No one, including the Padres’ front office, expects the team to land a playoff spot this season. However, if San Diego really does intend to compete in the next two to four years, the needle needs to start moving in a positive direction.
Just playing .500 baseball this year would help the player (to say nothing of fan) morale. However, the team must improve in a variety of areas to reach even that rather modest goal.
The last time the Padres reached .500 or better was 2010. That year, the team had 6.5 lead over the San Francisco Giants on August 25, but a 10-game losing streak slowed their momentum. The Giants won the National League West by two games, and ended up World Series champions that year, as well as in 2012 and 2014. Since 1998, the Padres’ last appearance in the World Series, the Padres have had .500 or better seasons only in 2005-2007 and 2010.
Veteran players can more easily withstand the ups and downs of a 162-game season. However, the Padres rank seventh in roster age at 27.8, and their younger players need to experience the thrill of victory more than .438 percent of the time (the record last year).
Luis Perdomo (4.91, 2.09 before Wednesday’s drubbing), Clayton Richard (5.73, 1.64), and Bryan Mitchell (5.03, 1.88) all need to improve dramatically. Mitchell has given up an eye-popping 17 walks in 19.2 innings and must cut down on the free passes. The starters also must go deeper into games or the bullpen will be operating on fumes.
When Matt Stairs took over as the Padres’ hitting coach, he said he would emphasize not giving away at-bats. As the ninth hitting coach in the Petco Park era, he has the challenge of stilling all the voices in the heads of the hitters, to say nothing of improving a team with .299 on-base-percentage last year. This year only Christian Villanueva, Jose Pirela, Freddy Galvis, and Eric Hosmer have a .300 or better OBP of the regulars in the lineup, another area crying out for improvement.
When a player strikes out, he obviously gives away an at-bat. In Tuesday night’s extra-inning 7-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Padres collectively struck out 20 times. Hunter Renfroe led the team with four strikeouts in five at-bats, leaving five runners (out of nine for the game) on base.
Aside from cutting down on strikeouts, the Padres must improve their hitting with runners in on base. Tuesday night, only one of nine runners scored. Contrast that with Sunday’s 10-1 victory over the Giants when the Padres went 5-for-15 with RISP.
Although the addition of shortstop Freddy Galvis and first baseman Eric Hosmer has improved the team’s infield defense, the Padres currently lead the league in unearned runs at 18. In Monday’s game against the Dodgers, the Padres had the lead, but errors on routine plays by Christian Villanueva, Jose Pirela, and Renfroe helped open the floodgates for a 10-3 loss.
And finally, the Padres must improve against division rivals. Unfortunately, most observers consider the National League West to be the toughest division in MLB. The home team did win three of four from the Giants over the weekend, taking advantage of the fact that San Francisco’s top three starters, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, were all on the disabled list.
After a welcome day off on Thursday, the Padres will hit the road and face the top two teams in the division: the Arizona Diamondbacks (12-5) in Chase Field and the Rockies (11-9) in Coors. Both Chase and Coors have reputations as hitters’ parks, which does not bode well for the Padres’ pitching staff.
The Padres made a brief visit to third place in the division, but have fallen back to last place with a 7-13 record, six games under .500. In order to just play .500 ball, the team will have to improve in just about every facet of the game.