The San Diego Padres control their destiny as they hope to sail toward a National League wild-card berth while finishing the regular season at home.
But they have encountered some rough waters -- some of their own making.
Yes, the Padres' magic number is three with five games to go. Three, however, is also the number of straight losses the Padres have going into the second game of a three-game set Saturday night against the Chicago White Sox, a team determined to finish a disappointing season above .500.
"The players in our clubhouse have the goal to finish this season strong," acting White Sox manager Miguel Cairo said. That means at least delaying the victory celebration in San Diego.
And the White Sox (78-79) have one of the American League's top pitchers on the mound Saturday.
Dylan Cease (14-7, 2.06 ERA) will start for the White Sox against the Padres' Mike Clevinger (6-7, 4.49 ERA) in a clash of right-handers.
Playing at home doesn't seem to be aiding the Padres (86-71). After the first four games of the marathon, nine-game homestand to end the season, the Padres are 1-3. They have scored seven runs on 30 hits in 38 innings. They are 4-for-32 with runners in scoring position over the four games.
Not only are the Padres not hitting, they are making mistakes when they do. A prime example came in the fifth inning Friday night. Trailing 2-1 with two outs, Jurickson Profar hit a liner into the left-field corner. But instead of charging out of the box and reaching second with a double, Profar had a little celebration at home plate before taking off -- just enough of a hesitation to hold him to a single. When Juan Soto followed with a double into the right-field corner, Profar was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first.
And now the Padres draw one of the American League's top pitchers.
The White Sox are 20-11 when the 26-year-old Cease has started this season. He has 1.94 ERA since the All-Star break, and in five September starts, it's 1.13, giving up four runs on 18 hits and 12 walks with 32 strikeouts in 32 innings.
"Dylan is on an incredible run," said Cairo of Cease, who has never faced the Padres. The two teams haven't faced each other since 2017 and the White Sox haven't visited Petco Park since 2005.
"We've struggled all year with guys we haven't seen before," said Melvin, which could be a bad omen for Saturday night.
Clevinger, meanwhile, has given up at least four runs in four of his past five starts. On Sunday in Colorado, the Rockies tapped him for five runs on eight hits in four innings.
Clevinger received an extra day's rest going into Saturday's start, and he will try to move the Padres closer to a postseason berth. Entering play Saturday, they are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles for the second wild-card spot, two games up on the Milwaukee Brewers.
"We're still in good position," Melvin said of the Padres' wild-card chances. "It's all about the urgency of the moment. ... These guys are going to have to get it done."
--Field Level Media