It is a dubious distinction, but someday it will be “underpassed.”

The 2005 National League Western Division Champion San Diego Padres are the only division winners to finish the season with a below .500 record. It wasn’t easy.

The Padres finished the season at 82-80, five games ahead of the runner-up 77-85 Arizona Diamondbacks.

Manager Bruce Bochy did a tremendous job with a team that scored 684 runs—while allowing 726 runs—which calculates to a Pythagorean expectation of 77-85.

On July 31, the Padres and Diamondbacks were tied for first. But the Padres played a little better, while the Diamondbacks played a little worse. It was almost a contest of futility—Arizona was more futile than San Diego.

In 1973, the New York Mets won the Eastern Division with 82 wins, but they lost “only” 79 games—the last game of the season against the Chicago Cubs was canceled because the Mets had clinched—and won a best of five playoff series against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Padres faced the Cardinals in the first-round of the 2005 playoffs. The Cardinals had won 100 games. It wasn’t close.

In the first game at St. Louis, the Cardinals roughed up Padres ace Jake Peavy for eight runs in four and one-third innings, as they coasted to an 8-5 win.

The Padres overall 2005 record was now 82-81.

The next day was an off day. When the series resumed, Mark Mulder bested Pedro Astacio, 4-2.

The Padres were now 82-82 on the season, with the series moving to San Diego where Woody Williams would face the Cardinals’ Matt Morris.

The 2005 Padres were, as is the case with most Padres teams, offensively challenged.

Former Atlanta Braves slugger Ryan Klesko led the team with 18 home runs. Brian Giles, the only .300 hitter, was the top RBI man…with 83.

Peavy had won 13 games while losing seven, with a 2.88 ERA and a 134 ERA+. No other starting pitcher had an ERA below 4.27 (Adam Eaton).

The Cardinals averaged just under five runs a game. Led by Albert Pujols (.330/.430/.609) and his 41 home runs, the Cardinals had a potent offense. Jim Edmonds hit 29 home runs and Reggie Sanders chipped in 21.

Chris Carpenter won 21 games with a 2.83 ERA and a 150 ERA+. Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan each won 16 games.

The third and final playoff game was over almost before it started. The Cards jumped all over Williams, touching him up for five runs, five hits and two walks in one and two-thirds innings.

The Padres trailed 7-0 before scoring a pair of runs in the fifth inning, but it was too little too late.

The Padres finished the season at 82-83.

Many baseball “purists” have criticized baseball for having a structure that could allow a team that loses more games than it wins to become division champions. This is a valid point, but it also creates a situation in which a team could be embarrassed.

The Padres won two more regular season games than they lost, but when they were swept in the playoffs, they finished the season at 82-83, becoming the only playoff team to lose more games than they won.

Of course one never knows. A baseball axiom is that anyone with a bat in his hands is dangerous, even Preacher Roe or Bob Buhl…but the 2005 Padres didn’t belong on the same field as the Cardinals.

In contrast, the 1998 Padres, a solid team that included Tony Gwynn, Greg Vaughn, Ken Caminiti, Kevin Brown and Trevor Hoffman, were swept in the World Series by the New York Yankees. But the Padres were far from embarrassed by a team that many consider to be the best of all Yankees teams.

The Padres might have won the first game if Mark Langston had gotten the call on a 2-2 pitch to Tino Martinez. The only game they didn’t have a chance to win was the second game.

In sharp contrast to all of the above, just one year later the Cardinals again won the Central Division, but this time they had only 83 wins.

What did the Cardinals, who won only one more game than the 2005 Padres, do in the post season?

Why, they won the World Series.

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