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Led by MVP candidates Manny Machado, left, and Fernando Tatis Jr., things are looking up for the Padres heading into 2021. File photo
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Sports Talk: Preller seeks to plug holes with eye on new year

The Padres examined their stocking, and it was full of promise.

Them getting right was among the few things that went right in 2020.

They shed a nine-season run of losing baseball, ignited the region’s love affair with pro baseball, won their first playoff series since 1998 and put a slight scare into the mighty world champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

But standing pat in sports means you’re losing ground.

That’s why general manager A.J. Preller, an Encinitas resident, and manager Jayce Tingler, will fine-tune a squad after a season to remember in a year to forget.

Preller isn’t overhauling those in Padres duds like previous offseasons. After an abbreviated year of blue skies, the horizon is clear with the home nine brimming with production and potential.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in the roster we currently have,” Tingler told reporters during the Winter Meetings. “Are we a World Series contender? I think that’s going to be determined by a couple of things.”

Primarily, the expected growth of those in-house. That goes for Tingler, who was sensational in his rookie season but, like everyone, has room for improvement.

The biggest news the senior Padres’ brass might deliver could revolve around a Junior.

Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. displayed the athleticism, electricity and passion that reminded many of another San Diego great, although from a different sport, in Oceanside’s Junior Seau.

Like the late Seau with the Chargers, Tatis never takes a play off and he makes teammates better. His enthusiasm is contagious, his talent obvious even to those not familiar with baseball.

The highlight reel of Tatis’ season is a “Say-Wow.” So, the Padres are smartly exploring extending Tatis’ contract past 2024 to anchor his frosted dreadlocks in San Diego.

Preller, the lone GM whose Zoom background could include Moonlight Beach, calls Tatis’ situation a “priority.” Tatis, 21, was fourth in the National League MVP voting after hitting .277 with 17 home runs.

Tatis’ emergence, third baseman Manny Machado’s re-emergence to finish No. 3 in the NL MVP balloting and rebounds by others were swell.

But the season didn’t end with a celebratory dogpile, which is always the goal, after absorbing a three-game sweep by the Dodgers in the NL Division Series.

So, Preller ponders on how best to address the rotation (minus an injured Mike Clevinger), bullpen (missing closers Kirby Yates and Trevor Rosenthal) and bench (key pieces became free agents).

Preller’s handiwork is orchestrated in the shadow of the Dodgers, led by manager Dave Roberts, after they won their first title since 1988.

Roberts still lives in Cardiff and his Dodgers aren’t going anywhere, either. If the Padres want to reach their World Series destination, keeping pace with their northerly neighbors is required.

“They just don’t have many holes,” Tingler said.

The Padres used to stand at the dam, madly trying to plug too many breaches because of a lack of talent. That’s no longer true, but it’s false to think the Padres can’t rise.

“We know that we made significant steps in 2020,” Tingler said. “But we know we still have a lot of work to do.”

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports

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