Saying that winning a lot of games in baseball is hard seems like an obvious statement, but perhaps the obviousness of the truism got a blurred in the Padres' offseason. Right now, with the team not able to even reach the previous season wins total, it is sinking in really hard as to how hard winning is in this game. I think a lot of narratives will point at some amount of chemistry missing from the number of players all joining the team this offseason and others will point at some of the imbalances on the team, and both those ideas have merit and deserve discussion. However, for me the humbling nature of the game's difficulty to win a lot of games in one particular season is what sticks out.
Part of that thought process takes me back to the mid-1990s. The Padres went to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade in 1996 and their second ever World Series in 1998. The team built itself a window for winning from 1995-1998. A window that started to open with acquisition of Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley and was supported by the solid foundation of Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman as well as a couple of emerging starting pitchers in Joey Hamilton and Andy Ashby. The window closed when a number of players were lost to free agency after 1998 season. But what does this have to do with winning being hard? Well, what happened to 1995 and 1997? The 1995 team was probably a bit undermanned (no Quilvio Veras, Wally Joyner, etc. yet). The 1997 team, however, had most of the components for the winning clubs of 1996 and 1998, but was never closer than 7 games from first place after April 27. They were non-competitive for the most part. Bad results can happen in these windows.
Another team that drifts to mind is the Milwaukee Brewers (probably because the Padres just played them) and their Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Yovani Gallardo-fueled window from 2007-2011. Those were some talented teams that they had, but not only did they never make a World Series (they got close in 2011), but they only made the playoffs 2 times in that 5 year span. They even had a 77 win season mixed in there. Nice window, but not always nice results.
So what is takeaway here, besides the over-simplified winning is hard theme? Mine is that a collection of players, even ones that history proved could win games, don't come together and win it consistently season after season. What you have to hope for with those players is that a window opens and that one of those seasons is something special. Which brings us back to the Padres. I think going into the season there were reasons to like this collection of players, but betting that they could come together for one season was a longshot. Perhaps that ultimately boils down to chemistry or balance or bad luck, but it also seems to fall in line with history that one year is not enough time.
It's true that one could derive a positive message from what I've brought up. The message being that just because the Padres failed this year doesn't mean they'll fail every year. That winning is hard, but they have core of players now and have built a window that at some point will see a breakthrough. However, I think that point is debatable. One could argue that the window was only briefly as it was blown open and will quickly shut by the coming and going of the team's best player: Justin Upton. The front office will have it's work cut out for them, but that makes sense since winning is hard work.