Machado, even keel as ever, made a prediction:
“When he does put on that uniform, we’re going to be in a good situation. In a good place to welcome him. You don’t win a championship in the first three months of the season. You could put yourself in a really good position. … That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
And, boy, are they doing it.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Padres announced that Tatis has still not been cleared to resume swinging a bat, following the latest round of imaging on his ailing wrist. On Tuesday night, they won another game without him — a come-from-behind 12-5 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“Every guy is pulling on the rope in the same direction,” said second baseman Jake Cronenworth, who notched his second consecutive three-hit night. “Hopefully, we get [Tatis] back soon, and he can give us a little spark. But the guys are playing really well right now, and we just keep building every night off what we’re doing.”
When Machado made his prediction three months ago, it seemed a tad optimistic. This was a team coming off a 79-win season, losing its best player from the previous year, in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. And yet, with the victory Tuesday, the Padres remained in a virtual tie for first place with the Dodgers.
“It’s been hard being on the sideline,” said Tatis, who worked out on the field before the game. “But I’m just proud of my team. We’re one of the best teams in baseball without me.”
In a different time and place, news of a delay in Tatis’ recovery would’ve felt organizationally crushing. Tatis is the Padres’ preeminent superstar, one of the most exciting players in the entire sport.
But Machado was astute in his March assessment of Tatis’ injury, even as the rest of the baseball world seemed panicked. The Padres weren’t going to win any playoff series in mid-June. They could only put themselves in a solid position for Tatis’ return, whenever that would be.
We still don’t have an answer. But the question suddenly seems a lot less pressing.
“We’re expecting to have him back — it’s just a matter of when,” Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller said earlier in the afternoon. “I don’t think it changes like, ‘Hey, we need to do something from a roster standpoint.’ The guys, they’ve played well, and we’re finding a lot of ways to win games.”
For the most part, it was pitching and defense that carried San Diego during Tatis’ prolonged absence. But on Tuesday, the offense showed what it’s capable of. Left-hander Sean Manaea exited after four-plus innings, his shortest start of the season. The Padres, who had yet to overcome a deficit of more than three runs, came roaring back.