Superlatives for an exciting first half of Padres baseball

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the pandemic, San Diego Padres baseball has brought so much joy to fans in the city and around the nation as they finished the de facto first half of the season 18-12 and squarely in an NL playoff spot. 

After 30 games, the San Diego Padres have played some exciting baseball and had some memorable moments.

Let’s take a look back at the first half of Padres baseball in 2020.

Most Valuable Player

Fernando Tatis Jr. 

This is one of those “no, duh” scenarios. Fernando Tatis Jr. has taken the baseball world by storm, thanks in part to the grand slam he hit in Texas that set the baseball world on fire. He is not a flash in the pan, and he is not a one-trick pony. He is near the top of almost every offensive category- among qualified hitters, Tatis leads the major leagues in home runs (12), runs scored (29), and RBI (29), while also being second in stolen bases (6) and fWAR (2.1), seventh in OPS (1.073) and eighth in wRC+ (184).

Not only is he the team MVP, but he also has perhaps the most persuasive case in the National League to be the league MVP if the season were to end today.

It has been ages since the Padres have had a player this electric, perhaps they never have in the team’s 51-year history. Only one Padres player has won league MVP, Ken Caminiti in 1996. Tatis is transcending the game on an international level. The Padres have never been more popular than they are right now, many thanks to their superstar shortstop. Tatis is not only is hitting the cover off of the ball but also clearly worked on his defense in the offseason as he went from 18 errors in 84 games last year to still having not made a single error this season while posting 2 Defensive Runs Saved.

Most exciting play

Manny Machado walk-off grand slam

Walk-off home runs are one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Walk-off grand slams are among the most exciting moments in all of sports. Manny Machado did just that in Wednesday’s 6-3 win over the Rangers. The Friars fell behind 3-2 thanks to the new extra-inning rule, which allows a runner on second base when the inning starts. The team responded by loading the bases ahead of Machado in the bottom of the 10th, down by one.

Machado hit the ball 112 mph into the left-field seats for the walk-off slam, his third grand slam in a Padres uniform, and the 11th of his career. This was the third straight game the Padres had hit a grand slam, and it gave the Padres a three-game winning streak at the time, setting up the four-game, two-city series sweep of the Rangers the next day. Many wrung their hands of Machado’s average offensive numbers and poor batting average to go with his $300 million contract going into last week.

There are none such murmuring these days.

Best single game hitting performance

Trent Grisham, August 22

This was a tough one to pick. It seems like every Padres hitter has had at least one big day over the first 30 games. However, it’s tough to top three home runs in one game. Grisham took the game over in Saturday’s 13-2 win, going 4-for-5, and became the 10th player in Padres history with three home runs in one game. His first home run tied the game in the bottom of the first. His second broke the game open 6-1 in the second inning.

His third home run came in the seventh with the game well in hand, launching a two-run homer to extend San Diego’s lead to 13-2. There were many worthy candidates, but Grisham takes the cake as one of just three players in the major leagues this season with three home runs in one game along with four hits and six RBIs.

Best single game pitching performance

Zach Davies, August 22

When the season started, one might assume this category would be awarded to one of Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, or All-Star closer Kirby Yates. Lamet certainly is a strong contender with his 11-strikeout performance on August 9. However, it goes to Zach Davies. Davies has been very steady, never allowing more than three runs in any of his six starts. The bullpen, however, has been anything but steady. Davies’ performance in the 13-2 win over the Astros impacted much more than that blowout win. It spared the bullpen yet another taxing day of full exposure, needing just Luis Perdomo to finish the job in the ninth inning after Davies carved up Houston for eight innings, with seven strikeouts and two runs allowed.

To say Davies’ eight innings were much-needed would win the award for “understatement of the first half.” The bullpen may be finally finding its groove after a grueling first half, and Davies was able to give them a day of rest ahead of a scheduled bullpen day the next afternoon. Now the Padres have an off-day on Monday, so Davies essentially gave the bullpen two days off in three days with his masterful performance.

Best defensive play

Manny Machado, August 18

This was another tough choice between two plays that happened in the past week. Fernando Tatis Jr. made an insane catch in shallow left field in Sunday’s win over Houston, one that just about any other shortstop does not make nor even attempts. However, the prize goes to Machado’s unbelievable catch in right field in Texas.

Clearly, Machado is enjoying his role as the “rover” in the infield, shifting all over the field as needed, where his former-Platinum Glove Award-winning glove can be most useful. The ground he covers plus the nonchalance in which he makes the catch makes this just an eye-popping play. We are fortunate to have one the game’s elite fielders in a Padres uniform.

Best win

August 22 vs. Houston Astros (13-2)

This win was the best of the season for multiple reasons. First, it’s always a good day when you beat the Astros, the defending American League champions, and scandal-ridden franchise. The Astros jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning off of starter Zach Davies. That lead was short-lived as Trent Grisham hit his first of three home runs in the first inning, tying the game. Manny Machado launched a home run of his own two batters later, giving the Friars a 2-1 lead.

The bottom of the second inning clearly is the best inning of the year for the Padres offense. Wil Myers led off with a home run, which was followed by a Grisham three-run home run, making it 6-1, but the Friars were just getting warmed up.

Ty France singled home another run and two batters later, rookie Jake Cronenworth came up with the bases loaded, when he promptly launched a grand slam into right field, blowing the game open to 11-1 and giving the Padres their fifth grand slam in six games. The scoring was not done as Grisham launched his third home run of the game in the seventh inning, giving San Diego a 13-2 lead.

Starting pitcher Zach Davies pitched eight solid innings, the longest outing by a Padres starter, giving the bullpen a desperately needed break. This sealed the second win of a series sweep of the Astros.

Most painful loss

July 29 vs. San Francisco Giants

During a baseball season, even a shortened one, there are bound to be some gut-wrenching losses sprinkled in. With how poorly the Padres bullpen started, there were plenty of games that got away late. In this particular game, the Padres built up a 6-2 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Giants cut it to 6-3. The three-run lead lasted until the bottom of the eighth when the Giants rallied for three runs on veteran reliever Craig Stammen, tying the game.

In the top of the ninth, the Padres got a runner on base, but a double play killed the rally, sending the game to the bottom of the ninth, tied at six. Leadoff batter Mike Yastrzemski launched a walk-off home run into right field, sealing the win for the Giants and completing a four-run comeback on the Padres’ bullpen.

Hardest hit

Fernando Tatis Jr., 113.4 mph

The hardest recorded hit by a Padres batter was, no surprise, by Fernando Tatis Jr., a single against the Texas Rangers during a 6-3 win, clocked at 113.4 mph.

(Video via Baseball Savant)

Fastest pitch

Tie-Javy Guerra & Luis Patiño, 100.3 mph

Still don’t think the future is bright in San Diego? The average age of the two fastest flamethrowers on the squad is 22 years old. Guerra certainly is unrefined, only converting from shortstop to pitcher last season. Yet his stuff is electric and, when located correctly, is unhittable. He has been wild and inconsistent, but it’s clear why the Padres hesitate to end the Guerra experiment.

Patiño certainly has had his ups and downs in his first taste of the big leagues. At just 20 years old, he has elite stuff. In just over ten innings of work, the Colombian has a 5.23 ERA but only has allowed one run in his last four appearances. With how flawed the pitching staff is at the moment, they are not short on young, high-upside talent that should only get better with each appearance in a big-league game.

 

Biggest surprise

Wil Myers

Another feel-good story of the season has been the re-emergence of the embattled Wil Myers. From 2017 to 2019, Myers hit .244 with a .768 OPS and 105 OPS+. Now in 2020, he is hitting .271 with a .925 OPS and 152 OPS+, the last two of which would be new career highs. His 148 wRC+ is second on the club among qualified hitters. Whether it’s a change in approach, the new manager and hitting coach, or just simply a new year, 2020 has seen a brand new Wil Myers. He is swinging at balls outside the strike zone over three percent less of the time than last year and eight percent less than 2018 while making 13 percent more hard contact.

He was the second of the grand slam parade that saw five slams in six days. So much pressure has been built up on top of Myers with his massive contract, and he finally looks like the player San Diego paid for.

Biggest disappointment

The bullpen

Before the season started, the general consensus around baseball was that the Padres had constructed (on paper) one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. That has been anything but true in a shocking turn of events. Closer Kirby Yates was ineffective before being shut down with elbow issues, and his status for the remainder of the season is very much in doubt. Drew Pomeranz came on strong as an alternative at closer and pitched nine scoreless frames in 10 games before also going down with an injury, albeit a less serious one. Emilio Pagan, who was brought in via trade, had a 12.27 ERA in his first four games and has blown four saves thus far this season.

The list of disappointing relievers goes on and on. Craig Stammen (5.27 ERA), Tim Hill (5.19 ERA), Javy Guerra (11.17 ERA), and Luis Perdomo (7.36 ERA) all have had very poor outings, especially when they are counted on the most. The Friars are currently 24th in bullpen ERA and 23rd in fWAR.

Best pitcher

Dinelson Lamet

Many expected Chris Paddack to take the next step towards being the Padres’ ace while Lamet as thought to be trending up, still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Lamet had other plans, as he has completely taken hold of the role of the ace of the staff. He leads the starting rotation with 45 strikeouts, 2.96 FIP, 1.89 ERA, and a 232 ERA+. In four of his six starts, he has struck out at least eight batters.

Clearly, he is feeling good and stretched out after recovering from surgery. He is gaining national attention and is on many Cy Young Award watch lists around the country.

Best rookie

Jake Cronenworth

This is one of the more obvious ones. Known to some as the “throw-in” player in the Tommy Pham trade, the 26-year-old is determined to have it be known as the Jake Cronenworth Trade. His analytic numbers suggest he is one of the most well-rounded hitters in the league. He doesn’t strike out much (92nd percentile), while also making hard contact (82nd percentile in exit velocity). He is on or near the top of most offensive categories for rookies.

He is tied for first in home runs (3) while leading in average (..347), hits (26), doubles (8), wRC+ (178) and fWAR (1.2) while ranking second in OPS (1.036).

Biggest question

Can the Padres bullpen get it together?

The question already may be getting answered after the series sweep of the Astros. That three-game series saw the bullpen toss 15 1/3 innings while allowing just two earned runs, good enough for a 1.18 ERA. Despite injuries to Yates and Pomeranz, the Padres were able to get the job done against the Astros. Pagan notched two saves with scoreless outings against Houston. Patiño and Guerra also pitched multiple innings of scoreless ball.

However, the depth of this bullpen will be exposed unless something changes. With the trade deadline looming, the pressure is on for general manager A.J. Preller to add on. Or will he bank on the solid series against Houston to be a start of a turnaround more than a flash in the pan? If the series against the Astros is a sign of things to come, this team should be considered one of the best teams in baseball.

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.

1 thought on “Superlatives for an exciting first half of Padres baseball

  1. Another good article Nick!

    You covered the Padres first half of 2020 well. I don’t think anyone can say they expected this from the Padres as our first half. Whether it’s good or bad, we’ve been surprised. We can all hope we hold up and get some pitching reinforcements from trades, IL returns, or someone from our alternative site. We need some BP help and Preller needs to figure out how to get it without overspending.

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.