July 21, 2024

The San Diego Padres have long been an enigma. Their club mascot is a chicken, and since joining the National League in 1969, they’ve been primarily an afterthought, appearing in only two World Series (1984 and 1998).

San Diego is one of the top twenty media markets in the US, yet it is sometimes associated with clubs like Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Minnesota, which are truly small-market teams with little actual talent. San Diego, on the other hand, has its own distinct flavor, with delicious seafood, a lovely waterfront district, and a world-famous zoo. The late Peter Seidler, who sadly went away this winter, was aware of all of this and saw the Padres as something more—something extraordinary.

Seidler accomplished something daring, if not in the context of billion-dollar clubs, but nonetheless important for a smaller-market MLB team. He invested a lot of money and recruited stars for his favorite franchise. Sielder, whose grandpa and uncle owned the despised Dodgers (Walter and Peter O’Malley), pledged $237 million for the 2023 season, the third-highest in MLB, adding stars including Xander Bogaerts, Yu Darvish, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Josh Hader, and Joe Musgrove.

Despite these investments, 2023 was disastrous. The team went 82-80, third in the NL West, and with Seidler’s death, the franchise’s future was uncertain. Fortunately, there was baseball to play in 2024.

While not terrifying, the Padres are at.500 (41-41) entering play on Monday and presently occupy the third and final wild card spot in the extremely tight, yet muddy, NL wildcard race. FanGraphs gives the Padres a 49.7% chance of making the playoffs, which matches their current.500 record.

If the Padres are to make a serious run at October baseball, it will be due to their strengthened outfield. Entering Monday’s games, Jurickson Profar (2.1), Tatis Jr. (2.0), and Jackson Merrill (2.3) had two of the team’s top four bWARs. Profar, the veteran anchor, is having his finest statistical season yet at age 31. Tatis Jr. makes headlines for both his great talents and his off-field antics.

The rise of Merrill, a 21-year-old rookie, should have Padres fans the most excited. Merrill has slashed.289/.326/.445 in his first 78 major league games. Merrill hit six runs in eight games last week, becoming only the second center fielder under 21 in MLB history to do so, and the first since the late Willie Mays in 1951.

Merrill’s value is highlighted by the fact that his colleagues Tatts Jr. and Profar have missed recent games against the Milwaukee Brewers due to injury. Profar returned to the lineup on Sunday, but Tatis Jr. missed his second consecutive start after being hit by a pitch on Friday. As the Padres deal with their injury problem, seeing a confident Merrill come into his own will be reassuring.

 

Rookie Merrill hits walk-off HR in 9th to give Padres 5-4 comeback win over  A's

Veteran outfielder David Peralta praised Merrill.

“He’s gonna be great,” Peralta stated, according to Sam Cohn of The Baltimore Sun. “The way he conducts his business, the way he prepares himself, indicates that he wants to expand. He strives to be the best. That is what he is showing right now. “I’m very impressed.”

When questioned about his chances of winning the National League Rookie of the Year award, Merrill had a simple response.

“I don’t care about that stuff,” Merrill told Padres pre- and postgame host Sammy Levitt. “I don’t care about Rookie of the Year or All-Star votes. I care about our team right now. “I want to win here.”

As the Padres continue their 2024 season, the combination of experienced players and rising stars provides a glimmer of hope. Strength and confidence, softly but definitely, define this team’s potential for success.

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