The San Diego Padres season is somewhat like an EKG. One day they’re starting to fade towards the bottom of the division that makes one think “this is it, this is the end of contention” right before they come back with a jolt of life.
In their latest rollercoaster, the Padres have won four games in a row, which included a sweep of the then-NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers, in what can be described as one of the most well-rounded series of the year. Now, the Padres have climbed back up into third place in the NL West and sit just two games behind those same Brewers for the second NL Wild Card spot.
The Padres will try to continue their winning ways as they head into Pittsburgh, looking to take advantage of a team who has started to fall apart at the seams since their solid 50-game start.
Game 1 (Friday, June 21 – 4:05 PM PST): Eric Lauer (5-6, 4.60 ERA) vs. Joe Musgrove (4-7, 4.87 ERA)
The series opener will feature Lauer, who has had an up and down season, to say the least. Lauer has been average against the Pirates in his career, going 0-1 with a 4.70 ERA across three starts. He enjoyed a fair amount of success in May, but Lauer is going to have to improve on his 7.45 ERA across his past 9 2/3 innings.
While some of that is a product of Coors Field, he’s going to have to be someone the Padres can count on to go deeper into ballgames if there’s any chance of the Padres contending this season.
Joe Musgrove will counter for the Pirates, as the San Diego native makes his second start of the year against his hometown team. In his last start, Musgrove was solid for six innings, before giving up a three-run home run to Hunter Renfroe that ultimately didn’t factor into the decision (Musgrove went 6 1/3, giving up three earned runs).
Since that start, though, he’s been rocked to the tune of a 7.61 ERA over his past 23 2/3 innings (36 hits allowed). The Padres offense may be starting to wake up with Manny Machado hitting .500 over the past week and Eric Hosmer getting hot again. In the series opener, look for the Padres to be aggressive early as they try to get to Musgrove and into the Pirates bullpen that ranks 24th in the league with a 5.12 ERA.
Game 2 (Saturday, June 22 – 1:05 PM PST): TBD vs. Chris Archer (3-6, 5.85 ERA)
The starter for the second game of the series has yet to be named for the Padres, but it will in all likelihood be Chris Paddack, returning from his brief “break” in High-A. If it is indeed Paddack starting on Saturday, the Padres will hope he can find the old form that made him dominant in April and parts of May.
Paddock’s main key will be his location, specifically if he’s able to miss effectively around the plate with his fastball and changeup. What’s been giving Paddack trouble is his lack of effective misses, instead by missing too much over the middle of the plate with pitches that arguably haven’t had as much conviction as the ones that were thrown earlier in the season.
Every rookie has his ups and downs, but the remainder of the season and how he adjusts could determine whether Paddack is a top-of-the-rotation arm or a middle-of-the-pack innings eater.
The Pirates will send Chris Archer to the mound to counter Paddack. Archer has been wildly considered a disappointment since he was acquired by Pittsburgh at the trade deadline last July. While the Padres were also after his services, he was instead traded for Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and Shane Baz in what can be considered one of the biggest deadline steals in recent memory.
What the Pirates have needed Archer to be in the past calendar year, he simply hasn’t been. He’s gone 6-10 with an ERA of 5.07 and an opponent slash line of .268/.340/.480/.820. With his average fastball velocity down to the lowest it’s been in his entire career (93.7) and slider usage dropping quickly (35.4 percent this year as opposed to 44.4 percent in 2017), Archer is staring career mortality square in the face as he continues his abysmal 2019 campaign.
In the series finale, the Padres will turn to their curve-throwing de-facto ace in Lucchesi. Since Paddack’s recent struggles have emerged, Lucchesi’s really taken on the role as the workhorse in the rotation. In his past five starts, he has posted a 2.90 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and an average of just over six innings per start. If he can keep this up, he may be able to lock down a long-term role at the back end of the Padres rotation in 2020 and beyond.
Steven Brault gets the ball for the Pirates in the finale. Another San Diego native, Brault has been one of the Pirates’ most consistent starters of the season. He’s only had six starts but has been versatile as a swing man in his 40-plus innings this year. In his only appearance against the Padres this season, Brault went 3 1/3 and gave up two earned runs, while picking up the victory.
Hitters to Watch
Eric Hosmer: He was in somewhat of a slump these past couple weeks, as he saw his wRC+ tumble back to near league average and his batting average fall below .280. Hosmer wound up closing out the series against Milwaukee with three hits, including a two-run home run. He may be finally starting to tap into his pull side power with all three of his hits going to the right side of the field. Hosmer could quickly get hot and become a force in the lineup between Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado.
Starling Marte: While it may seem as though the Pirates have struggled this season on offense, they’ve actually posted numbers towards the top half of the league, evidenced by their 594 strikeouts (fourth-fewest in baseball) and .261 team batting average (seventh in baseball). Marte has been a key part of that. He’s putting up numbers right around his career averages and has been the veteran presence in the middle of the Pirates’ lineup. He should have a solid series, even though he’s struggled in his career against the Padres (.178 batting average).