SAN DIEGO -- It says something more about how the Padres finished rather than how they started as to why the team remained in the running for a Wild Card spot well into the third week of September.
Seemingly buried early on by underperformance and a rash of injuries that decimated its pitching staff -- hello, Jeff Suppan and Kip Wells -- the team actually performed better in the second half than a handful of teams that are headed to the postseason.
Going into Tuesday's game against the Dodgers, the Padres are 73-80 with nine games remaining in the regular season. And while a .500 finish might be too much to ask, there's no doubt San Diego -- which is 28-16 since Aug. 5 -- has built sufficient momentum to take into the offseason.
"Winning now and any momentum we create now doesn't hurt," Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said recently. "The moves we made, the contracts with [Carlos Quentin and Huston Street], the moves we didn't make show we do think this is a good group."
San Diego signed Quentin and Street to midseason extensions, and the club will bring back veteran Mark Kotsay to go with a core of young players -- such as catcher Yasmani Grandal and first baseman Yonder Alonso -- to form what it hopes can be a team that will make a future push toward postseason contention.
The finish of the season was certainly a lot more palatable than the first half, when the team went 7-17 in April and 10-18 in May, sending Street, starter Cory Luebke, starter Tim Stauffer and a very promising pitcher, Joe Wieland, to the disabled list in the first two months of the season.
The Padres had to go outside the organization to add arms to cover innings, such as Suppan, Wells, Jason Marquis, Eric Stults and Ross Ohlendorf.
Through all this, San Diego manager Bud Black -- in his sixth season -- and his staff managed to not only hold this group together, but also to get them to play their best baseball in the second half of the season.
"What we've seen is that development in the big leagues in continuous," said Padres assistant general manager A.J. Hinch. "We had to bring guys up here from different paths, different timelines ... prospects and guys who have bounced around leagues.
"Buddy and the coaching staff have continued the positive environment to get the most out of these guys and to continue their development here."
The second half of the season also allowed Black and his staff to essentially hold open auditions for the 2013 season, particularly in the bullpen, where pitchers low in Major League service time, such as Brad Brach, Nick Vincent and Dale Thayer, among others, have both succeeded and struggled.
The offense was much better during the second half, especially after Quentin rejoined the team on May 28 after knee surgery in March. Third baseman Chase Headley has had a career year in 2012, as he has surpassed the 100-RBI mark. Alonso, like Headley, benefited from having Quentin hit in the middle of the order.
"I do feel like our offense has gotten better," Byrnes said. "I feel like our offense and our position player group, where we can mix and match, how they can play defense, our depth, is a lot better than it was last offseason. The longstanding issue is, are we going to score enough runs? I think we've taken a step in that direction."