We come to the third and final part of our three-part preview of the Padres 2019 season. All things being equal, how many games will they win?
The answer is going to come down to how well the following questions are answered. After analyzing them, I will give my own prediction, and you can give your own in the comments section.
What will Manny Machado do?
If you’ve read parts one and two, then you know that this is a recurring theme: so much of 2019 centers upon general manager A.J. Preller’s early Christmas present to San Diego. On the one hand, Machado has an impact bat and plays elite defense at third base. On the other hand, well, just look at the highlights of the playoffs last year.
To be clear, I am rooting for Machado. I want to see him take his game to an even higher level than it already has been. But the majority of the time, contracts that are this large and this expensive rarely work out. Padre fans will be rooting for him to break the trend, and lead this team to becoming perennial contenders.
Can Austin Hedges improve offensively?
Last season, Hedges was hitting like he always does; that is to say, not very well. Prior to losing time to injury in early May, he was batting .188, and he finished with a .231/.282/.429 slash. But even those less-than-stellar numbers were beefed up by a strong July (.308/.366/.538).
Granted, Hedges’ defensive prowess and ability to work well with pitchers are his calling card; and, they’re why he, and not young Francisco Mejia, will likely be the Padres starting catcher—at least for now.
If Hedges can improve on his 2018 numbers, that will really help his team’s chances and enable him to keep his starting job. If not, Mejia’s bat and improved catching skills are waiting in the wings.
Can Manuel Margot rebound?
A key piece of the 2015 Craig Kimbrel trade, Margot fizzled in his sophomore season, especially where it counts most as a potential leadoff hitter: on-base percentage (.313 in 2017, .292 in 2018), and steals (17 in 24 attempts in 2017, 11 in 21 tries last year).
As spring training closes, it’s clear that Andy Green is eyeing a primary starting outfield of Hunter Renfroe, Myers, and Reyes. That’s great for offense, but without Margot (and Jankowski), the defense is going to suffer. But it’s for that reason that they need Margot to hit. He needs to find his stroke, become more patient at the plate, and more aggressive, wise, and confident on the base paths.
Tatis and Urias: how quickly can they establish themselves?
Because I dealt with this in part two, I won’t add much here. But in all seriousness, how quickly Tatis and Urias establish themselves will be key to their 2019 chances. If they can overcome their initial jitters quickly, the Padres could easily make a run at a wild card. But if not, then our hopes for making the playoffs will truly have to wait until 2020 and beyond.
Can at least one of the starting pitchers take things to the next level?
Or, can Preller swing a last-minute deal for a starter who has both big league experience and success? If not, then the Padres 2019 rotation will consist of two sophomores (Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer), a guy with great stuff but pitched in only 62 innings last year (Matt Strahm), Robbie Erlin — who really is better suited for the bullpen, and any number of rookies, most of whom have yet to make their big league debuts (Chris Paddock, Logan Allen, Cal Quantrill, etc.).
Someone might also mention Dinelson Lamet and his likely mid-season return; but two things: first, he is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and two, he has about the same amount of big league experience as Lucchesi.
How will Andy Green handle the pressure?
As any poker player knows, you can only do so much with a pair of two’s. So also with the Padres, manager Andy Green has not had to deal with much pressure to win, given that the on-field product was in rebuild mode (though he deserves high marks for how he has handled the young ballplayers).
But starting this season, all of that has changed. The addition of Machado, the burgeoning talent, and the possible addition of an established starter (see here) equals greater expectations. For 2019, Green may get a pass if his team doesn’t make the playoffs. But beyond that, management and fans are waiting for more than just their first winning record since 2010.
And now, for the prediction:
The Padres will win 76 games this year. Now, that is not as much as some readers were hoping for. But here is how they can do better: (a) Lucchesi, Paddack, or someone else emerges as a front-line starter, (b) the Padres acquire Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, or someone else, (c) Margot learns how to get on base regularly, steal proficiently, and provide his typically stellar outfield defense, and (d) Machado produces like he is capable of doing. If all of these things happen, then the team has a reasonable chance of a winning record, and even making their first playoff appearance in more than a decade.
But if not, then 76 is likely where they will end up. If that sounds disappointing, just remember that this is a 10-game improvement from last season, and many of their immensely talented young ballplayers will have gotten a year of experience under their belts. Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), they will once again be an exciting team to watch.