The San Diego Padres will return to Petco Park following a wild 12-3 win against the division-rival Diamondbacks in Arizona to face the San Francisco Giants. Although projected to place third in the division with a middling record, the Giants have surprised pundits by keeping up with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As of Thursday, the Giants and Dodgers have identical records of 16-9, while the Padres trail by 2.5 games at 14-12, having split the last 10 games. The Dodgers have won only three of their past seven, while Giants poured it on, taking seven of 10. San Francisco has succeeded despite batting .227/.305/.398/.703 overall.
Thursday’s thumping of the D-Backs gave the inconsistent Padres a boost, but one that came with a high cost. Ryan Weathers left the game after only one inning thanks to a sore arm, and the relief corps took over yet again, working through the remaining eight innings. Starters exiting games early has become an unwelcome refrain in the first month of the season. With Dinelson Lamet still on the IL, the Padres may be short a starting pitcher in the foreseeable future.
The Padres currently lead all of baseball with 114.1 innings pitched by relievers, outpacing even the Tampa Bay Rays, who developed the strategy of using an “opener” rather than a traditional starting pitcher to begin a game. So far, the bullpen has performed well and ranks sixth in Major League Baseball with an overall ERA of 3.07.
After a shaky start in the first game of the season, a victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Darvish has pitched like the ace the Padres expected him to be. In his last four starts, he’s lasted at least six innings and given up a total of 11 hits.
In his last outing, Webb held the Miami Marlins scoreless for seven innings and struck out eight batters. In three games against the Padres, he has an ERA of 1.80.
Still trying to find the form that made him the American League Cy Young winner in his rookie season three years ago, Snell has held his own. His 3.22 FIP (fielder independent pitching) takes into account the surprisingly shaky defense of the Padres up to this point.
In seven plate appearances against Snell, utility player Wilmer Flores (.218 average so far this year) has batted .429.
In his last start, DeSclafani gave up only three hits against the Colorado Rockies in a complete game shut-out. Early in the season, he faced the Padres, giving up one run in five innings. Against DeSclafani, Victor Caratini has batted .400 in five plate appearances and Jake Cronenworth .667 in three.
Game 3 (Sunday, 1:10 PM) TBD vs. Kevin Gausman 1-0, 2.14 ERA, 34 K
Although troubled by tightness in his right groin, Gausman has made five starts so far and lasted at least six innings in each. Eric Hosmer (.500) and Manny Machado (.400) have hit especially well against Gausman. However, he’s held Wil Myers to a .167 average in 12 plate appearances.
Players to Watch
The Padres have sorely missed Nola (fractured middle finger) behind the plate and the batter’s box. He made his first appearance in 2021 as a pinch hitter in the Padres victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday and stayed in the game to play second. Darvish’s “personal catcher” Caratini had gradually taken over more innings behind the plate, and Nola’s return will ease that burden.
Early in the season, Tatis Jr. missed nine games thanks to his balky shoulder. Since returning, he’s changed his swing to protect that shoulder and has improved his batting average from below the Mendoza line to 2.62. However, at home, he continues to struggle at the plate with a 1.54 average and .267 OBP. In 83 games in his first season in 2019, Tatis Jr. made 18 errors. So far this year, he has 10.
Relievers have helped carry the Padres and rank fourth in runners left on base, 78.7 percent, fifth in ERA 3.07, and ninth in FIP 3.73. However, the bullpen cannot continue to suck up inning after inning without consequences.
The series may come down to whether or not the Giants’ starters can quell the Padres’ inconsistent but explosive offense.
In nine plate appearances against Darvish, Crawford has batted .333 with one home run, but overall he’s hitting .208/.260/.403.663.
Posey, who opted out of the season last year, leads the Giants with 20 hits and five home runs.