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2023 Padres: Where did it go wrong?


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A detailed explanation as to what went wrong with the Padres in 2023, a team that going into this year was supposed to challenge for the National League pennant.


As Padres’ season spirals, questions emerge about culture, cohesion and chemistry



For whatever else needs to be fixed heading into 2024 — the most important thing would be their best players performing better on the field — things are lacking in Padres’ clubhouse



The morning of the final game of a series against the Dodgers at Petco Park in early August was pretty much like every other morning that preceded a Padres’ day game this season.


Just a handful of players — none of them starters — appeared on the field to take grounders hit by third base coach Matt Williams during the voluntary infield workout.


It is a recurring scene that has roiled numerous veteran Padres players. And none of the days got under their skin like that one.


Because when the Padres’ allotted time was finished, virtually every Dodgers player took the field for some pregame work. Mookie Betts. Freddie Freeman. Everyone.


No one knew how often the Dodgers had such a turnout. But they did know they had seen several opponents have showings like that with most, if not all, of their players on the field before day games.


And that specific morning, with a chance to split a series against their nemesis and one of the best teams in the league, served as a metaphor for one of the deficiencies that perhaps has not been a direct cause of the Padres losing so many games but that many inside the organization believe contributed to their inability to win more.


For whatever else needs to be fixed or tweaked or changed regarding the Padres — and the most important thing would be their best players performing better on the field — there is a belief in the clubhouse that the culture within the team is one that lacks cohesion and a central purpose.

This does not mean players don’t like each other or don’t work hard, those inside say. Multiple players pushed back on suggestions there are deep-seated resentments between them.


The issue, several sources said they believe, is a lack of engagement.


This, according to multiple veterans who have been with the Padres for varying lengths of time and most who have also played for other teams, is largely borne of the team’s best players being on their own programs to some extent. And, in particular, it is the product of there being an outsized presence who commands the room, a man who has shown the ability to carry a team but has not exhibited the ability nor inclination to lift it.


The Manny


Talk about the Padres’ culture, and Manny Machado has to be the first person mentioned — for the immensity of his talent and onfield contributions, the force of his personality and the responsibility that comes with his $350 million contract.


To be clear, this is not a story about Machado being the problem with the Padres. It is not even as simple as Machado being a problem.


Virtually everyone believes the best version of the Padres has Machado performing at his best.


He played at an MVP level in both 2020 and ‘22, the only two seasons in which the team advanced to the playoffs in the past 17 years. He has been in the major leagues since the end of 2012 and over the past nine seasons has started more games than any player on any team and, even with subpar seasons in 2019 and ‘23, has compiled the ninth-highest fWAR in MLB in that time.


To everyone, that demonstrates his dedication and means he knows how to get himself ready.


“I know that I’ve gone above and beyond for everyone,” Machado said on Wednesday. “I will always go above and beyond for everyone. I think everybody knows that. I go out there and I pour my heart and soul into a team. … Ultimately, I know what I bring to the team. I know what I’ve always brought to the team.”


That can be enough — until it isn’t.


Maybe if all 13 position players on the roster were possessed of Machado’s arm, bat speed, baseball acumen and innate toughness, there would be no need for “culture.”


In part because Machado is a rare talent and such a team would consist entirely of players with contracts like the extension bestowed on Machado in February, that is not the case. That team does not exist.


According to several veterans, what also does not exist is a team with a “winning culture” that doesn’t include the best players being the hardest workers and those players demonstrating in word and deed to the rest of the team what is expected and tolerated.


To that end, several people maintain there is a leadership void in the Padres clubhouse — at least the kind of leadership the Padres need.


There are plenty of people to potentially blame. This could be the result of the roster composition by President of Baseball Operations A.J. Preller. This perhaps should have fallen on manager Bob Melvin to supercede. Maybe this was the responsibility of a group of veterans to fix.


However, the contention by several people in the organization is that there is one powerful force that may not be the problem but certainly has not been the solution a player of his stature could be.


According to virtually everyone queried in a series of more than 30 conversations with more than a dozen uniformed personnel, including eight players, and other members of the organization, there is unanimous consensus that Machado controls the clubhouse and sets a tone and personality for the team.


This assessment is based on how he is treated, the latitude he is given and how messages for the team are passed through him from above. It is also based on what multiple players said were his own declarations, though Machado denied that to be the case, same as he pushed back on much of the premise of this story.

“I think everybody is a leader,” Machado said. “I think we have 26 leaders. I don’t think necessarily one person has to take the lead role. I think baseball is a team sport. It takes everyone.”


Told that there was uniform agreement among several teammates that he is the dominant presence in the clubhouse, Machado did say, “That’s fair.”


At issue may be the matter of assessing how dominant and how that can dominance can be navigated.


Culture questions


To focus entirely on Machado as a reason the Padres failed to right their season at any juncture during a wildly disappointing six months would be unfair and erroneous.


From Preller to Melvin to veteran players, there is a need to figure this out.


It is the stated intention of some of those players to make inroads on doing so in the season’s remaining weeks, into the offseason and heading into spring training.

Because the overwhelming sentiment is that something is broken and can’t be fixed in the current environment.


This story is the product of observations made and conversations had throughout the season. Specifically, in recent weeks, interviews were conducted, primarily with players, all of whom were granted anonymity and the assurance no direct quotes would be used.


All of Machado’s quotes herein are the result of a 30-minute conversation before Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, during which he bristled at some of the contentions regarding the team’s culture and his part in it while seeming to ponder on a portion of others.


He made it clear he does not believe that the Padres’ culture is a problem and, for that matter, strongly indicated he does not put much stock in the importance of cultivating a culture.


“What is this, college baseball?” he said at one point. “What is this, high school?”


Notably, the willingness to answer questions and confirm findings was for some players prompted by their desire for a change in the team’s culture and a belief it would help to have the issues come to light. The details shared by players are meant to strengthen the club, not tear it apart, they said.


Asked why these issues had not been solved internally, some people said the topics had been addressed to no avail. Some said they didn’t feel it was their place to be the agents of change, and three prominent members of the team based that on having asserted themselves or seen others assert themselves and it having not made a difference.


It is a nearly universal belief in the Padres clubhouse that this has been the strangest season anyone has ever experienced in the major leagues. For whatever issues they can identify, there are many issues they cannot get their minds around. It seems everyone remains confused by how bad it has been and said the Padres’ disappointing results could not be boiled down to one cause.


Joe Musgrove was hurt much of the year. Yu Darvish was not right more than he was. The so-called Big Four of Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. did not collectively perform to expectations. Neither did Jake Cronenworth or almost anyone else.


But a common belief within the organization holds that the team’s lack of ability to rise above adversity or work its way out of a morass owed to a lack of unity that, at best, did not help and that many felt hindered the Padres’ ability to achieve any level of consistent success.


The Padres are 0-11 in extra innings and 6-22 in one-run games and have not won more than three straight games all season. These things verge on historically awful and have been held up by some in the organization as examples of a lack of “fight” fostered at least in part by a lack of togetherness and clear direction set by the tip of the spear.


’Should have wanted it more’


In Seattle two nights after the Monday morning scene at Petco Park where almost no one was on the field, Padres reliever Steven Wilson suffered a bout of wildness and, after giving up a home run to Cal Raleigh, hit Teoscar Hernández with an 0-2 fastball. It was clearly not purposeful. There was no ostensible reason to be enraged. But a half-dozen Mariners players either hopped the dugout railing or charged up the steps and yelled angrily toward Wilson. No one in the Padres dugout moved.


Contrast that reaction to July 25, when Machado was struck in the back by a fastball from Pirates pitcher Angel Perdomo in clear retaliation for a Juan Soto home run. There was, at best, some general stirring in the Padres’ dugout.


There is wisdom in not clearing the bench. The Padres certainly could not afford to lose players to suspension or injury, as they were at that time eyeing a come-from-behind run to the postseason.


However, multiple players acknowledged this was indicative of a lack of engagement.


It was not, they insisted, a lack of regard for Machado.


The visceral reaction the Mariners had, several players said, is a result of teammates working together regularly and feeling like everyone is pulling the same direction and confident they are in the fight together.


Many on the inside assert that is not the case with the Padres.


Machado disagreed.


“I think there is,” he said of a sense of unity. “Can there be more? Can there be a lot more? Yeah. I wouldn’t say that there isn’t any, that we were not together. So I think it’s unfair for people to assume that or to think that. Everyone has different relationships. But can there be improvement? Yeah, there’s always room for improvement.”


Over the course of the sitdown in the visitors dugout at Dodger Stadium, there was never a point where Machado appeared more reflective than when considering the togetherness topic.


After one particularly long pause, he said this:


“I think we just didn’t want it. I think overall as a group, we didn’t want it as bad as Seattle did or as bad as some of these other teams. I will say that. I think that’s everyone’s fault. It’s everybody’s fault. We didn’t want it as a team. It falls down to the team. That’s not necessarily one player. It’s not an individual sport. So I think ultimately, it comes down to all of us. We should have wanted it more.”




The Padres had what some estimated were eight or nine team meetings, some solely among players and others that involved members of the uniformed staff and/or front office.


In all of them, it felt like agreement had been reached and plans had been laid out to get the team on a path of cohesion.


According to multiple sources, Machado was among the primary speakers in virtually all of them. And then over the ensuing days, he was among those who did not follow through on action plans.


“I follow through on everything I say,” he said.


It was relayed to him that the types of things that could have been disregarded included being on time to meetings and buses, pregame work, executing unselfish at-bats or demonstrating a sense of engagement on the basepaths or elsewhere.


Machado, according to multiple players, was by no means the only one who often did not put what was said into practice. The failure to turn words into winning play was endemic, as the results show.


What some did maintain was that because Machado is such a significant voice, his not following through on the little things set a tone that essentially could not be overcome.


To ask a Padres player why no one could confront Machado on these matters is to be looked at as if you have six heads.


When presented with the contention that teammates felt that they could not hold him accountable, Machado essentially shared his definition of what being a productive member of a team is.


“When you go out there every single day, you’ve got to try to perform, and you’ve got to try to be the best player every single day, no matter who you are,” he said. “So if you’re not doing that, then you’re not pulling on the same rope as a team.”


Most agree Machado generally embodies the first part of that statement. That is not at issue.


Machado preferred to focus on the bottom line.


“I think we did,” he said of the idea of everyone pulling the same direction. “We just didn’t perform well. It goes back to where was this last year? We did the same thing last year. We did not change one thing. The only thing that changed was that we didn’t perform. I did not perform. We did not perform. That’s what it is. There’s nothing else to it. We did not perform. When you perform, everything is great, everything is gravy. When you don’t, you’ve got to deal with the consequences.”


‘We didn’t perform’


Machado broached a valid topic.


“Last year, we made it to the Championship Series,” he said. “We have the same group of guys. We have the same clubhouse. I mean a couple guys here and there that are mixed in, but the majority of the guys (are) the same. None of these conversations came up last year when we were winning. But when you’re losing and there’s expectations and you don’t perform at the highest level, this is what happens.”


Some of these things actually were bubbling below the surface last summer. But Machado is correct that winning does change things, namely perception and the urgency to address potential deficiencies. Several people said the Padres’ run to the NLCS served as something of a mask.


Moreover, those people said, the issue is that they didn’t win this year. And that, they said, is where a leader or group of leaders, make the difference. For the Padres, in that chasm between success and failure, was a void that was not filled.


For Machado, that is all noise.


“Honestly, the moral to the story is simple,” he said. “I think we’re getting a little sidetracked here. … I think ultimately there are (a lot of) guys that lead here. Obviously, myself, Tati, Bogey, Darvish. Croney, Joe. We’re all obviously going to be here for a long time, and people look up to us, and they expect us to go out there every single day and be better. I think we didn’t this year. That falls on us. that falls on me for not performing how I’m supposed to perform and the capabilities I’m supposed to be performing at. And when these things happen, this is the outcome.


“And these conversations start happening. ‘Oh, well, there’s no chemistry, there’s no leadership or there’s no this or there’s no that. The clubhouse is getting lost.


The manager has lost the clubhouse, the front office this.’ There’s always gonna be stuff. And ultimately it comes down to one thing: We didn’t perform. I didn’t perform what I’m capable of performing. We didn’t perform. Because that’s just what it is. And you’ve got to take full responsibility (for) that. At the end of the day, it’s whatever you do in between the lines when you put on that jersey, and you go out there and you leave it on the field. So that’s the story. I don’t think there’s anything else that can be talked about.”


And within that dissonance, it seems, lies the disconnect.



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They are a bad situational team, whether that's their average/slugging w RISP, their record in one-run ball games, their extra innings record, everything is awful.

Baseball, like many sports are fine margins. When all these fine margins go against you, that's where the Padres end up. Their longest winning streak of the season is 3 games so they have an inability to sustain anything meaningful.

In addition, they've had some key injures this year to Machado (he's played through a hand/wrist and elbow injury), Musgrove (broken toe and second half shut dowm), and Darvish (the WBC messed up his pre season and it impacted him through the first half). Cronenworth as well, but he struggled immensely.

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