For the first time in the history of Major League Baseball, no team has a 60 percent win rate–not the Los Angeles Dodgers, not the New York Yankees, not the San Diego Padres, the three teams picked at the top of most power rankings before the start of the season. So far the Padres have excelled at inconsistency, but obviously, the team has company in that regard.
The latest power rankings, courtesy of more than thirty scribes for the “The Athletic,” have the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Padres hanging on by their toenails to the top two spots.
MLB.com inserted the Boston Red Sox ahead of the Padres with the rest of the National League West lagging behind: the San Francisco Giants eighth, the Arizona Diamondbacks 17th, the Colorado Rockies 30th.
Going into a crucial series in San Francisco, the Padres (18-14) find themselves in second place in the division behind the Giants (18-13), with the Dodgers in third (17-15). The Padres have won eight of their last 12 games and closed out the series against Pittsburgh Pirates with a 4-2 win thanks to worker bees Jake Cronenworth and Ha-Seong Kim, rather than the stars. Kim’s bat has not caught up to big-league pitching, but his defense is a testimony to his three gold gloves in Korea.
The road trip will take the Padres to the city by the bay and then on to Coors Field, a hell hole for pitchers but a paradise for hitters which just might wake up the team’s bats. San Diego’s lackluster offense at Petco Park–.211/.299/.312/.611–brings back memories of Ryan Ludwick’s constant complaints about the venue during his time in San Diego from 2010 to 2012. However, since then changes to the ballpark have been made over the years, and it is generally considered less of a pitchers’ park. Hitters can no longer blame their home field for their offensive woes.
While not setting the baseball world on fire, the Padres have batted .251/.332/.407/.739 away from Petco. In the city by the bay, San Diego will face off against three tough pitchers:
Anthony DeSclafani (2-1, 2.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP)
Kevin Gausman (2-0, 2.04 ERA, 9.91 WHIP)
Johnny Cueto (2-0, 1.80 ERA, 0.85 WHIP)
In the second game of the series against the Giants earlier this month, the Padres scored three runs against DeSclafani, all coming on a Machado home run, and won 6-2. San Francisco took the rubber game Sunday 7-1 with Gausman giving up just one run on six hits aided by the nine runners the Padres left on base. This will be their first look at another tough hurler, Cueto, this year.
Despite the degree of difficulty, the Padres have a “golden chance” (as longtime announcer Jerry Coleman would say) to displace the Giants and move farther ahead of the Dodgers, losers of eight of their last 10 games, on this road trip. However, the team must improve in a variety of areas on both sides of the ball.
One particularly glaring area needing improvement is the number of Padre players left on base per game (15.44, 27th). Surprisingly the Dodgers’17.31 leads all of baseball. Also, San Diego ranks 26th with 3.78 runners left in scoring position per game. In other words, the Padres have gotten on base but have not come through in the clutch with the perfect example being Wednesday’s 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates in which the Padres left an eye-popping 20 men on base.
And the team absolutely must clean up the defense. Five weeks into the season, the Padres have committed 27 errors with Fernando Tatis Jr. responsible for 10 despite missing 10 games. He still makes the spectacular plays but has muffed to many of his routine chances. Only the Los Angeles Angels (28) have committed more errors.
Finally, the starting pitchers have to go deeper. Only Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove have pitched at least six innings in a game. Following Wednesday’s game against the Pirates, the San Diego bullpen leads the league with 134 1/3 innings. Although heartening to have Dinelson Lamet and Ryan Weathers return the action, the former lasted just two innings, the latter three in a 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh. Keone Kela, Pierce Johnson, Emilio Pagan, and Drew Pomeranz picked up the slack in that game. In Wednesday’s win against the Pirates, the Padres’ workhorse, Darvish, had his shortest outing, lasting just 5.2 innings before turning the ball over to Craig Stammen, Tim Hill, Pagan, and Mark Melancon. Named the MLB the reliever of the month for April, Melancon closed out the game on a disputed call at first base.
The return of catcher Austin Nola should improve the catcher situation, taking some of the pressure off of Victor Caratini who has appeared in 23 games and allowing Luis Campusano to return to the minor leagues (A+) for more seasoning. Acquired at the trade deadline last year, Nola took over the bulk of the catching duties, and the former shortstop performed surprisingly well on both sides of the ball.
The World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers’ surprisingly poor start has certainly helped the Padres stay afloat. And the Padres will not have to face Dustin May (and his 1.50 ERA against San Diego) any time soon as he will undergo Tommy John surgery later this month. However, the Padres cannot count on a continued blue swoon alone and must tighten up their defense, get more innings from the starting pitchers, and score far more of their runners once they get on base to stay in the hunt.