The Padres have played 41 games, putting them 25% of the way into the Major League Baseball season. OK, 25.3%, but it's as close as my remedial math skills can get. That is not an insignificant milestone for a big league ballclub so it's a nice time to do a little dive into how things are going.
The first 41 have shown us a lot about this club. Here are the Top 3 Surprises and Top 3 Concerns based on what we've seen so far, and 3 Predictions for what's to come.
SURPRISES (And We Mean in the Good Way)
- Four Award Winners (of the Apocalypse)?
Allow me to steal prose from the legendary Grantland Rice:
Outlined against a light blue, cloudless May sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Machado, Musgrove, Gore, and Melvin.
The four major awards each year are the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year. San Diego might be home to the winner of all four, something that has never happened before.
It's not a surprise that Manny Machado is playing at a Hall of Fame Level. It is a bit of a surprise that he's doing it this early in the season and without a certain All-Star shortstop in the lineup with him. Vegas has Manny as the runaway favorite for NL MVP. Machado leads the league in OPS, hits, average, WAR and a whole lot more, and he's done it with little to no help around him. Oh, and he's played nearly flawless defense, making just one error while routinely finding his way onto highlight reels with stops that would be hard to replicate in Cirque du Soleil.
Joe Musgrove has made eight starts. Every one of them has been a quality start and his team has won all eight times. The list of pitchers in the game who can make that claim is:
Musgrove's ERA has dropped to 1.90 (3rd in the NL) and he ranks in the Top 5 in innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP. Joe's road to the Cy Young will not be as easy as Manny's to the MVP because there are plenty of stellar starters with similar numbers but he's put himself in the conversation and is almost guaranteed to make his first All-Star Game appearance.
MacKenzie Gore did not make the Opening Day roster. He was called up when Blake Snell suffered and Mike Clevinger wasn't ready yet. Gore has thrown so well the Padres simply cannot take him out of the rotation (aside from one piggyback outing with Clevinger).
The 23-year-old rookie has a 2.06 ERA with 38 punchouts in 35.0 innings and has given his team a chance to win every game but one. Gore has surged to the #2 betting favorite, behind Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki, even though Mack has a 1.1 WAR while Suzuki is sitting a 0.6. If Gore keeps up anything close to his current pace he'll finish with better numbers than Jacob deGrom had in 2014, the last time a starting pitcher won the ROY.
Bob Melvin has won the Manager of the Year award before. Three times, actually. What he's done with this roster has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Last year the Padres started off great then completely fell apart due to injury, a gassed bullpen, and serious clubhouse chemistry issues. Melvin has fixed all of that in six months.
The way he's using his players has cut down on injury risk and made them all more effective. His in-game decision making is as good as we'd hoped it would be. The Padres have only gotten four starts from Snell and Clevinger combined, zero at-bats from Fernando Tatis Jr., not a single pitch from Drew Pomeranz, and very little from about 65% of the batting order. Yet still the Padres are 27-14, the 3rd-best record in Major League Baseball.
Bo Mel will probably lose votes because he has a talented roster but if the Friars somehow run down the vaunted Dodgers (they're a half game back as of this writing) and win the West it would be awfully hard to ignore his MOY candidacy.
2. The Rotation That Never Ends
I don't have to tell Padres fans how bad the starting pitching was in 2021 (nor do I want to). This year the Friars have more options than any other team in baseball, and they're all good.
Yu Darvish has been fabulous. Yes, his ERA is 3.91, which is not very Darvish-like, but if you throw out one start in SF where he gave up nine earned runs in 1.2 innings his ERA shrinks to 2.23. That's more like it.
Sean Manaea has been a wonderful addition, we've already talked about Musgrove and Gore, and if you can find me a better 5th (let alone 7th) starter than Nick Martinez I'm all ears because I don't see one. Clevinger was looking like his old self with 5.0 shutout innings in his last start before going back on the IL with a triceps injury.
The worst of the group is the only one with a Cy Young trophy in his house. Snell has only made one start, showing off electric stuff but not putting it in the strike zone. If he can be the guy we saw in the 2nd half of last season where he pitched to a 1.83 ERA in his final eight starts, the Padres have the arms and the depth to make a World Series run.
3 . Back End Brilliance
San Diego is no stranger to great closers. Gossage, Fingers, Davis, Hoffman, Bell, Street, Hand, Yates, Melancon ... the Padres have had nine different closers named to All-Star Games. The surprise here is the guy who's going to make it number 10 at this year's Midsummer Classic because he was an awfully late addition.
Taylor Rogers was acquired hours before the season opener in a trade with Minnesota and has been, in a word, filthy. Rogers has a league-leading 16 saves with a 0.49 ERA and has really been the only closing option that's had any kind of consistency for the Friars. Luis Garcia, Robert Suarez, Steven Wilson, and Craig Stammen have combined to blow six out of eight save chances. Rogers has been the stabilizing force for a bullpen that's shown talent but been plagued by inconsistency so far in 2022.
- Baffling Bats
The Padres only have six players who have the necessary 3.1 plate appearances/game to qualify among the league leaders. Aside from Machado and, for a time, Eric Hosmer, those guys have been struggling.
After Hosmer's .317 mark (which we'll get to in a minute) the rest of the qualified hitters are as follows:
Ha-Seong Kim .222
Jurickson Profar .222
Jake Cronenworth .208
Trent Grisham .146
Cronenworth is the biggest surprise here. The 2021 All-Star has been searching for consistency all season. But, the Padres are 10th in the Majors in runs per game because they've been able to get a lot of their hits in important moments (for example, Kim's 3-run home run in Atlanta on a Friday night to put the Friars ahead 7-6).
Hosmer was tearing the cover off the ball for a while. Now he's back to being himself. In 72 April at-bats he had a 1.054 OPS. In 72 May at-bats he has a ,608 OPS and is in a 3-for-30 slump with no extra-base hits. He's not as good as April. Let's just hope he's not as bad as May.
The Padres are not getting enough production from three positions: DH, OF, C.
Designated hitter Luke Voit was brought in to provide thump. The 2020 Major League HR leader has hit two bombs. Between him, the outfielders, and the catchers we're talking about 10 players who have combined to hit 12 home runs ... three fewer than Aaron Judge. That is a lack of power that perhaps not even the alien talent of Tatis can fix.
The question here is: Is this what this group is or will it, as Melvin says, eventually start hitting?
2. Baffling Bullpen
As good as Rogers has been the guys around him have been ... less so. Nabil Crismatt is putting together an All-Star-caliber season of his own (1.31 ERA in several multiple-inning appearances). Stammen has been a steady veteran presence in the middle innings. But, the bridge from the starters to Rogers has been shaky.
Suarez and Garcia both have incredible stuff but they've been Jeckyll and Hyde. One game they'll strike out the side on 12 pitches. The next game they'll walk two and give up a bomb. Not having the injured Pierce Johnson has certainly hurt but this group needs to either harness the good and block the bad or someone else needs to be brought into the mix.
3. Can They Beat Good Teams?
The Padres have done what good teams do, which is beat up on bad teams. One of the downfalls of last year's club was struggling against the awful Diamondbacks and Rockies. This year they're 22-10 against teams with losing records.
However, that means they've only played nine games against teams with winning records and are 5-4 (1-2 vs. Los Angeles, 4-2 vs. San Francisco). The next 2 1/2 weeks will be a test.
The Padres play 13 of their next 16 against teams above .500, including seven against the 1st place Brewers, three at St. Louis and three at home against the 1st place Mets. These will be the kinds of teams the Padres would play in the post-season. I'd like to see this will show us just how good the Padres are but honestly, that's still not entirely true because ... well, let's get to that in our predictions.
- Take 2 Tatis and Call Me in the Morning
El Nino will cure what ails you.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is expected back from his broken wrist surgery within a month. One of the most dynamic offensive players in the last 50 years can only help an offense that needs more length to it but is still finding ways to win games.He'll return and not just make an immediate impact, but end up in the Top 10 in the National League in home runs, stolen bases, and runs scored and do it playing a little more than half a season.
Now, will he be enough to make the Padres offense as good as its starting pitching? Maybe. But something else will happen to help with that (that's prediction #3).
2. Relief Comes From Within
The Padres, as previously stated, need bullpen help. At the trade deadline the one thing every contender is looking for is usually relievers. San Diego won't have to make a move for an arm because they have plenty on the way.
Drew Pomeranz is expected back before the All-Star break. One of the best left-handed relievers in the game, he's been recovering from flexor tendon surgery. When he's ready it's an immediate upgrade, and another experience closer option alongside Rogers.
And, don't forget about Michel Baez and Adrian Morejon. The Cubans are both rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. They recently landed at Double-A San Antonio and have looked fantastic. I spoke with Missions pitching coach Pete Zamora, who coached both of them in Lake Elsinore, and Zamora gave them both glowing reviews. Baez and Morejon have combined to throw 5.0 no-hit innings with seven strikeouts and could be ready for a return to the big leagues within a month.
Adding all three of those high-caliber arms will be just what the bullpen needs to become one of the better units in the game.
3. Juan Major Addition
I said back in February the Padres should made a move for Juan Soto. Now the Nationals are, according to multiple reports, open to the idea of trading the 23-year-old who draws comparisons to Ted Williams.
The Friars have the pieces to get it done, and I think they will.
Soto is a generational talent, just like Machado and Tatis. Adding him to this lineup makes the Padres not just a whole lot better, but among the top 3 World Series favorites. He's controllable through the 2024 season so you're basically getting 2 1/2 seasons of this guy, meaning the chance to win multiple championships.
This is the guy you empty the farm for.
My dream would be to send Hosmer and prospects to Washington but that's probably not going to happen. I'd be OK with a package of Snell and prospects C Luis Campusano, OF Robert Hassell III, and even SS C.J. Abrams going to the Nats for Soto. I don't know if that's what the Padres would offer but that would get it done. A.J. Preller has done wilder things before.
As a bonus prediction, when that deal gets done, the Padres win two of the next three World Series titles. Start planning the parade route down Harbor now.
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