The time has passed for the Padres to “Play Their Best Baseball”

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the crucial 10-day stretch against the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres manager Jayce Tingler opined that “we haven’t played our best baseball yet.” One would assume that a team with this much talent and a budget in the stratosphere by San Diego standards would have lived up to its promise from the beginning. Instead, the Padres have played far below expectations as chances of reaching the playoffs dwindle.

That best baseball certainly didn’t show up in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers won all three games and finished with an 8-0 shutout on Sunday, September 12. In San Francisco, the Padres did manage to split the series. Having won Game 4 by a 7-4 score, the team headed to St. Louis with a slight burst of momentum. Plus, the Padres had swept the Cards in St. Louis in mid-May.

Instead, the Cardinals won 8-2 the first game as Fernando Tatis Jr. went 0-4 and Manny Machado 1-4. Vince Valasquez, the latest pitcher, grabbed from the scrap heap, lasted just four innings, giving up four hits and four runs. Upon arrival, he gamely announced, “I’m here to demonstrate what I’m capable of doing and try to help them out.”

But seriously, what does one expect from a pitcher who had appeared in 21 games this year, compiling a record of 3-6, an ERA of 5.95, and an ERA+ of 69?  Velasquez isn’t just having a bad year. Velasquez has appeared in 124 games in his seven-year career, winning 31, losing 42 with a cumulative 4.90 ERA, 1.387 WHIP,  86 ERA+.

Through seven innings, the Padres played their best baseball in the crucial second game of the series in St. Louis. Yu Darvish pitched seven shutout innings, and the Padres took a 2-0 lead into the eighth inning but ultimately lost 3-2 on the overused arm of Emilio Pagan. In the ninth inning, Wil Myers grounded out, Trent Grisham flew out, and Eric Hosmer struck out.

But the news surrounding the game dwelled on a fifth-inning dustup between the team’s two superstars Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.  The third baseman shouted “you go play baseball” and “it’s not fucking about you” at the shortstop who had moped about one of umpire Phil Cuzzi’s questionable calls. The two had to be separated.

Manager Jayce Tingler tried to downplay the incident by saying “it’s not viewed negatively” and “we’re family.” True, families do have disagreements, but an athletic team filled with players who earn far more money than the ordinary American should be held to a higher standard, especially while teetering on the brink of disaster. On the positive side, the team has not become the 2012 Boston Red Sox, characterized as “25 players, 25 cabs” by sportswriter Peter Gammons.

Tingler has also said that if the batters are not hitting it out of the park, “we’ve got to be just a little more skilled with the bat.”  Speaking of home runs, the Padres now rank 24th in home runs per game with an average of 1.10. In fact, the overall performance of the Padres’ batters has been below average (except in on-base percentage):

  • 10th in on-base percentage per game at 0.321
  • 17th in hits per game at 8.00
  • 18th in left on base per game at 14.43
  • 14th batting average at 0.241
  • 23rd in slugging percentage at 0.398
  • 18th in on-base plus slugging percentage at 0.719

In Game 2 against the Cardinals, Adam Frazier batted cleanup—for the first time in almost 500 starts. He’s not a power hitter and is instead more suited to batting toward the top of the lineup because of his .282 batting average and .345 on-base percentage. In fact, Tingler constantly tinkers with the lineup, using more than 120 variations, excluding pitchers. Baseball players tend to be creatures of habit who follow the same routine (and rituals) before and after each game. There’s undoubtedly a comfort level in a relatively consistent batting order.

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In the final game in St. Louis, Tatis Jr., a shortstop by trade, played in center field. With the bases loaded in the first inning, he looked to throw the ball before catching it, predictably dropping it. Nolan Arenado got on base thanks to the error, and Tommy Edman scored. Although the Padres fought back, the Cardinals won 8-7, sweeping the series. A dejected crew headed for home with a .510 winning percentage thanks to a record of 76-73. The line ahead of the Padres for the second wildcard has grown and includes the Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, and Cincinnati Reds

San Diego’s players have just 12 chances to salvage a season that began with something close to “best baseball.”  With the amount of talent on this team and the millions of dollars in payroll, there is no excuse for this freefall. Unfortunately, even by “playing their best baseball” in the games remaining, the odds are stacked against the home team.

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