On Friday, the San Diego Padres’ bats erupted in a 13-5 thrashing of the Kansas City Royals, a team with a 51-76 record.
Ha-Seong Kim led off, hit a home run, and drove in a career-high five runs. Wil Myers, who lost two months thanks to a knee injury, went three for five and drove in three, and Jose Azocar (who had been playing in Triple-A) notched four hits. In the next game, Yu Darvish had a rough beginning but settled down and pitched seven innings, giving up five hits and three runs in a 4 to 3 victory.
Of course, the Royals are just the kind of team the Padres should overwhelm, but that hasn’t been the case lately. They’ve lost games they should have won against teams like the Washington Nationals (at 42-84, the worst team in baseball) and the Miami Marlins (54-71).
No doubt, memories of their 2021 swoon reside in the back of the minds of the team members who lived through it. The addition of Juan Soto and Josh Bell has given the team a lift, but neither has been a miracle cure. Plus, Soto missed time because of a sore back. He’s never had a back issue before he arrived in San Diego.
The back issue may be new to Soto, but to the players on last year’s squad, it could have been history repeating itself. Fernando Tatis Jr.’s shoulder problems sent him to the injured list three times. Fortunately, Soto returned after missing three games to help beat Kansas City 4-3 on Saturday.
After 126 games last season, the Padres had one fewer win than this year, and we all know what happened. San Diego came in third place with a 79-83 record behind the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
This year, the Padres started the season without their spark plug, Fernando Tatis Jr., who broke his wrist in a (forbidden) motorcycle accident. In 2021 he batted .282 with 42 home runs, finishing third in the National League MVP vote.
Finally, Tatis had been cleared to work out, and his teammates no doubt relished the prospect of adding his bat. This entire season, multitudes of Padres have reached base—and stayed there. Hitters could not knock them in, but Tatis has an average of .324 and an OPS of 1.052 with runners on base. In wRC+ Soto 163 and Machado 148 lead San Diego. What if they’d added Tatis Jr.’s offensive prowess (170 wRC+ last year)? What if they’d added his home runs to the team’s percentage of 2.3% (24th in the major leagues)?
Jake Cronenworth voiced his frustration when he told reporters, “We’ve got a lot of great players. And it just seems like right now all the great players we have just aren’t being themselves.”
He, like his teammates, assumed help would be on the way when Tatis Jr’s bat returned to the lineup. Alas, it was not to be. On August 12, Major League Baseball announced that Tatis tested positive for Clostebol, which violated the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Although his teammates went out and beat the Washington Nationals (the worst team in baseball with a record of 42-83) after the news, it undoubtedly caused a letdown. The man they had been counting on had let them down in a big way.
In fact, since the shocking news of Tatis Jr.’s suspension, the Padres did not win two games in a row until August 20, when they split a four-game series at home against the Nationals. Fortunately, the team has had two days off this week to rest and try to regroup.
At 70-59, San Diego’s winning percentage has shrunk to .543, 19.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (88-38). The Dodgers currently lead the world in wins. L.A. would have a first-round bye if the playoffs started today, and the Padres would hold the last Wild Card with Milwaukee Brewers breathing down their collective necks.
Players who experienced the 2021 collapse haven’t forgotten. Recently pitcher Joe Musgrove sounded a warning.
“Last year, we were beat up. Obviously, physically but mentally, we just had zero confidence. Our lineup is clearly better than it was last year. So there is that feeling of hope it’s going to turn around. It can’t last forever. But at some point, you’ve got to stop saying that, and something has to be done.”
Something does need to be done. On Sunday, the Padres set out to sweep the Royals but endured a 15-7 rout instead. Sean Manaea started the game but lasted only four innings, giving up 10 hits and six runs. That’s the same pitcher with an ERA of 3.86 with the Oakland A’s (and manager Bob Melvin). That ERA rose to 4.90 after an outing in which he gave up 10 hits and six runs over 4.0 innings. With little hope left, Wil Myers finished the game, going 0.2 innings and giving up one hit but no runs.
Myers had taken over for Josh Hader, who started the season as the closer but has given way to other relievers. In six years in Milwaukee, his ERA was 2.48. In San Diego, it has ballooned to 12.46.
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With catcher Jorge Alfaro out with a knee injury, the Padres called up Luis Campusano. This year Alfaro has an underwhelming WAR of 0.9 and OPS+ of 92. But Campusano’s 0.3 WAR and -53 OPS+ make Alfaro look like Roy Campanella. In four at-bats, he did have two hits.
Although one game does not define a season, the San Diego Padres must recover from this humiliating loss and concentrate on the rest of the season. The team will play four losing teams: the Giants (six games), the Arizona Diamondbacks (four games), the Colorado Rockies (three games), and the Chicago White Sox (two games). But they will also have to face the Seattle Mariners (two games), the St. Louis Cardinals (three games), and their nemesis, the Dodgers (six games). Both the Dodgers and the Cardinals lead their divisions.
The San Diego Padres must put this game in the rearview mirror and concentrate on the future. Even without Tatis Jr., they have the talent to exorcise the demons of last year’s swoon.
Baseball has been a part of Diane’s life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.