After an epic meltdown, Padres seeks a stable course in 2022

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They will try again.

The Padres kick off next season on Thursday in their quest for an elusive championship with expectations just as high as the ones they entered last April. They do it with largely the same roster that last year won big for four months and then lost like few teams have ever done in the last month and a half.

To sum up as succinctly as possible what the Padres have done since suffering a season-ending meltdown for the ages: They’ve hired a manager.

Yes, they signed a starting pitcher and some relievers and traded for a designated hitter. But their big shot, after three years of spending money and prospecting capital to acquire players, was the experienced and almost universally respected Bob Melvin.

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“There’s a firm hand on the wheel, which is good,” right fielder Wil Myers said.

As in, if this thing starts heading for another cliff, there will be someone to steer it back on its path.

That’s the hope, at least.

And despite all the talk of “learning” and “motivation through bad taste” in their mouths since last season’s “collapse” — all words Padres players have used repeatedly this spring — Melvin’s hiring is woven into every expression of expectation for this season.

“We obviously have a better manager who’s been there, who’s been there with multiple teams, who’s won,” third baseman Manny Machado said early in the spring.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the most disappointing season in Padres history — an assessment based on where it started and where it ended — can be put entirely at Jayce Tingler’s feet.

In the end, his fate was that of a scapegoat and it was inevitable. His grip on the respect of his players was tenuous from the start. The first manager could not get rid of his inexperience, and it knocked him down.

Things started out pretty well, as the Padres contested the playoffs in a weird and rushed 2020 season. And a slew of off-season additions loaded up the roster and helped the Padres get off to a quick start in 2021.

But a clubhouse with strong personalities, including those of a few coaches, eclipsed the friendly low-key and deferential Tingler. As injuries mounted and batting groups took turns falling apart, his lack of confidence became a problem. During the season that turned sour, almost every decision Tingler made was subject to scrutiny and complaint. It didn’t help that he didn’t intervene in various clubhouse tensions or hide the tension he was feeling as the season dragged on.

And it escaped, like an avalanche.

After being 17 games above .500 and with a five-game lead in the race for second place wild card on August 10, the Padres fell to four games below .500 at the end of the season minus two months later.

“If you’re going to fall off a cliff like we did last year, you might as well make it dramatic,” Padres president Peter Seidler said earlier this month. “And we did. I think it was what I would call a unique learning experience for all of us. … I will be more than amazed if it happens (again).

It was not so far from the rarity of the calamity.

Only three times in professional baseball history, dating back to the advent of the American Association in 1882, has a team with a winning record with 46 games left in a season worse than the Padres with their 12-34 record. Closing.

“I don’t know if there’s one thing you can identify,” second baseman Jake Cronenworth said. “I mean, even if you look at the first half, we were there the whole time. Even in the divisional race, I know the Giants have been doing their thing pretty much all year, but we’re here for about half the season. I think a lot of it was injuries – a couple guys, (Fernando) Tatis was in and out. The hot and cold streaks, you want (the batters) all going down at once, but you also don’t want them all going downhill at the same time. It was a lot of things. »

Pitchers have been decimated by injuries early in the season. The Padres, in fact, have lost more days on the disabled list than any team. They had their expected eight regulars available for just 49 games. And even when healthy, the offense was inconsistent.

“Certainly a lot happened,” right fielder Wil Myers said. “History is not surprising, given what happened. I think on top of that there were other things that happened with some teams that played very well. The Cardinals have won 19 straight. But as far as looking at us, yeah, we definitely fell right there in the end.

It went wrong. And it hurt.

“It feels like a contagious disease that you just can’t get rid of,” pitcher Joe Musgrove said. “He moves around the clubhouse through everyone.”

How did it get so awful? And how could the players, many of whom are veterans, not get out of the funk?

The top answer, voiced by multiple players, was essentially the same thing many people learned: life happens to you fast.

“The season is going so fast,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “(During) the offseason, you have that first week or two to slow everything down and look back and you kind of go back to certain things and you’re like, ‘Man, I could have just tweaked that a bit or tweaked that.’ But when the season goes away, it goes so fast. So I think that’s one of the benefits of having Bob here is the experience and (his) having been through this battle before, so you know whenever that first tough period comes, he will be well equipped for this. So I think that will help.

It’s important to note that Hosmer wasn’t asked about Melvin when he gave this and another answer which, in the end, turned to Melvin as a major part of the fix.

The transition could be overdone. Time will tell us. It is commonly believed that a manager, through his in-game machinations and roster decisions, can make the difference in perhaps half a dozen wins. Many believe it’s a smaller number of wins that a manager affects.

But maybe it’s different in that it potentially prevents more losses. It is also quite widely believed that when the going gets tough, the manager has to play a big role in preventing things from falling into the abyss.

Enter Melvin, a tall man who moves, gestures, and speaks with a regularity—even a kind of grace—that silently suggests he’s been there and done that. Because he has.

The Padres are the fourth team he will lead. He is one of six men to have been named Manager of the Year in both leagues and one of eight to have won the award at least three times. Its teams have won 1,346 games in the regular season. He’s guided teams to the playoffs seven times, more than the Padres have in 53 years as a major league franchise. In his 15 full seasons as manager, his teams have won at least 90 games six times, twice as many as the Padres.

“You always take on the personality of your leader,” veteran reliever Craig Stammen said. “And I hope we take that personality and there’s just a little – I don’t mean less panic, but like when things go wrong, like what happened last year, I “Hopefully we can get out of these ruts a little faster. Hopefully it was a learning experience, and then having new leadership can provide that experience with a way to improve.”

Reliever Emilio Pagàn has experienced this. He was with Melvin’s Oakland A’s in 2018 when they started the season 9-11 and hovered around .500 for an extended period.

“I remember him going around,” Pagàn said. “It wasn’t like a full team meeting, it wasn’t a big test. He went around every guy before (batting practice) or during BP and said, “Hey, we’re really good. We expect to be really good, let’s go play. It was pretty pushed in the right direction but quiet enough, like “We don’t need to panic, we’re a good team” to keep everyone going about their business.

The A’s finished with 97 wins that year.

Says Pagan: “That calm presence at the time when you’re not getting the results you want, it’s huge.”

The Padres have to some degree already experienced Melvin’s stabilizing influence.

The team hired Melvin because of the disaster that happened last year. And they were certainly glad to have it when another disaster struck them the day before spring training started.

Following Tatis, their superstar shortstop, finding out he had a broken wrist, Melvin’s message to the team was that they would all have to win a championship anyway.

Players hinted at his words for days afterwards, and they did so with a sort of reverence that suggested he was the first person to say such things.

You see, the idea that a man who won’t throw a pitch or swing a bat during a game will have such a magnificent impact might seem absurd. But skepticism from the outside doesn’t really matter. It is about the membership of those who will play the game.

And it clearly happened.

Now let’s see what happens.

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