Padres need more from two struggling stars down the stretch

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres are in a heated Wild Card race and cannot afford to lose ground. The Brewers are hot on their tail,  just three games behind, while the Phillies are not going away either. Between the Brewers, Phillies, and Padres, one of those teams is not making the playoffs.

If the Padres can get two of their most important players headed back in the right direction, they should be popping champagne after clinching a playoff berth in early October.

Joe Musgrove

Fresh off of a five-year, $100 million extension to stay in his hometown of San Diego, Musgrove has struggled. The franchise made the extension official on August 1. Ever since that date, in seven starts, he owns a 4.70 ERA and has allowed eight home runs.

His rate of homers allowed per nine innings for the season is 1.1, while during this recent stretch, it has increased to 1.9.

The El Cajon native began the year with 12 straight quality starts. Over his last 13 starts, just five of them have been quality. Three times since the beginning of August, he has failed to even complete five innings. Whether it be the sweltering heat of the dog days of summer, or a large workload, or the pressures of being a paid like an ace, Musgrove has not found the same consistency he had in the early months of the season.

Even just over a month ago, he was likely the Game 1 starter for a possible playoff series. Given his recent struggles, fans might be hesitant to even name him the Game 2 starter. Of course, his relentless work ethic and calm presence on the mound suggest that he will break out of this. The Padres need it to be soon.

Juan Soto 

Frustrations have boiled over with the fans and the inconsistent hitting. Soto is mired in a deep slump, hitting just .143 over the last two weeks with a lowly .547 OPS. Fans booed Soto earlier this week after failing to come through in a few big spots. Obviously, the Padres invested an enormous amount of prospect capital in trading for Soto, and the team, fans, and frankly, Soto himself, expect much better results.

Soto has the track record to nearly guarantee this is just a little blip. We all have seen his walks and plate discipline, but he also owns a career .531 slugging percentage and .957 OPS with over 2,500 plate appearances. He’s currently at .378 and .773, respectively, since arriving in San Diego.

The offense as a whole seems to follow Soto. Several games, especially at home, the offense just disappears. It’s maddening to have a lineup so full of talent look hapless and punch-less at the plate. Very few, if any, Padres lineups in franchise history have featured two elite hitters in their prime like the talents of Soto and Manny Machado.

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Soto is about as close to a sure thing as one can find in this humbling game of baseball. Switching teams and coasts may be taking a temporary toll. He has shown he can snap out of it and become the best hitter in baseball in a moment’s notice, given his two top-five MVP finishes, including being the NL runner-up last year.

Let’s not forget, Soto is just 23 years old. Most guys his age are barely breaking into the league or still trying to figure it out. Soto has figured it out over and over and will do so again. It just needs to be soon enough to spark the Padres to clinch a Wild Card spot down the stretch.

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