The San Diego Padres were eliminated from the postseason Thursday night as the rival Los Angeles Dodgers finished off a sweep in the National League Division Series. It was a disappointing three games for the Friars, but it's clear they are a team on the rise. Their 2020 season is now over, but what felt like the end of a great season was really just the beginning of something special.
The Padres were humbled during the NLDS as the Dodgers showed them the heights they have to achieve to compete at the highest level. Sure, San Diego was missing ace Dinelson Lamet and only got one inning out of Mike Clevinger before he left with an elbow injury, but it was clear LA had the better team. It was a disappointing result, but the Dodgers are a fully-formed contender and have been for years, while the Padres just emerged from their long-gestating cocoon to arrive as a power this season.
The team's arduous rebuild has been years in the making, as general manager A.J. Preller slowly collected talent from every corner of the baseball world. As he pieced the organization together one trade or signing at a time, creating an absolute juggernaut of a minor league system, many in San Diego grew restless. The Padres went 275-373 (.424) during four seasons of rebuild and many followers lost faith. They were rewarded for their devotion in the end as the Padres burst onto the scene in 2020 as baseball's most exciting team. San Diego finished with the second-best record in the National League (37-23) and produced several MVP candidates while continually putting on thrilling performances.
While an amazing season like that might be hard for most franchises to put in the rearview mirror, the Padres shouldn't look back wistfully. Instead, they should be looking forward to what should be an even brighter future. The goal was never the NLDS, it was "the big cake." That's the focus moving forward.
The Padres were an exceptionally young team in 2020. Fernando Tatis Jr. is only 21, Trent Grisham is 23, NL Rookie of the Year favorite Jake Cronenworth is 26, while Manny Machado (28), Wil Myers (29) Austin Nola (30) and Eric Hosmer (30) are all in their primes. If that's not enough, the Padres have a top-three farm system, even after a flurry of major deadline deals.
All of the players listed above are under team control for years. San Diego also has Tommy Pham under contract through 2021.Lamet, a NL Cy Young candidate, is under team control through 2023 and Mike Clevinger won't hit free agency until after the 2022 season. Changeup master Zach Davies was excellent in 2020 and he'll be back, and while Chris Paddack struggled mightily this season, most industry insiders I've talked to expect a big bounce-back in 2021. There are also a slew of young arms either on the roster or about to be.
Assuming everyone is healthy, the Padres could open 2021 with a rotation that starts Clevinger, Lamet, Davies and Paddack. That leaves the fifth slot open for one of San Diego's uber-talented young arms. Lefty MacKenzie Gore (21) is the top pitching prospect in all of baseball and could fill that role. So could lefty Adrian Morejon (21) or righty Luis Patino (20). Both Morejon and Patino were with the club for much of the 2020 season and both pitched in the postseason. Oh, and 20-year-old lefty Ryan Weathers -- the son of former big leaguer David Weathers -- made his Major League debut in the postseason and looked the part as well.
That's the thing about the Padres, they're already loaded and more help is on the way. In addition to the pitching, 22-year-old Luis Campusano -- one of the top catching prospects in baseball -- made his debut this season and will likely be up full-time in 2021. The prospects will keep coming in waves for Preller & Co.
The Padres were a great team in 2020 and were an absolute blast to watch. From Machado rediscovering his greatness, to Myers' comeback story, the birth of "Slam Diego" and Tatis firmly establishing himself as the most exciting player in baseball, there was so much to love about San Diego's breakout campaign. It was an incredibly fun few months.
It will be tempting to look back fondly on something that was so enjoyable. But if the Padres and their fans do that, they're likely to get bogged down by nostalgia. Given how bright the future is, that would be a huge mistake. This franchise and its following should turn their attention to what's coming next.
San Diego was sent packing from the playoffs in rough fashion Thursday night. There's no sugarcoating the loss or the disappointment. But these Padres aren't done, they're just getting started.