Despite spending much of the second half of the season flirting with .500, the NL West-leading San Diego Padres still control their own destiny.
San Diego begins its quest to finally take complete control of the division when they open a three-game series with the Washington Nationals at Petco Park.
The Padres have sat alone in first place for all but two days since May 26, and they were tied for the lead those days. Still, the Padres aren’t assured of anything yet.
They begin play Friday leading Los Angeles by 5 1/2 games with 17 to play—and that’s with their final seven against the Dodgers and San Francisco.
“I don’t really analyze the win-loss aspect and what-ifs,” shortstop Khalil Greene said. “Ultimately, we’re trying to play good baseball and the other stuff will take its course.”
Hindered by a sputtering offense, the Padres had lost four straight before rallying to win the series finale with San Francisco on Wednesday behind an impressive display of clutch hitting, pitching and defense.
“We’re in this,” Padres utilityman Robert Fick said. “We’ve got a chance to be in the playoffs. We’ve got to quit looking behind our shoulders and seize the opportunity.”
Sean Burroughs—sent to the minors in July for 5 1/2 weeks to work out the kinks in his swing—gave the Padres an unexpected and much-needed lift when, facing an 0-2 count, delivered a two-run double off Armando Benitez in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 5-4, 10-inning win. Brian Giles lined a tiebreaking single with two outs in the 10th.
“That’s probably the hit of the year,” Fick said. “We stopped their momentum, and hopefully we stopped the Dodgers’ momentum.”
Every player shared Fick’s sentiment, calling Burroughs’ hit the most meaningful of the season for the Padres in their most meaningful game. A six-game lead is a big difference from a four-game cushion.
“That’s a big swing, four to six,” San Diego’s Eric Young said.
The Nationals are also very much alive in the playoff hunt, coming into this series off a three-game sweep at New York, capped by a 6-5 win in 10 innings on Thursday.
“People outside of here don’t think we can do it,” Castilla said. “We’re still here.”
The Nationals, 2 1/4 games behind wild card-leading Houston, swept a road series for the second time in a month.
Washington has played a major-league high 57 one-run games. This was only the third time since the All-Star break it has put together a winning streak of longer than two games.
“This might be the one we needed to put us over the top before this thing is over,” manager Frank Robinson said.