Padres preparing for the stretch run

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

On September 5, a chorus of boos rang out in Petco Park after the San Diego Padres lost to the fourth place (65-70) Arizona Diamondbacks by an ignoble score of 5-0. Fans have flocked to support their local team, especially in the last couple of years. However, they have also seen this movie before. The team had just been swept in Los Angeles by scores of 7-1, 12-1, and 9-4.

Would a promising start again give way to yet another lost season?

The next night the boo birds reacted again as the D-Backs got off to a 5-0 start. Joe Musgrove lasted just 4 1/3 innings, and the Padres bats stayed on vacation. However, the evening ended with cheers and hugs all around in the dugout. The home team rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning and won 6-5. In the fifth and seventh innings, Jake Cronenworth, Ha-Seong Kim, and Josh Bell homered. Still, the Padres trailed by a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and the cause appeared hopeless. Would oversized hopes end in another letdown? Instead, Jorge Alfaro singled and knocked in the winning run.

“We’re still good,” Manny Machado insisted after the game. “We’re still in the fight. I think that as long as we stay there, that’s all that matters. It’s about getting hot at the right time…There’s still a lot of baseball to be played.”

To be exact, the Padres will have 20 games to go when they face the Dodgers at home beginning September 9th.  According to predictions, the Padres still have a 78 percent chance of reaching the playoffs. However, 19 games behind the Dodgers, the Padres’ 75-62 record gives them a good shot at a winning record and a Wild Card berth. Unbelievable as it may seem, San Diego has not delivered a winning record during a regular season since 2010 when the team went 90-72.

In the first half of the season, pitching carried the Padres. However, that hasn’t been the case of late. Joe Musgrove has gone from a 2.16 ERA in April to 4.24 in August and 8.31 in September. Over 88.2 innings, Mike Clevinger has been up and down in his recovery from Tommy John surgery which caused him to miss the entire 2021 season. To his credit, Yu Darvish recently pitched a gem against the Dodgers in a 7-1 win, going 7.0 innings, and striking out nine without giving up a run.

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Manager Bob Melvin has already announced that Sean Manaea will not face the Dodgers after he gave up nine hits and eight runs over 4.1 innings in a 12-1 loss. The Padres began the season with six starting pitchers: Manaea, Musgrove, Blake Snell, Darvish, MacKenzie Gore, and Ryan Weathers. But Gore now plays for the Nationals and Weathers in the minors.

At the trade deadline, Preller added an exciting trio– outfielder Juan Soto, first baseman Josh Bell, and closer Josh Hader. In return, the Padres lost pitchers Gore and Jarlin Susana, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, and shortstop C. J. Abrams. Since then, the team has slipped from sixth in minor league talent to 17th. According to prospect ratings, only one player, shortstop Jackson Merrill, is included in the top 100.

So far, the new players have not lived up to their billing. In 28 games with San Diego, Soto’s average has dropped from .246 and OPS+ 158 to 2.32 and 128, still good numbers but not up to his usual standard. Josh Bell has taken a bigger drop, going from .264 BA, 121 OPS+ before he arrived to a BA of .189 BA and OPS+ of 84. Closer Josh Hader has been the most disappointing.  With the Milwaukee Brewers, he excelled: 2.79 ERA 153 ERA+ over six years. Since his arrival, he has demoted thanks to his 17.55 ERA and 23 ERA+.

The Padres, clad in their colorful City Connect uniforms, ended the series against Arizona with a 6-3 victory. After an off day, the home team’s nemesis, the Los Angeles Dodgers, come to town. In the stretch run, the Padres have a tougher schedule than most of the teams in the playoff hunt. Aside from the Dodgers, San Diego will face the other contenders, including the Seattle Mariners and the St. Louis Cardinals (who have owned the Padres throughout their history).

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The Padres will also face noncontenders in the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, but those aren’t automatic wins. The Padres will play the Rockies in Coors Field, which former announcer Ted Leitner likened to the moon. The D-Backs’ young pitchers challenged the Padres in this last series, and San Diego will have to adjust. Fortunately, it appears that Soto, who was hit by a pitch and sustained a bruised shoulder, will likely be back in the lineup for the series against the Dodgers.

“Down the stretch, man, this is the most fun part of the year,” Joe Musgrove said recently. “This is what we’ve been trying to get to, ultimately.”

This stretch run may be the most important in A. J. Preller’s tenure as general manager and now president of baseball operations. With payrolls never imagined in San Diego sports and multiple trade fests, the San Diego Padres should be in a position to succeed in one of the most critical seasons in team history.

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