For the San Diego Padres to truly take that next step, they must improve their play against the National League West.
Last year the Padres dug such a deep hole the first month of the season the team never climbed out. By the end of April, the team had played every division opponent, winning just ten games and losing 20. That set the tone for the 2018 season, which ended with a miserable 66-96 record, last place in the division, and a losing record against every team in the National League West.
If the Padres want to crawl out of the basement, the team must improve their play within the division and in April. Most pundits rank the division fifth of six but also emphasize its inherent unpredictability. The Padres have a better chance of moving up in the NLW than in a powerhouse like the American League East.
The addition of Manny Machado alone helps the cause by improving both the infield defense (which has been a weakness for years) and overall offense. Machado’s presence in the batting order gives opposing pitchers cause for concern and will change the way they pitch to the batters hitting before and after him in the lineup. He also gives the players a bit of a swagger, an unfamiliar attitude around these parts for some time.
At the end of the season last year, most prognosticators picked the Padres to improve slightly but not come close to a .500 winning percentage. Machado’s presence changed the calculations dramatically.
Joel Reuter of mlb.com now predicts the Padres will make a huge leap, improving to 82-80 and adding 16 games to the winning column.
Dodgers 95-67 +3
Rockies 86-76 -5
Padres 82-80 +16
Diamondbacks 76-86 -6
Giants 62-100 -11
According to Rotochamp.com, the season will end with the Padres in third place but with a losing record.
Fangraphs.com predicts a third-place finish and the same 79-83 finish as Rotochamp.
Only cbssports.com picks the Padres to occupy the NLW cellar with just 67.4 wins.
Again, the Dodgers occupy the top of the heap in all predictions. Until last year when the Padres faced the Brewers (the eventual winner of the National League Central), the home team tended to start the season against the best of the West, the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace Clayton Kershaw. In 2016 the Padres may have hit bottom when L.A. made history by winning 15-0. The following year the Dodgers won by another lopsided score (14-3).
For the first time in several years, Kershaw won’t open the season for the Dodgers. He won’t even be on the active roster nor will Rich Hill. Instead, Hyun-Jin Ryu looks to be lined up to be the opening day starter. Of course, Walker Buehler, the presumed ace in waiting, will try to build on his first campaign, 2.62 ERA and 3.5 WAR. San Diego will not even face the Dodgers until May 3 at home. By then, we will have a much better idea of just how much the Padres have (or haven’t) improved.
For a change of pace, the season begins against the San Francisco Giants and Madison Bumgarner. Although Bumgarner showed up in trade rumors, the Giants decided not to throw in the towel before the first pitch has been thrown. Of course, that option remains open until the trade deadline.
Bumgarner owns a career record of 110-83, 3.03 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 1591 strikeouts. Against MadBum Padres hitters have compiled a cumulative batting line of .179/.237/.368/.605. However, Manuel Margot (.308), Jose Pirela (.273) and Hunter Renfroe (.385) have fared well against him.
In the offseason, Farhan Zaidi joined the Giants’ front office as head of baseball operations. He started his career with the “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics and moved on to become the Dodgers’ general manager in 2014.
After three world championships in five seasons, the Giants hit the skids and have a losing record since mid-season in 2016. However, tanking does not appear the organization’s strategy for regaining its mojo.
Last year the Giants had the third oldest roster in baseball, and the list has not gotten any younger. Recent additions include old favorite Pablo Sandoval aka Kung Fu Panda (32), as well as former Padre Drew Pomeranz (30). In 2018 San Francisco counted on starting pitchers like Johnny Cueto (33) and Jeff Samardzija (34) to lead the way, but the former had Tommy John surgery, and the latter made only ten starts thanks to shoulder problems.
The Colorado Rockies, the team that forced the Dodgers to game 163 last year, are predicted to take second place in the division with between 80 and 86 wins. In 2018 the young starting pitchers, especially German Marquez and Kyle Freeland, rightly received much of the credit for the team’s strong performance. Thanks to Coors Field, hitting rather than pitching had been the key to the Rockies’ success in the past. But in 2018, closer Wade Davis led the National League in saves with 43.
In February the Rockies signed their top position player third baseman Nolan Arenado to an eight-year contract worth $260 million. Arenado finished as one of the top five in voting for the National League MVP each of the last three seasons and has won four Gold Gloves. The Rockies need their starting pitchers and closer to continue the trend, the rest of the bullpen to improve, and their only free-agent signee Daniel Murphy to take advantage of that Coors Field effect.
Unlike the Rockies, the Arizona Diamondbacks chose to let their star, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, move on to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Padres will not miss him or .389/.476/.611 his batting line against San Diego. Nor will the team miss starting pitcher Patrick Corbin.
With Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks finished with 82 wins. Arizona led the NLW for four months, thanks in part to the Dodgers’ plodding start. However, a surprising swoon at the end of the season (17 losses in 22 games) left the team eight games out. But Arizona has chosen to forego the tanking route at least for now.
Although Corbin has moved on to the Washington Nationals, the team will count on Robbie Ray and the two Zacks (Godley and Greinke) to help to make up for the loss. The D-Backs also hope for a repeat performance from outfielder David Peralta, who hit 30 home runs and won the 2018 Silver Slugger award last year.
When Andrew Simon of mlb.com chose the most unpredictable teams for 2019, he included the Padres, but the D-Backs may share that moniker. According to Simon, Machado, Hosmer, and a handful of rookies could conceivably lead the team to a Wild Card berth in a best-case scenario. However, the flip side could be 90 losses thanks to overwhelmed rookies (including starting pitchers) and underperforming veteran position players.
The Padres have not had a winning season since 2010 (90-72), and the opening month has proven to be an obstacle rather than an opportunity. That narrative must change, and the Padres must take advantage of playing teams like the Cincinnati Reds and the Giants, facing Colorado in Petco rather than Coors, and not encountering their nemesis the Dodgers at all in April.