The Top-10 Most Tragic Moments of the 2021 Padres
They suffered perhaps the biggest collapse in baseball history. But which exact moments were the worst of them all?
There’s probably something seriously wrong with me for wanting to write this. Like, not in the “Haha, you’re so silly for watching Face/Off for the 10th time!” kind of way, but in the “Wait, seriously, you just eat an entire bag of candy corn while listening to Marvin’s Room, are you okay?” kind of way.
I’d like to confirm that, yes, the 2021 Padres genuinely scarred me. The team was a comedy masquerading as a tragedy; it was a comedian doing a routine on set without knowing they, themselves, were the punchline. Hailed as one of the most exciting teams in baseball, earning themselves the moniker of “Slam Diego” just a year ago, the Padres suffered one of the greatest collapses in the history of the sport, going 19-39 down the stretch and a plethora of players underperforming.
Considering all the moves the Padres made in the offseason, finishing below .500 was precisely the type of thing that sends a man into madness. This time that man is me, Javier Reyes, who will be ranking the top-10 most tragic moments from the 2021 Padres in a bout of masochism or — if you want to view it more charitably — as a way of coping with disaster and grief. And as always, this is my listicle and if you disagree with anything it is simply because you are wrong.
10. Looking up Tommy Pham‘s numbers with runners in scoring position
Due to the incredible success story of Jake Cronenworth, some people might forget that the 2020 offseason trade between the Padres and Rays was originally centered around Tommy Pham. In an effort to boost the team’s on-base skills — an area the team had ranked near to or dead last in for a few years — Pham and Cronenworth were sent to the Padres in exchange for OF Hunter Renfroe, 2B Xavier Edwards, and 2B Esteban Quiroz. Look, Cronenworth alone ensures that this was a good trade for the Padres, but the regression of Tommy Pham contributed to the inconsistency of the offense.
What I mean by this is Pham caused a tremendous amount of sadness every time the Padres needed a hit this season. Nobody on base and already down by four runs? Pham can help you there. But in terms of runners in scoring position, he was one of the worst hitters in ALL of baseball, tied for the 5th worst wRC+ (41) among qualified batters in 2021.
It was one of those moments that carried throughout the season, especially if you routinely watched the games, and didn’t realize just how bad it was until you pulled up the ole’ FanGraphs page. I distinctly remember checking it during a game, while also playing on my Nintendo Switch (Dodgeball Academia, for those curious), and nearly chucking the thing across the room in disgust.
9. Blake Snell placed on IL
Unlike the Tommy Pham trade, the Padres acquisition of Blake Snell wasn’t nearly as balanced of an acquisition. Yet again, the Rays seemed to have sold high on a player in just the knick of time! How do they keep getting away with this! For most of the season, Snell was one of the most inefficient pitchers in the league, an inconsistent pitch mix, and nightmarish home/road splits. But then, as if just in time before I threw myself into the Atlantic Ocean, Snell seemed to figure it out and was one of the most effective pitchers in baseball for all of August. Hooray! Better late than never, I innocently thought.
Despite multiple performances that even nearly resulted in no-hitters, the baseball gods eviscerated this slight whisp of hope and Blake Snell landed on the IL with a groin injury. It’s a microcosm for the 2021 Padres season: every time something seemed to be going right, another tragedy came to take its place.
8. When Javier Reyes predicted Trent Grisham would finish top-10 in MVP voting
This should’ve been the first sign of impending doom. I’m literally an idiot for a living!
Look, we all have our bad takes, for sure. Trent Grisham certainly wasn’t bad this season, but he hardly improved and I’m convinced is incapable of hitting inside pitches. Very quietly, the 2020 gold-glover isn’t looking like the massive steal people thought he was. Luis Urias had offensive numbers on par with or even better than Grisham in 2021 (.249/.345/.445 with 23 HRs) and pitcher Eric Lauer finished with a 3.19 ERA over 118.2 innings pitched. The latter is especially troubling, considering the Padres were so desperate for competent starting pitching the second half that they had to pick up Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez.
7. Dinelson Lamet‘s Injury Issues
One of the biggest reasons for the Padres historic second-half collapse — aside from the baseball gods deciding to punish…Padres fans for some reason, as if they haven’t been through enough — was a serious lack of starting pitching. Considering they had literally been projected by FanGraphs as having the top rotation heading into the season, it’s a true tragedy. A good reason for that was health, and Dinelson Lamet was the poster boy.
After finishing 4th in NL Cy voting in 2020, aided by one of the game’s most wipeout sliders, Lamet was a shell of himself in 2021…because he was hardly even a starter. After suffering an injury near the tail-end of the 2020 regular season, Lamet and the Padres elected to not go the Tommy John surgery route and instead tried to rehabilitate by slowly ramping up his workload. For a brief, happy moment in time, that seemed to work, but eventually, Lamet hit various setbacks and became an overqualified — nor very effective — bullpen arm instead of the frontline starter the team needed him to be.
6. When THAT Athletic Piece Dropped
Before the 2021 season, The Athletic dropped an article detailing the organizational dysfunction going on with the Colorado Rockies. It was a brutal, well-reported piece, and often times I find any time The Athletic does a feature on your team’s personnel like this it’s going to be bad. Well, as if the season itself wasn’t punishment enough already, a similarly scathing feature came out about the Padres and their collapse.
The article was, in a sense, The Roast of the 2021 Padres. It detailed the trades that have gone awry for general manager A.J. Preller, a lack of diverse voices, tedious micro-managing, atrocious player development, and even a suggestion that the Padres may look into trading Manny Machado (which, while a bad idea, somehow isn’t the worst idea at this point). Going from Tom Verducci’s story on the team before the season started to this is the type of thing that would turn any fan into the Joker. I will neither confirm nor deny if such a thing has happened.
5. Everything Eric Hosmer
Alright, this is where things start to get really dark. One of my favorite things to do on this website is bullet points because it means less work. That’s what I’ll be doing now, which is appropriate because I humbly believe that the idea of doing the least is befitting of Eric Hosmer.
- After playing in a 152 games this season, Hosmer finished with a WAR of 0.0.
- Hosmer’s defensive rating this season was -14.9, the 4th lowest in all of baseball.
- Excluding catchers, he was tied for the 8th-worst UZR (ultimate zone rating) amongst all qualified in baseball (-5.1).
- He successfully hoodwinked anyone into thinking his surprsing embrace of launch angle in 2020 was legitamate. After cutting down his egregious groundball rate in 2020 to 47%, the Wizard of Hoz brought that right back up to an unholy 56.2% rate in 2021, the second highest in all of baseball (Raimel Tapia, in a fit of what can only be described as madness, had a 67.4% rate)
- This video:
- He somehow managed to largely evade media criticism for years because of his alleged clubhouse leadership and chemistry skills. I’m not going to sit here and refute that those intangibles don’t matter — the “Freakalytics” crowd, as I like to call them, does that enough already and it’s annoying — but when there’s such a large discrpenacy between your output on the field versus in the clubhouse, I don’t really care about the latter.
- Eric Hosmer is only halfway through his 8-year, $144 million dollar contract.
- The only reason Hosmer doesn’t rank higher on this list is because, in all honesty, it’s not like this was at all surprising. He is the bane of every Padres fan’s existence.
4. Getting No-Hit by Tyler Gilbert
It’s hard, and perhaps foolish, to hone in on specific games when the Padres went 26-43 in the second half of the season, but I’m going to do that anyway. There was a point during the collapse when the Padres, despite their recent stumbles, where the team had at least the silver lining of a relatively easy schedule over a 2-week stretch. One of the teams over that stretch was the Arizona Diamondbacks, one of the worst teams in baseball, who at one point broke the record for the most consecutive losses on the road in league history. And the Padres were no-hit by them.
It has to be some cruel joke by the universe for the pitcher on the mound for the Padres that night to have been Joe Musgrove, who earlier on in the season had thrown the first no-hitter in franchise history. Why did this have to happen? Why was I punished for at one point having hope — for simply having joy?
Was this Corbin Burnes? No. Was this any one of the Dodgers many incredible pitchers? No. It was Tyler Gilbert, a lad no one had ever heard of, making his FIRST professional start. I can’t anymore; I’m not sure how much more I can write about all of this; I feel like my happiness is being sucked out of me by a Dementor.
3. The 16-inning Game
My willpower is diminishing. Every time I have to recall a moment in which the Dodgers are happy is almost as mentally taxing as one in which the Padres are losing. This time, it’s the best of both worlds. Despite an epic performance by Blake Snell for the majority of the game, manager Jayce Tingler — in his infinite wisdom and desire to hurt me, personally — kept him in the game despite being already at an extremely high pitch count. Then, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence, Will Smith (no, not the cool one) tied the game with a solo shot in the 8th inning. The game ended up going until the 16th inning.
It was agonizing to see the Padres continue to fail at mustering one single hit. The Dodgers taking the lead in the 15th inning, then Fernando Tatis Jr. tying the game in the bottom of the 15th with a two-run blast because of course he did, and the team relinquishing the game to A.J. Pollock after a homer in the 16th. You, the reader, need to understand something:
That was awful.
2. Manny Machado/Fernando Tatis Jr. Arguement
Aside from the constant losing and overall existential angst, the 2021 Padres still had one more moment of tragedy to give us before the season concluded. After happening upon a series win against the Astros, the Padres headed into a weekend series against the Cardinals with a chance to salvage their season.
Narrator: That did not happen.
Instead, the Padres were swept by the emergent Cardinals (and, as we all know, they didn’t stop there) and one particular loss, which featured relief pitcher Emilio Pagán — who was somehow allowed to pitch yet again in a pivotal moment for the team — surrendering three runs in the bottom of the 8th inning. Oh, but that’s not what you’re here for, right? The real tragedy here was the argument that transpired, and went on to go viral, between Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.
The entire ordeal felt like the argument scene in Marriage Story. It was harrowing, immeasurably uncomfortable, and one that involved two people we appreciated so much. It’s a moment that encapsulated the 2021 Padres perfectly. It was a team that collapsed in every conceivable sense, and the only thing surprising about it was that it only happened once (publicly, at least).
1. Max Scherzer, Trea Turner traded to the Dodgers
Finally, the end of the road. I’m finally free of this curse. My fingers feel as if they’re a sandcastle being hit by a tidal wave; they’ve aged 40 years over the span of typing onto this stupid Mac computer. That’s just my fingers, though. The rest of my body has simply lost the will to live. My soul feels like it’s been transferred to another space in time; I’m no longer in charge — no longer the captain of my own vessel. I’m a shell that somehow continues to exist. Is there any part of me that’s still alive? Does it even matter?
The most tragic moment of the 2021 Padres season was the criminal Los Angeles Dodgers trading for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. It was the last time I was actually happy. There are multiple layers as to why this was the biggest tragedy.
- Defcon 4: The Padres were unsucessful in getting Max Scherzer, despite their desperate need for starting pitching help.
- Defcon 3: The Dodgers, of all the possible teams, acquired Max Scherzer, because rewarding the team that signed noted-asshole Trevor Bauer was what the baseball gods felt like doing on this day.
- Defcon 2: The Dodgers ALSO acquired star shortstop Trea Turner in the deal, as if he were just the accidental onion ring that you are blessed with in your order of fries. This confirmed that Nationals GM Mike Rizzo was a sleeper agent for the Dodgers organization this whole time.
- Defcon 1: It was first reported that the Padres were getting Scherzer, because apparently twisting the knife into my sternum is what the narc known as Ken Rosenthal had on his plate that day.
I don’t know if the Padres getting Scherzer would’ve saved them from The Collapse; there were too many other variables that one starting pitcher could feasibly solve. But at the same time, what I do know is the immense failure at the deadline had a certain smell in the air that can’t be explained by statistics. Everything just felt ominous. It felt like the team goofed big time, like we starting to see the fallout of so many poor decisions take effect.
The 2021 Padres are a team I won’t soon forget. They went from the most beloved to the most maligned. They were the counter-culture to baseball’s stern, conservative, and outright backward approach; they were supposed to be the saviors of baseball. Instead, they can’t even save themselves.
I once wrote about how I hoped the Padres, due to their already astronomically high approval rating, weren’t destined to fall into the dark depths of sports villainy. Those hopes and fears turned out to be somewhat correct. The Padres did, indeed, fall, but not into the villain role. The 2021 Padres fell into being a clown show of tragedy.