Check out the major-league standings and search for San Diego Padres. Over there in the National League West.

Now do the math — they have four games left to play and are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Since the Diamondbacks have five games left on the schedule, the next Padres’ victory or Diamondbacks’ loss allows the Padres to clinch fourth place.

Hardly cause to break out the champagne and start celebrating but the Padres aren’t going to finish last.

You might recall those baseball experts back in March predicting the Padres to lose more than 1oo games and being virtual shoo-ins to finish last in the NL West.

Yet here we are on September 30 and the Padres are nowhere near 100 losses. In fact, they won’t even lose 90 games. They are 73-85 with four games left.

Back in April, I predicted a 72-win season for the Padres. Tuesday night’s 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers allowed the Padres to surpass my projection. (

And hey, I picked the Padres to finish fourth — a better forecast than those so-called experts who allegedly study the game more closely than MrSportsBlog.

Tuesday’s victory again displayed the good job manager Bud Black has done with this squad. The Dodgers were trying to clinch the division crown at Petco Park but if you had the two clubs trade uniforms, you wouldn’t have been able to tell which team was fighting for a postseason berth and which team is preparing to make off-season plans.

The Padres got a rare homer from Tony Gwynn Jr. (his second of the year) in the third inning, pushed ahead the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth and added an insurance run in the seventh on a wild pitch. It was enough offense to go with the good pitching (six pitchers held the Dodgers to just four hits) and defense (three double plays) and Heath Bell closed the game in exhilarating fashion by striking out Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and James Loney in order in the ninth.

After the final strikeout, Bell pumped his fist in a fierce manner more fitting of a player enjoying a pennant race, not as a member of a team 20 games out.

But that kind of excitement exists in the final days of the 2009 season because Black has the Padres playing each game as if it matters as opposed to playing out the string.

Since bottoming out at 38-62 on July 27, the Padres are 35-23 since, including a blistering 16-9 in September.

That’s a pretty impressive two-month run after a disastrous first 100 games. That’s why it is perfectly fine for the Padres to feel good when they clinch fourth place sometime later this week.

They could clinch fourth place Wednesday night when the Dodgers again try to clinch the NL West crown. So while the champagne is rightfully placed in the visitors’ clubhouse at Petco Park in case of a Los Angeles victory, don’t be surprised if it remains unopened as the Dodgers leave town.

Perhaps the Dodgers should leave a bottle or two behind for the home team if the Padres win Wednesday night.


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