If divine intervention services are required in Major League Baseball, clearly the San Diego Padres are the leading candidate at the moment.
As of this morning, San Diego is 3 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the race for the NL West division crown. There are only three games remaining for the Padres, all of them in San Francisco.
For a team that Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci described as "the closest [team] to a sure thing [to make the playoffs]" just one month ago (they sported the best record in the National League at the time), time has not flown quite as quickly as the Padres had hoped. In the month of September, San Diego was just 13-16, inluding an 8-9 mark against division rivals. The starting rotation has just six wins in that timespan, including one by the newly activated Chris Young, who's been on the DL for almost the entire season. To complicate the matter, the Giants are not the Pads' only competition at this point - if Atlanta wins two of its next three, they will pull the wild card rug right out from under Petco Park. The Braves, of course, are playing a three-game homestand against Philadelphia, and there's a good chance that the Phillies, owners of the best record in the either league, will be looking to rest their starters as they prepare for a postseason run.
I wish there were room enough for all three teams. Statistically, the Padres are worse than the Giants and the Braves, but they've worked awfully hard this season to come away with nothing. For a team that finished 19 games out of first place last year, they deserve a bid for turning the ballclub around as they have. The Giants have made remarkable progress since the All-Star break, rising from 3 games above .500 to a 91-68 record atop the West, buoyed by the development of catcher Buster Posey (.313 BA/.365 OBP/.511 SLG) into a future franchise backstop. The Braves are trying hard to claw their way into a playoff spot for retiring manager Bobby Cox, hoping to allow for an appropriate October exit for a man who ranks 4th on the all-time managerial wins list. It's difficult to pick a villian in that group.
That said, I'm pulling hard for the West. It would be cool to see the Padres and Phillies take 2 of 3 on the road, forcing a San Diego-Atlanta one-game playoff next week. Here are the pitching matchups for this weekend:
Phillies @ Braves
FRI: Kyle Kendrick (10-10, 4.76 ERA) vs. Brandon Beachy (0-1, 2.89 ERA)
SAT: Cole Hamels (12-11, 3.09) vs. Tommy Hanson (10-11, 3.41)
SUN: Vance Worley (1-1, 2.25) vs. Tim Hudson (16-9, 2.76)
Padres @ Giants
FRI: Clayton Richard (13-9, 3.71) vs. Matt Cain (13-10, 2.95)
SAT: Tim Stauffer (5-5, 1.89) vs. Barry Zito (9-13, 4.08)
SUN: Mat Latos (14-9, 2.92) vs. Jonathan Sanchez (12-9, 3.15)
If the Phillies are going to win 2, it will probably have to be the first two, given the inexperience of Beachy and the fact that Hamels' only complete game this season has been away, at night, on grass. The Richard-Cain duel should keep you glued to your seat; whatever happens, the Padres absolutely have to win on Sunday and steal a win tonight or tomorrow. Let's hope this weekend is as good as it gets.
Baseball gods, are you listening?