The end is nigh.
Thursday, the Tucson Padres will play in their last-ever regular-season home game at Kino Stadium.
“The end is near,” said catcher Chris Robinson before Tucson beat the Tacoma Rainiers 13-6 at Kino on Friday night, “but you gotta continue to just grind it out. We’re still in the playoff race.”
It’s a far cry from last year.
Then, the Padres’ season ended on Sept. 4, with a loss, but they were finished long before that, as a 56-88 record can attest.
“We were out of it for quite a long time,” said outfielder Dan Robertson.
Things are different this year, though.
Pat Murphy is the manager, and his first Padres team had already earned its 56th victory before August.
Now, with 10 games left, the Padres are 71-63, in third place but were only five games behind the first-place Las Vegas 51s in the PCL Pacific Southern Division going into Friday’s games. So, Tucson still has a hill to climb if it is going to sneak into the playoffs.
“It’s a playoff push right now,” said pitcher Anthony Bass. “We’re trying to finish strong. I know Vegas is playing really well, so is Sacramento. But, as long as we win, we’ll see what happens. We’ll control what we can control.”
Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t count out the Padres:
Obviously, in minor-league baseball, players are constantly shuffling in and out of Triple-A. But the batters who have stuck around — like Robertson and second baseman Dean Anna — things have been pretty consistent, and lately, the bats are heating up.
In fact, ever since speedy center fielder Reymond Fuentes was called up from Double-A and inserted into leadoff, the Padres had scored 6.8 runs per game before Friday’s, and 8.5 in the four games leading into Friday’s. Fuentes is batting .420 with 21 hits, 16 runs, seven RBIs and six stolen bases.
Not to mention, Anna began Friday’s game leading the PCL in batting average at .335, and as a team, Tucson was fourth in batting average at .283.
“Its potent,” said Robertson, batting .291. “That’s why you see some of these games where we’re able to explode for quite a few runs. We got guys doing the little things to get the runs in, and that’s what you’ve been able to see here.
The Padres have had more movement on the pitching staff than wins — there have been 72 call-ups and send-downs this season in Tucson.
Even so, the pitching has been top-notch of late.
Bass, for example, struggled in San Diego to start the season, was demoted to Tucson, and struggled some more — he had a 6.60 ERA in his first 12 starts in Triple-A. But, in his last three games, he has pitched 20 innings with a 1.80 ERA and 14 strikeouts.
“Physically I feel fine,” Bass said. “Mentally I’m OK. I took a beating the first couple of months here, trying to figure things out. But I went back to my old ways of what got me to the big leagues, throwing strikes and getting ahead, and I’ve had some success doing that.”
If Tucson keeps up its recent hot streak at home — 12 wins in the last 14 games — the playoffs are a real possibility.
They have six games left at home, two against Tacoma and four against the Reno Aces, before they travel to Las Vegas for a four-game series that could determine which team goes to the playoffs.