The San Diego Padres are playing uninspiring baseball right now and some of that has to do with a controversial decision on Sunday in Houston.
In 2021, Joe Musgrove has been the best starting pitcher the Padres have had this side of Yu Darvish. In 10 starts thus far, he owns a stifling 2.26 ERA while opponents are batting just .170 against him.
The rest of the rotation aside from Darvish and Musgrove has been, at times, inept. Blake Snell is yet to find it, with a bloated 5.55 ERA and well-below-average 66 ERA+. After two solid starts, Chris Paddack reverted back to his old ways of throwing very hittable off-speed pitches and being somewhat predictable against the Cubs on Monday. Dinelson Lamet, through no fault of his own, is yet to complete four innings in any outing so far.
Snell and Paddack have combined for -1.2 WAR.
The only other starting pitcher that has shown even a hint of consistency is Ryan Weathers, with a 2.06 ERA in 12 appearances, including seven starts. However, the long ball ate him up on Tuesday, as it did Paddack the day before.
Naturally, this has been a significant strain on the bullpen. The Friars lead all of baseball with 244 1/3 innings pitched by relievers so far in 2021. That is not something that is sustainable over 162 games and it will, and already has, come back to bite Jayce Tingler’s squad. Saving bullpen arms is an admirable endeavor, but it should not come at the expense of quality starting pitching.
The Padres’ skipper made a decision on Sunday that left a rippling effect on the series in Chicago. Musgrove was slated to start the series opener against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Monday. However, due to yet another lackluster outing from Snell on Sunday in Houston, Tingler opted to use Musgrove in relief to “reset” the bullpen and give them all a day off. All this while sacrificing Musgrove’s turn in the rotation and pushing his start back to an undisclosed date instead of Monday in Chicago.
Granted, Musgrove performed admirably. In fact, he was nearly perfect, throwing five innings without allowing a hit and the only baserunner he allowed was a hit-by-pitch, much like his actual no-hitter in April in Texas. He was called upon in an unexpected and unfortunate situation and delivered as well as anyone could have hoped.
However, the decision has had a lasting effect on the Friars. Monday’s game in Chicago then fell on the shoulders of Paddack, who, as mentioned, let the home run ball beat him, allowing three dingers in less than five innings of work. That is half of the homers Musgrove has allowed in 60 2/3 innings this season. Yes, there was wind at the Friendly Confines, but it does make one wonder how Monday’s 7-2 loss would have gone had Musgrove taken his scheduled start instead.
Musgrove is averaging almost six innings pitched per start. Paddack is at 4 2/3 innings per start.
Musgrove making his scheduled start would have given Paddack an extra day of rest. Perhaps he needed extra bullpen session or day of rest to feel and look as fresh as he had the previous two outings. Instead, the bullpen was once again forced to shoulder the load after Paddack’s early exit, tossing 3 2/3 innings.
Weathers then started Tuesday’s contest. He allowed a season-high four runs on two home runs and the Padres lost 4-3. Some of the blame can certainly be put on the Friars’ lineup not showing up much on either day, aside from Fernando Tatis Jr. on Monday and Tommy Pham and Victor Caratini on Tuesday.
It cannot be ignored that the bullpen had to pitch 7 2/3 innings in the first two games in Chicago while the Padres were without either of their top two starting pitchers, dropping both games. Musgrove followed by a more rested Paddack and Weathers may have yielded different results at Wrigley Field.
What’s even worse is that Tingler opted to use Musgrove on Sunday when the game was basically out of reach already, down 7-0 after three innings. Houston had a 98 percent chance to win, per Baseball Savant, after the third inning. Even with this lineup, that was a tall task with Zack Greinke on the opposite side. Tingler essentially wasted Musgrove on an already lost cause, leaving the back end of the Padres’ rotation exposed against a hot-hitting Cubs team. It’s easy to point and scoff now that the Padres dropped two straight to the Cubs following Sunday’s loss, but even in the moment, the decision to throw Musgrove in relief of Snell was puzzling.
Ahead of the series with the Cubs, Tingler said “We just didn’t have the innings. I feel we’re reset now thanks to what Joe did. It was a lot of circumstances. It was a perfect storm.”
Down 7-0, that is normally a position where you let a middle-tier reliever “wear it” by throwing him out there for two to four innings, regardless of the results. Where was Nabil Crismatt? He didn’t throw the day before. What about using Chris Paddack, Ryan Weathers or Dinelson Lamet as a piggy-back after Snell’s poor performance? Why did it have to be Musgrove, the team’s second-best starting pitcher who is making a case to be an all-star next month?
The snowball has started rolling downhill, with the Padres having lost three straight and four of the last six. While it’s a long season, the decision to toss Musgrove out in a lost cause has affected the Padres’ ability to combat the hot Cubs in Chicago. Now they run the risk of being swept without so much as a threat of Darvish or Musgrove against the Cubs. Starting Musgrove on Monday gives you a better chance at winning the series opener and setting the tone for the rest of the week.
The skipper is still learning on the job, as he is yet to manage a complete season in the big leagues (currently at 116 games heading into Wednesday). Tingler has made plenty of great decisions as manager of the Padres and is still the man for the job, but Sunday was not his most shining moment.