The youthful San Diego Padres are making noise in the National League West. Here is a look at the rest of the division.
Although the Padres rented first place in the National League West for a brief time earlier this month, a six-game losing streak gave the Los Angeles Dodgers an opening. Still, the Padres have a record of 14-11 and reside in second place in the division.
The last time San Diego sat above .500 (32-33), Buddy Black managed the team. On June 16, he lost his job, and the Padres started their slide down the standings. So far, the Padres have had a relatively easy schedule in terms of opponent, having faced teams with losing records like the Giants, Rockies, and Reds. The team did manage to take two of three from the Cardinals, a long-time nemesis.
In the Mariners, the Padres faced their most daunting challenge so far, going against a team tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for most wins in all of baseball. In the first game against Seattle, the Padres scored three runs in the first two innings, and it all started thanks to a bunt single by Wil Myers. Timely hitting finally teamed up with the surprisingly sturdy starting pitching in a 6 to 3 victory.
Even more impressive, the Padres took the second game as well in a tight 1-0 victory. Starting pitcher Chris Paddack finally got his first major league win, retiring the last 19 batters he faced. The only run scored on a home run by Ian Kinsler in the second inning.
On Thursday the team will begin a road trip that includes stops in Washington D.C. and Atlanta, where both teams hover around .500. Then the Dodgers (15-10) come to town followed by the New York Mets (13-10).
At the end of last season, most predictions for the 2019 season had the Padres fighting for last place against the San Francisco Giants. But thanks to the arrival of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr.’s call-up, and better results from the young rotation than expected, the prognosticators have changed their estimation of the San Diego Padres:
Because of the sheer number of games, the Padres’ fortunes could be decided by their performance against division rivals, so here’s a brief look at each teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have owned first place in the division for what seems like an eon and whether L.A. can repeat depends in large part on whether any of the other teams in the division can challenge their hegemony. For years, the bullies up I-5 have had their way with the home team.
Since the beginning of the season, the Dodgers have been operating on all cylinders. In their first 24 games, the team’s hitters smashed 44 home runs. First baseman Cody Bellinger leads the Dodgers in just about every offensive category with a .416 BA, .490 OBP, 11 home runs, and 28 RBI. Joc Pederson has hit ten home runs and driven in 16 runs. L.A. has welcomed back shortstop Corey Seager (.276/.370/.529/.899), who played only 26 games in 2018 thanks to elbow and hip surgeries. The team can rake, but what about the pitching?
The revised version of ace and workhorse Clayton Kershaw will never recapture his lost magic but remains a force. Presumed heir to Kershaw, Walker Buehler, has started the season with a 5.40 ERA and 1.20 WHIP but still managed to win two games with no losses. In the meantime, Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling have stepped up and lead the team in innings pitched, wins (Maeda with three), ERA (Stripling 3.07), and strikeouts (Stripling 26).
When the Diamondbacks traded Paul Goldschmidt, their All-Star first baseman, and lost A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin during the offseason, it was assumed the team would try at least a mini rebuild. Somehow, the message must not have filtered down. Starting pitcher Luke Weaver, who was acquired in the Goldschmidt trade, has begun to hit his stride (3.33 ERA, 2-1 record, 0.7 WAR). And don’t forget Zack Greinke, who leads the team with three wins. Greinke has tormented the Padres so far, hitting a pair of homers against the Padres on April 2, following that up with two hits and two runs scored on April 14, and winning both games
First baseman Christian Walker leads the team with a .329/.393/.684/1.077 batting line and OPS+ of 169. Center fielder Adam Jones, a San Diego native, has thrived in his move from Baltimore to the Valley of the Sun. In 29 at-bats against the Padres this year he has a batting line of .310/.375/.517/.892.
The Diamondbacks have won seven of their last nine games, with a 2-1 victory over the Pirates. Pittsburgh now trails the St. Louis Cardinals by two games in the National League Central with a 12-9 record.
The past two years the Rockies have made it to the playoffs. For a change, much of the credit lay in their pitching rather than hitting (even in Coors Field). This year, the Rockies began the season winning two against the hapless Miami Marlins, then promptly lost 12 games out of the next thirteen games.
When they faced the Padres on April 15, they had a one-game winning streak and looked like easy pickings. Instead, Colorado won both games. The series against San Diego started a run of four wins and two losses against the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals.
Shortstop Trevor Story leads the Rockies with a .283 average and 15 RBI. Surprisingly (considering half the games are played in Coors Field), Story also leads in home runs with just five. Third baseman and defensive whiz Nolan Arenado has four home runs, four doubles, and 14 RBI so far. Against San Diego, Arenado has a batting line of .333/.333/1.001/1.333.
Thanks to the slow start the Rockies share the basement with San Francisco with ten wins and fourteen losses.
San Francisco Giants
And finally, the team picked by just about everyone to bring up the rear, the Giants… The team has a two-game winning streak with victories against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays following four losses in a row.
Madison Bumgarner has a 1-3 record, 3.66 ERA (higher than his career average of 3.04), 0.97 WHIP. Dereck Rodriguez leads in wins (three), Jeff Samardzija ERA (3.00), and Derek Holland in strikeouts (34). The Padres started the season with a 2-0 win over Bumgarner and followed up on April 8 with a 6-5 victory.
This year the more important action by the Giants may be in the front office. In November Farhan Zaidi, a veteran of the Oakland A’s and Dodgers’ front offices, became the head of baseball operations in San Francisco. Since Bruce Bochy, long-time Giant’s manager and former Padres’ player and skipper, will retire after this season, Zaidi will preside over momentous changes.
Thanks to their sweep of the Mariners, the Padres will leave town with the confidence that the team can go head to head with the best. When they return, they’ll have a chance to face off against the best in the West. If the Padres can actually compete against L.A., this hot start may turn into a trend.