When the San Diego Padres move into their first postseason game in 14 years Wednesday, not only will they face their playoff nemesis the St. Louis Cardinals, they'll do it with a pitching staff very much in flux.
Right-hander Chris Paddack, who has been anything but consistent, was belatedly announced Tuesday as the Padres starter for Game 1 in the first round of the National League wild-card series. With several factors making the decision unusually difficult, the Padres hadn't announced anything until late Tuesday afternoon.
It fell to Cardinals manager Mike Shildt to off-handedly mentioned on his Zoom news conference that the Padres had told them that Paddack would start. The Padres later confirmed the news.
The Padres had hoped right-hander Dinelson Lamet would start Game 1. He went 3-1 in the regular season with a 2.09 ERA that ranked third in the league. However, Lamet departed his Friday start after 3 2/3 innings complaining of tightness in his biceps -- although he has thrown twice on the side since with no reported discomfort.
Meanwhile, Mike Clevenger left his Sept. 23 start early, and received a cortisone injection to relieve what was described as an impingement behind his right elbow. Clevenger might not be available for the first round, but he threw in the bullpen on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility that he could.
Paddack, then, got the nod over right-hander Zach Davies (7-4, 2.73 after pitching one inning Saturday), and the specter of a bullpen start.
Paddack (4-5, 4.73) gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings Friday against the Giants, marking the fourth time in the past eight starts that Paddack allowed at least four runs and didn't last five innings.
Yet, he also went six innings three times during that stretch, giving up two or fewer runs.
In their first postseason chance since 2006, the Padres hope they get the sharp Paddack in Game 1.
Since nothing makes sense about 2020, it is only fitting that the Padres should be hosting the Cardinals in this best-of-three series.
The teams came from opposite directions to finish as, respectively, the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds. The Padres got off to a strong start this season and finished with a 37-23 record -- the NL's second-best mark behind the NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers -- to gain the advantage of playing the first round at home at Petco Park.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals (30-28) got off to a rough start, as COVID-19 protocols sidelined the club for 15 consecutive days. To reach the playoffs, the perennial postseason participants had to play 53 games in 44 days, including 11 doubleheaders.
This is the fourth time the Padres and Cardinals have met in the opening round of the National League playoffs, and the Cardinals eliminated the Padres in 1996, 2005 and 2006 -- winning nine of 10 games.
The path to a matchup in San Diego was daunting, but it is a journey appreciated in St. Louis.
"I just want to pause and appreciate what just happened and what these guys accomplished," Shildt said Sunday after his club defeated Milwaukee to avoid a 12th doubleheader in Detroit on Monday and clinch the No. 5 seed in the eight-team NL playoff field.
"Getting through this could have been enough. But sticking to their goals of making the playoffs -- and figuring out a way to do it and find a solution is, for me, beyond impressive on a lot of levels."
One trait the Padres and Cardinals share is resolve.
The Padres entered the 2020 season with the third-longest active streak of not reaching the playoffs -- 13 seasons. And they were in the same division as the Dodgers, who entered the season coming off a seventh straight division crown.
"Before this season, we came to focus on one objective as a team," Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "Make the playoffs ... and go from there."
Or as shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. so eloquently said, "We want to eat the cake."
Both teams face questions.
The Cardinals' offense has struggled this season. St. Louis hit just .234 with a mere 51 home runs, fewest in the majors.
Meanwhile, Shildt announced Monday that left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim would get the call in the opener over Jack Flaherty. The Padres will be facing Kim for the first time, although they attempted to acquire him from South Korea in 2018. He went 3-0 this season with a 1.62 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 24 strikeouts in 39 innings. He has allowed only 28 hits.
One reason why Kim might have gotten the call is the fact that the Padres have more problems against left-handers (.761 OPS compared to .815 against righties). Overall, however, the Padres have much stronger offensive numbers than the Cardinals.
Left fielder Tyler O'Neill (.173, 19 RBIs) and designated hitter Brad Miller (.232, 25 RBIs) led the Cardinals with seven homers apiece. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt hit .304 with six homers and 21 RBIs.
Tatis finished second in the National League with 17 homers. San Diego third baseman Manny Machado finished with 16 and right fielder Wil Myers had 15. Machado finished third in the NL with 47 RBIs while Tatis was fourth with 45 and Myers tied for ninth with 40.
As a team, the Padres hit .257 with a .333 on-base percentage and a .798 OPS that bettered the Cardinals by 104 points.
But this is a new chapter to 2020 -- and the Cardinals aren't intimidated.
"The reason we were surviving the day was to get to the next day ... but this group was all-in for this," Shildt said.
--Field Level Media