With a 21-15 record at the MLB trade deadline and winning 10 of 13 since a four-game losing streak, the Padres have virtually assured themselves of a postseason bid.
No, San Diego won't catch the Dodgers in the NL West, facing a five-game deficit as the 2020 season moves into its final month. But the Padres could be the second-best club in the National League. And their front office is clearly going hard at a postseason run.
In less than 48 hours, general manager A.J. Preller has made five trades. It first appeared as if he was content to fill in cracks on his roster, building depth while shoring up weaknesses in the bullpen and at catcher. Improve the team without selling off top-rated prospects from a minor-league system ranked second in MLB by ESPN and MLB.com.
But the Padres' final deal before the trade deadline had more of a blockbuster feel to it. The team added Mike Clevinger, the best starting pitcher available (albeit thanks to alienating his teammates and manager by going out to a bar and breaking COVID-19 protocols).
Since becoming a full-time starter, Clevinger has been outstanding, compiling a 39-19 record with a 3.01 ERA with 534 strikeouts in 472 1/3 innings. He's an ace-level starter joining a rotation with Chris Paddack, Zach Davies, and Dinelson Lamet. Strengthening a bullpen with a 5.20 ERA, sixth-worst in the NL, that's also suffered the losses of closer Kirby Yates and Drew Pomeranz was surely the priority for general. Manager Jayce Tingler now has three new hard-throwing relievers to work with, along with Pomeranz returning.
Trevor Rosenthal has revived a career that looked finished last season, notching 21 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings with seven saves and a 3.29 ERA for the Royals. From the Mariners, Austin Adams hasn't yet pitched in 2020 while recovering from knee surgery. But he struck out 51 batters in 31 innings last season. Dan Altavilla provides a strikeout rate of 10.8 per nine frames.
Getting Mitch Moreland from Boston stretches out the Padres lineup and balances out the order with another left-handed bat. With a .328 average, 1.177 OPS, and eight home runs, he's an upgrade at designated hitter that also allows Tommy Pham more time to recover from a broken hand. And Moreland can fill in for Eric Hosmer at first base when he needs a breather from the field.
However, what's most intriguing about the Padres' deadline additions is how the team has overhauled its depth chart at catcher. How many teams completely replace a position during a season?
San Diego didn't just add another catcher to play with Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia and hopefully improve offensive production. They blew the position out.
Hedges and his .158 average were part of the package to Cleveland for Clevinger. Luis Torrens was among the players dealt to Seattle. And Mejia will probably stay at the Padres' alternate site after he recovers from a bruised thumb and is activated from the injured list. If he's still the catcher of the future, he'll get at least another year to develop.
Jason Castro was acquired from the Angels and won't hit much better than Hedges (currently batting .192). But he's a significant upgrade defensively, considered an excellent pitch-framer, and handles a pitching staff well.
Austin Nola will likely play against left-handed pitching and is a much better hitter. With Seattle this season, he batted .306 with a .903 OPS and five homers. Nola can also play on the right side of the infield if needed, which demonstrates his athleticism, though that likely won't be necessary.
Regarding the risk of adding two new catchers, both are veterans who the Padres believe will learn the pitching staff quickly in working with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
San Diego fans worry about giving up top prospects in trades. But outfielder Taylor Trammell was the only highly-rated player dealt away, but the current roster and minor league system made him expendable. And he's probably a couple seasons away. Besides, minor leaguers aren't developed just to join the major league club. They're used as trade pieces when a team is in contention.
Preller is also hoping that this trade deadline blast of moves works out better than the flurry of deals he made before the 2015.
Sure, he got Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Craig Kimbrel. But the team finished 74-88, fourth in the NL West. And those moves cost him future stars in Yasmani Grandal, Max Fried, and Trea Turner. (Exactly what prospect lovers fear most!) Maybe he's dealt away a player or two of that caliber this time, but this is a much smarter push.
And in a season when there's seemingly no disadvantage to finishing second in the division or getting to the postseason as a wild card, the Padres being the 2020 trade deadline champions could pay off. At least until meeting the Dodgers in the NLCS, if that's how it shakes out.
Ian Casselberry watchdogs sports media for Awful Announcing. He's covered baseball for SB Nation, Yahoo Sports and MLive, and was one of Bleacher Report's first lead MLB writers. Please follow Ian on Twitter @iancass and give him a listen at The Podcass.