But that contender label has long faded for these teams as they now share what can only be termed a designation that's every bit as ghastly as it is surprising -- the worst teams in the Major Leagues.
If only the two could only head back to Peoria, Ariz., and start this dance all over again.
"Guys are frustrated," Padres manager Bud Black said. "These last two weeks have been a little rough."
The Padres continued their free fall on Friday, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Mariners at PETCO Park before a crowd of 28,640 which saw the start of a three-game Interleague set between two teams a combined 38 games below .500.
San Diego dropped a season-high -- or low, depending on how you look at it -- 17 games below .500 with its 13th loss in 16 games to an American League team as starter Randy Wolf, who has mostly been a pillar of consistency, struggled with his command early. The Padres fell to 32-49.
A year ago after 81 games, the halfway point of the season, the Padres were 47-34 and in first place in the National League West.
Wolf had command issues from the start, allowing a one-out single to Jose Lopez in the first inning followed by consecutive walks to Raul Ibanez and Adrian Beltre that loaded the bases with the Nos. 5 and 6 hitters coming up.
The Mariners didn't score that inning as Wolf rebounded with consecutive strikeouts of Richie Sexson and Kenji Johjima, though his fortunes didn't change much one inning later when he loaded the bases again on two walks and a hit.
Wolf, who allowed six of the first 11 batters to reach base, managed to escape harm that inning as well as he got Ibanez to fly out to left field. But by the time he left the mound following that second inning, he had thrown 50 pitches.
He allowed three runs in the fourth inning on four consecutive singles, the last a two-run single by Beltre for a 3-0 lead. Wolf (5-7) would not finish the inning. He walked five in what was his shortest start of the season, allowing two runs in 3 1/3 innings.
"My stuff was fine, I just didn't have a clue where I was going today," Wolf said. "When you can't throw the ball where you want to and get behind in the count, I was actually lucky today. I could have easily given up nine runs. It's frustrating because I know that my stuff was fine, just my location was off today."
The Mariners (29-50) might well have ended up with nine runs had they not stranded 18, which set a new franchise record. In the end, though, it hardly hurt them.
The left-hander on the other side, Seattle's Jarrod Washburn, had no such problems. He allowed two hits in the first inning but would allow just two more hits over the next five innings, retiring 15 of the next 16 hitters he faced.
"He was aggressive in the strike zone and threw a lot of strikes, getting ahead of hitters," Padres left fielder Chase Headley said. "He did a good job of controlling the strike zone."
Headley, a switch-hitter, hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning off Washburn to give him three in 40 at-bats since joining the Padres less than two weeks ago.
The Padres finally chased Washburn with two outs in the eighth inning when Brian Giles tripled into the right-field corner for his third hit of the game against the left-hander, who used to play for Black when both were with the Angels.
After going 29-22 against left-handed starting pitchers last season, the Padres are 8-19 against southpaws.
Washburn did stick around long enough to issue an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez, something National League opposing pitchers haven't probably done nearly enough of in 2008. The Mariners brought in reliever Brandon Morrow, their first-round pick (the fifth pick overall) in 2006.
Morrow dialed up a couple 99 mph fastballs, including one just off the outside corner for a ball to Kevin Kouzmanoff. After the Padres' third baseman fouled off two more pitches, Morrow came back to essentially the same spot to get a ground ball that ended the inning.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less