Coming off the All-Star break, the San Diego Padres find themselves in third place in the National League West with a 53-40 record and +75 run differential.
The team trails the San Francisco Giants 57-32 (+116 RD) and the Los Angeles Dodgers, 56-35 (+142 RD). In ordinary times in the history of San Diego baseball, this would be cause for celebration. But ownership and fans have much higher expectations these days. Thanks to injuries and inconsistencies, general manager AJ Preller will need to make multiple upgrades to fulfill the Padres’ playoff aspirations.
FanGraphs pegs the odds of the team making the playoffs at 90.7 percent, an encouraging sign.
According to power rankings, including ESPN’s, the Padres have slipped to fifth place but are still hanging in there:
1 Los Angeles Dodgers
2 Houston Astros
3 San Francisco Giants
4 Boston Red Sox
5 San Diego Padres
The Padres made it to the playoffs in 2020 after years of sub-par seasons and won the Wild Card. However, the team lost to the eventual winner of the World Series, the Dodgers, in the division series.
Injuries prevented Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet from pitching with predictable results. This year Preller stacked the rotation with strong starting pitching in Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove at a high cost in dollars as well as prospects.
Of the big three, only Joe Musgrove will be available to start as the team ventures into the second half. Ryan Weathers left his start the game before the break after collapsing to the ground trying to make a play. He joined Yu Darvish (hip), Blake Snell (gastroenteritis), and Dinelson Lamet (rotator cuff) on the injured list. That leaves Chris Paddack, who will start against Patrick Corbin and the Nationals on the road. In San Diego in early July, the Nationals took two of three against the Padres in San Diego with the low point being a 15-5 shellacking on July 7th. Paddack started that game, lasted just two innings, and gave up nine runs, eight earned.
In his three years with the Padres, Paddack’s performance has gone downhill after a very promising rookie season in 2019. In 26 starts that year Paddack went 9-7 with a 3.33 ERA and ERA+ of 124. In last year’s pandemic-shortened season he compiled a 4-5 record, 4.73 ERA, and 88 ERA+. This year he has continued his downhill slide, going 4-6 in 77 innings with a 5.38 ERA and ERA+ of 70.
Musgrove started off the year on a roll and notched the first no-hitter in the team’s history on April 9. And he began the season with a 2.93 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, but he has underperformed in his last seven games (4.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP). In his start before the break, he lasted just 4.1 innings. However, yet another error by first baseman Eric Hosmer led to two runs and ramped up his pitch count.
In fact, Hosmer has been a very expensive–$20 million 2021, $60 million the next two years–drag on the Padres. In an above-average infield, Hosmer stands out. According to FanGraphs, he ranks 134 of 135 on defense with an OPS+ 89. He did contribute offensively the first two months of the season (30 RBIs, five home runs). But since then he’s batted .194, .498 OPS with only four extra-base hits. During his time in San Diego beginning in 2018, his 1.5 WAR ranks 18thamong all first basemen.
However, Hosmer alone does not account for the fact that the Padres have averaged 0.68 errors per game and are ranked 27th in all of baseball. In contrast, the Giants rank fourth with just 0.47.
At least the All-Star break gave most of the team some necessary downtime. The Padres have played more games than any other team in Major League Baseball, and it should come as no surprise players have spent more time on the injured list too.
At home, the team has thrived (33-19), but the road record stands at 20-21. The Padres will have a chance to improve their record away from Petco Park as they journey to Washington D.C., Georgia, and Florida to play three sub-par teams. The Nationals have a 42-47 record, Braves 44-45, Marlins 39-50, and the Padres must take advantage of these opponents.
Equally important, Preller needs to make key improvements, especially in starting pitching, before the trade deadline of July 30th. The team could use another bat, but the starting pitching has to be the top priority.
All signs point to the Marlins as possibly the biggest sellers. The hottest possible trade candidate could include Max Scherzer, although the Nationals may choose to hang on to him. Other possible targets include Kyle Gibson of the Texas Rangers, Mathew Boyd of the Detroit Tigers, Tyler Anderson of the Pittsburg Pirates, and German Marquez of the Colorado Rockies. Unfortunately, other possible trade candidates have been sidelined by injuries including Sonny Gray (Cincinnati Reds); John Means (Baltimore Orioles), Michael Pineda (Minnesota Twins), Danny Duffy of the (Kansas City Royals), and Madison Bumgarner (Arizona Diamondbacks).
On Friday the Padres will attend a Cole Hamels showcase. The 37-year-old Hamels, a graduate of Rancho Bernando High School and four-time All-Star, has recovered from a shoulder injury that shut him down last year after an abbreviated start for the Atlanta Braves. In 2008 he was named the Most Valuable Player when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series. Multiple teams will attend the workout.
Obviously, the Padres will not be alone in their search for starting pitching. The Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer has been sidelined by an assault investigation, and ace Clayton Kershaw recently landed on the IL with left arm inflammation. However, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, and Julio Urias are good to go. Other teams in the hunt include the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and Chicago Cubs.
Led by Fernando Tatis Jr., a candidate for the NL Most Valuable Player Award, the Padres have a nucleus of position players as well as relief pitchers ready to build on a successful first half. Tatis Jr. has tightened up his defense and leads the National League with 4.2 WAR (FanGraphs), 27 home runs, 19 stolen bases, and an OPS of 1.070. However, El Nino cannot carry the team on his shoulders. Manager Jayce Tingler admitted that the Padres must improve in every aspect of the game except relief pitching. Preller is on the clock.