MLB Pennant Race: San Diego Padres' Last Playoffs Chance Lies in San Francisco

Doug GausepohlCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2010

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Yorvit Torrealba #8 of the San Diego Padres is congratulated by Third Base Coach Glenn Hoffman after Torrealba's  solo home run in the bottom of the 2nd inning against  the Cincinnati Reds during their MLB game on September 26, 2010 at PETCO Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Don't fool yourself by thinking the San Diego Padres are going to sneak into the postseason by winning the National League wild card.

When trailing a team going into the last week of the season, like the Padres are currently trailing the Atlanta Braves in the wild card by 1.5 games, it's tough to gain ground without playing the team that you're chasing. 

When you win, you need the team in front of you to lose in order to gain a game.  And when you lose, you need that team to lose even more so you don't lose ground.

The Braves are fresh-off sweeping the Florida Marlins at home, and will finish off the season against a Philadelphia Phillies team that will be focused much more on resting their regulars in anticipation for their division series than trying to prevent the Braves from making the playoffs.

The only chance the Padres have of making the postseason in this seemingly miraculous run they've made in 2010 is to beat the San Francisco Giants. 

At the moment, the Giants sit two games above the Padres with four to go for each squad. 

Luckily for the Padres, three of those games remaining are with the Giants. 

The best case scenario for the Padres is that they win tomorrow against the Cubs, and the Giants lose at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Then the Padres would go into San Francisco just one game back, and could force a one-game playoff just by winning two of the three games, and could win the division outright by sweeping the Giants.

There are two other scenarios, and neither are very good for San Diego. 

One, is that both teams win (or lose) tomorrow, and the Padres go into their three-game series with the Giants two games back.  They would need to sweep to win the division.  If the Padres lose and the Giants win on Thursday, the Padres would need to sweep San Francisco just to force a one-game playoff.

So in essence, under the final scenario, the Padres would have to sweep a four-game series from the Giants just to make the playoffs.

Considering the Giants have allowed an average of less than two runs a game in September, that seems like quite a task for the offensively-challenged Padres.

If anything is going for the Padres (and it really doesn't seem like anything is), it's that San Fran ace Tim Lincecum is not pitching in this series for the Giants.  He pitched on Wednesday night, quite brilliantly as a matter of fact, setting him up for the Monday one-game playoff if the Giants need him.

The Padres' rotation for this gigantic series is currently set up with Clayton Richard on Friday, Tim Stauffer on Saturday, and Mat Latos on Sunday.

It's curious to see how the Padres might alter their rotation depending on their status going into Friday.  If they're three out and need to sweep to force the one-game playoff, do they start Latos on extremely short rest?  Do they keep Richard in his current Friday night slot, and then start Latos on Saturday if they can win on Friday? If they do the latter option, who starts on Sunday if it means something?

The Giants rotation is more of a sure thing at the moment. 

Barry Zito will start on Friday, Matt Cain will start on Saturday afternoon, and Jonathan Sanchez will start the season finale.  The only question that could come up is that if the Padres win on Thursday, the Giants lose, and then the Padres take the first two against San Francisco, who takes the ball on Sunday? 

The Giants would need that game to force a one-game playoff.  Do you trust your season in the hands of Jonathan Sanchez?  Or do you give the ball to Lincecum on short rest, and worry about Monday when it comes?

Questions could certainly be up in the air for the Giants, but if they do their job this weekend, they won't have to worry about setting up their rotation until the division series.

It's a corner the Padres certainly don't want to be in, but they've been backed into.  Now it's up to them to fight out of it.