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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Kevin Acee

Padres celebrate reaching playoffs for seventh time in franchise history

SAN DIEGO —At the end, it was easy.

The Padres didn't even need to win to get in.

As they came to bat in the seventh inning Sunday at Petco Park, in what ended up a 2-1 loss to the White Sox, the Padres were guaranteed a playoff berth by virtue of the Brewers losing in 12 innings to the Marlins in Milwaukee.

Josh Bell was batting at the start of the seventh when the Marlins' 4-3 victory went final, and thousands among the sellout crowd began to stand and cheer. Some Padres players and staff were in the clubhouse watching the game. A few who were standing in the dugout briefly clapped.

When the inning was over, the Petco Park video boards lit up with notification the Padres had clinched the postseason and public address announcer Alex Miniak announced the berth as the crowd cheered louder and longer.

After the game's final out, fireworks rocketed into the sky as players received commemorative T-shirts (with the slogan "October Rise") and hats outside the dugout.

As team personnel exchanged hugs and high-fives on the field, many fans stayed standing and cheering near their seats.

That was about the only excitement inside Petco Park on Sunday.

The Padres scored their lone run on Ha-Seong Kim's homer in the seventh inning and otherwise hardly threatened in front of the lively sellout crowd that from the start seemed primed to witness a rarity.

This is just the seventh time in the franchise's 54 seasons that the Padres will participate in the postseason. They went to the playoffs in 2020, following a season that was shortened to 60 games in the early stages of the COVID pandemic. They clinched in a virtually empty ballpark, as fans were not allowed at games that year.

This was the first time since 2006 they qualified for the playoffs in a 162-game season and the first time they have clinched while at home in front of fans since 2005.

The Padres (87-72) are three games ahead of the Brewers, who have just three games remaining. Even if both teams finish with 87 wins, the Padres hold the tiebreaker over Milwaukee (84-75) by virtue of having won four of the seven games the teams played this season.

The Padres currently hold the fifth of six National League playoff spots. The Phillies (86-73) are in the sixth spot, 1 1/2 games behind the Padres. Philadelphia won the season series against the Padres and holds that tiebreaker should they finish with identical records.

The No. 5 seed will play a best-of-three wild card series at either Atlanta or New York, whichever team does not win the NL East (the Braves lead by a game entering Sunday night's contest between the two teams). The No. 6 seed will play their wild card series at St. Louis.

The Padres beat the White Sox on Saturday, taking the lead in the sixth inning at almost the exact time the Brewers were blowing a ninth-inning lead. Those results left the Padres needing only a victory or a Brewers loss.

The latter came first. The Marlins finally closed out their victory at 3:24 p.m. PDT, with the Padres trailing the White Sox 2-0 in the seventh inning.

It was the rare layup for a Padres team that played without one of its star players all season and struggled to maintain any momentum, never winning more than five straight games and doing that just three times.

After taking over first place in the NL West on June 17, the latest point in a season they had led the division since 2010, the Padres languished around .500 for a couple months. In fact, before their recent run of nine victories in 14 games, the Padres went 34-39 from June 23 through Sept. 15.

In the middle of that run, they pulled off one of the biggest deals in the history of the major league trade deadline, acquiring Josh Bell and Juan Soto from the Nationals. In return, the Padres sent Washington six players, including three who were at one time ranked as the organization's top minor league prospect, as well as veteran designated hitter Luke Voit.

The Padres also traded for infielder Brandon Drury and closer Josh Hader in those first two days of August.

All four of the acquired players underperformed, relative to their season and/or career statistics, for a period. Bell is still doing so.

On Aug. 12, nine days after Bell, Drury and Soto made their debuts, the Padres learned Fernando Tatis Jr. would be suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance.

A Sept. 15 loss to the Diamondbacks, with a pitcher making his major league debut shutting out the Padres for seven innings, was immediately followed by manager Bob Melvin expressing his displeasure in a clubhouse meeting and the next day by the players meeting as a whole and in smaller groups as they attempted to regain and redefine their focus.

Their results and many of the components of their game have been more consistent since then. However, they continue to be inconsistent offensively.

For the season, they rank 15th among 30 teams in OPS and are 21st in home runs and 13th in runs scored.

Aside from Manny Machado's MVP-caliber season at the plate, it is the pitching that has kept the Padres contending much of the season. Their starters have turned in 82 quality starts (including Blake Snell on Sunday), most in the National League. That has kept their bullpen's workload among the lightest of any team. Together, their 3.81 staff ERA ranks fifth in the NL.

The Padres are 30-16 in one-run games, the best record in the majors in such games and tied for the most such victories. Their 12 walk-off victories and 12 extra-inning victories are both second most in the majors.

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