they came within one strike — twice — in Game 6 of the 2011 Fall Classic vs. the Cardinals.
The Brewers (beginning in the American League as the Seattle Pilots) started the same year as the Padres, and they too have never won a World Series. But at least Harvey’s Wallbangers reached a Game 7, and led 3-1 in the seventh inning of that Game 7, before falling to St. Louis in 1982.
The Tampa Bay Rays have never won a Fall Classic, but were so close to reaching a climactic Game 7 in the 2020 World Series. However, manager Kevin Cash pulled Blake Snell, who had a lead and a low pitch count when he was removed in the sixth inning of Game 6.
The Rockies and the Mariners have also never won a World Series, but they haven’t been around nearly as long as the Padres.
Will trade moves bring Padres the ultimate prize?
The Padres HAD to take a chance on trading all their prospects. I wouldn’t worry if I were a Padres fan about how well the prospects will fare in the future. By all accounts, C.J. Abrams, Victor Acosta, Robert Gasser, MacKenzie Gore, Robert Hassell III, and James Wood make up quite a desirable package. Not to mention Luke Voit (a productive middle-of-the-order bat, or a chip for even more prospects).
There is real risk in doing what San Diego did. The Nationals did well, and a few years from now, there is a chance people will believe that they fleeced the Padres (in the same way a 2013 NBA blockbuster trade between Brooklyn and Boston sent superstars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, only to find years later that Boston’s 2022 cornerstones Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were acquired with draft picks from that trade). Sometimes, tortured franchises can do everything right, and still not win a title. There is a lot of luck involved.
But the idea is to win the World Series. The Padres have not made the postseason in a 162-game schedule since 2007. This team has a big payroll. This team brought in a seasoned manager in Bob Melvin. This team locked up its ace for years, kept trading up for an elite closer and fills their wonderful home stadium night after night.
Will it be enough to win a postseason tournament with the powerhouse teams in the National League like the Dodgers, Mets, and Braves? Not sure.
But like, wow!
The missing ingredient
The big thing for San Diego is to get Fernando Tatis, Jr. back in the lineup for the first time in 2022. He’ll likely return next week, as he continues his rehab after fracturing his left wrist before the season. He’s playing centerfield in the Minors a bit, as the Padres want to keep Ha-Seong Kim at shortstop as much as possible. So Tatis, Jr. will play a little shortstop, some centerfield for the struggling Trent Grisham, and designated hitter when he eventually returns to the big-league club.
Wouldn’t it be something for the National League Championship Series to come down to the Mets and Padres, with Jacob deGrom facing Tatis, Jr. with the season on the line, two players that didn’t play at all in the first four months of the season? Wouldn’t it be something for San Diego to make the World Series and face the Yankees? Who knows? If that happens, we could have a matchup between Judge and Drury.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Of course, what’s most likely to happen is this: a star member of the Washington Nationals’ 2019 World Series team is going to be the 2022 N.L. MVP and lead his team to a World Series title.
No, I’m not talking about Juan Soto (although that scenario could happen).
It’s more likely Trea Turner wins the N.L. MVP and leads the Dodgers to the championship.
Turner, traded to the Dodgers from the Nationals a year ago at the trade deadline, has played 162 games for Los Angeles since the trade. He has scored 110 runs and hit 28 HR and has 109 RBI. He’s stolen 30 bases, has an .852 OPS and plays a terrific shortstop.
The absence of Turner has led to a tremendous hole for Washington, whose shortstops now are a mess offensively and defensively. It’s a large part of the reason why the return for Soto included 21-year-old C.J. Abrams (the sixth overall pick of the 2019 Draft).
And to conclude just how intertwined the Nationals and Padres franchises are, know this: Trea Turner was drafted by San Diego in the first round (13th overall) of the 2014 Draft, before being traded to the Nationals the next year to complete the deal that sent Wil Myers to the Padres.