Where do the Padres stand after one month?

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

April is coming to an end. One month of the Major League Baseball season is behind us. Where do the Padres stand?

To say things have taken an unfortunate turn for the Padres over the last week is an understatement. On April 22, San Diego was just half a game away from first place in the NL West and above .500. Now, on the brink of May, they sit four games below .500, 5 1/2 games back, and are technically closer to the Rockies in last place than the Dodgers atop the division.

Things seem as desperate as they possibly can for late April of a baseball season. There are still over 130 games left in a marathon of a MLB season. Yet, Padres fans don’t want to hear it. And frankly, they shouldn’t be OK with it. They were preached at all last season about how it’s “still early” and that they will all “play to the back of their baseball cards” eventually. “It will all even out.”

It didn’t. The Padres fell just a few games short of the playoffs. A few more wins in April or May would’ve done the trick just as well as ones in August.

Now, they face a similar obstacle. In fact, through 32 games last season, they were 17-15. They are three games worse than that so far in 2024. Sure, there is plenty of season left. However, the Padres do not have the luxury of floundering much more, given they are likely in a Wild Card race and need all the tiebreakers they can earn among fellow National League foes (like the Phillies and Reds). Earning those tiebreakers by winning season series count just as much in May as it does in late September. A series loss to the Reds in late April could prove costly if it comes down to the Reds or Padres for the last Wild Card spot.

So what’s wrong? Why are the seemingly talented Padres 14-18?

Underperforming stars

As it was for most of last year, the first fingers should be pointed at the highest paid players. Xander Bogaerts being chief among them. Bogaerts is massively underperforming in the second year of an 11-year, $280 million contract. His decline is concerning. His hard-hit rate was in the 65th percentile in 2021. That has plummeted to the 4th percentile in 2024. He is making poor, weak contact consistently. His average exit velocity is in the 8th percentile. He is hitting ground balls at a rate slightly higher than 50%. All that adds up to a putrid .288 slugging and well-below-average 67 OPS+.

Manny Machado is not excused, either. His .696 OPS at the moment is well off his .827 career mark. His line drive rate is well below his career average and he is hitting more groundballs than ever before in his career. Where he gets a bit more grace than Bogaerts is the combination of a grueling offseason rehab program off his elbow surgery and recently becoming a dad. His hard-hit rate is still in the 90th percentile. However, the numbers just are not there at the moment.

Fernando Tatis Jr. is hitting the ball very hard. He recently hit the hardest ball of his entire career. Yet, the numbers do not reflect it. Amid a mid-April slump, his batting average is down to .236 with an uncharacteristic .747 OPS. His expected batting average is .304, in the 92nd percentile. For Tatis, it seems like only a matter of time before his numbers point up. Still, his bad luck has been part of the problem.

Inconsistent rotation

Flat-out, Joe Musgrove is getting blasted. He is second in Major League Baseball with nine home runs allowed. His 6.94 ERA and 57 ERA+ are well below league average.

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The only pitcher who has allowed more homers than Musgrove this season in all of baseball is fellow Padres hurler Michael King. However, King has also turned in a few solid outings. He had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning against the Brewers on April 17. Early on against the Giants, he tossed seven shutout innings in a win. However, he has allowed ten earned runs in his last two starts.

Yu Darvish also has been subpar to his lofty standards, when healthy. Health issues have plagued Darvish for over a full season now.

Dylan Cease has been the Padres’ best-starting pitcher so far. However, he, too, stumbled against the Phillies, allowing five earned runs. Still, he owns a 2.78 ERA.

Shane Waldron has been exactly what you can expect from a No. 5 starter- eating innings without getting blown up for five-plus runs. It falls on Musgrove, Darvish, and King to pick up the slack.

Bullpen blow-ups

It seems the Padres have been playing a game of musical which-relievers-blow-up-tonight. Bullpen roulette is not a great way to string wins together. Tom Cosgrove has a 10.50 ERA. Jhony Brito owns a 4.40 ERA and 92 ERA+. Wandy Peralta has allowed six earned runs in his past three appearances, including a brutal four-run outing while getting one out in that meltdown against the Rockies.

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It’s not all bad for the Padres. Let’s look at a few bright spots.

Jackson Merrill

Merrill earned the centerfield spot coming out of Spring Training. Many wondered how he would handle major league pitching after spending less than 50 games above High-A before making his big league debut. So far, so good.

While he is currently in the middle of an 0-for-11 slump, his batting average is still solid at .292. He is second on the team with a .349 on-base percentage. This, all while being in the 89th percentile for Outs Above Average on defense in centerfield, a brand new position for him.

Jurickson Profar

No one could have imagined Profar being the most consistent Padres hitter through the first month (or any month) of this season. Yet, here we are. Profar leads the team in average (.301), on-base percentage (.402), slugging (.485), hits (31), and is tied for the lead with 19 RBI. With the Padres, he looks rejuvenated. He plays his best ball while wearing a Padres uniform, for whatever reason. The Padres would be much worse off without Profar.

Jake Cronenworth

The Padres first baseman is one of the few players who had a down year last season for the Friars, who looks much better this season. Last year, he failed to make consistent, quality contact. His barrel rate last year was in the lowly 12th percentile. That led to weak contact, which led to a career-worst .689 OPS and 91 OPS+. Not to mention, he moved to first base, where the expectation for power numbers is much higher than that of a middle infielder.

This year, he ranks in the 82nd percentile for barrels. The results in the box score show it, with a .796 OPS and a 129 OPS+ that would tie his career high. He also already has four home runs, which is nearly half of what he had all last season.

Robert Suarez

There were valid concerns about the Padres going from multi-time All-Star Josh Hader to fairly unproven Robert Suarez as closer. So far, the answer to those doubts could not be more resounding. Suarez owns a microscopic 0.77 ERA with nine saves in nine chances. All the while, Hader is off to a putrid start with Houston (7.59 ERA, one blown save, one loss).

NL Standings

Let’s assume the Dodgers will win the NL West. The Padres have some stiff competition for one of the three Wild Card spots. The Padres are currently 3 1/2 games out of the last Wild Card slot. Not only that, but there are five NL teams between them and the last spot. The entire NL Central is ahead of the Padres. The Mets and Phillies will battle for second place behind the Braves in the NL East. Plus, the Padres have the Giants and Diamondbacks in their own division.

Only the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Marlins have a worse winning percentage than San Diego right now.

Overall, manager Mike Schildt has his work cut out for him. He needs to find a way to get his Padres team out of the shadow of the 2023 letdown. Doubt is starting to creep in, given how last year went.

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