The San Diego Padres are on the rise, and the rest of Major League Baseball should take notice.
Going into spring training there was one individual attracting the bulk of attention at Padres camp: Manny Machado. And that was understandable. He agreed to an enormous 10-year, $300 million deal with a Padres team that isn’t expected to make the postseason. At the same time, the slugger’s arrival in San Diego has amplified the other parts of their roster that should warrant attention, their lineup in particular, as has their encouraging 22-20 start.
Now, you look at the Padres lineup and the results are underwhelming. In fact, they went into their Tuesday night matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers at 23rd in MLB in runs (162), 24th in hits (313) and batting average (.232), 20th in total bases (560), 27th in on-base percentage (.289), 18th in slugging (.415), and 22nd in OPS (.704). Yuck, how does that unit have potential?
Manager Andy Green has a healthy balance of productive veterans and improving young players on his depth chart. Sure, Machado is off to a rough start, hitting just .265. But we’re talking about one of the best baseball players in the world. He’s a savvy fielder, line drive hitter, and will inevitably hit like the Machado the Padres signed up for. Eric Hosmer‘s Padres tenure hasn’t produced the fireworks that $144 million is supposed to, but he’s still one of the best offensive first basemen in the sport and has driven in a team-high 24 runs this season.
Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Wil Myers is healthy and providing the Padres with the versatility they need for a team with a bevy of young players.With an unequaled farm system and heavy-hitting veterans, the San Diego @Padres are sure to be the next big thing in @MLB.Click To Tweet
When it concerns the Padres’ youth, infielder and former top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is the player the baseball world is enamored with. He’s a contact hitter, in the 27 games he has played this season is hitting .300, and could potentially form an elite left side of the infield duo down the road with Machado. Fellow young infielder Luis Urias, another top prospect, is also getting major-league playing time, but hitting .083; he needs more reps to improve.
The Padres outfield could also be formidable. To this point, outfielder Franmil Reyes has arguably been their most reliable hitter. Yes, he has to garner more plate discipline, but Reyes has totaled 12 home runs and 23 RBIs while holding his own in right field. Manuel Margot has been a steady presence in Green’s lineup over the last two seasons and is continuing to be a reliable contact hitter, currently hitting a career-best .272. Meanwhile, Hunter Renfroe is a source of power, as he has totaled 10 home runs this season and 52 from 2017-18 while playing both left and right field.
Granted he’s hitting just .169, catcher Austin Hedges totaled 32 home runs from 2017-18 and has familiarity with the Padres pitching staff — which comes in handy, especially considering their youth. That’s where the Padres become even more intriguing.
The Padres’ biggest development this season is right-hander Chris Paddack. While he has always been highly regarded in the Padres system, Paddack is exceeding expectations, so much to the point where he looks like he could be establishing himself as their ace. Going into his Tuesday night start against the Dodgers, he owned an astonishing 1.55 ERA and 0.69 WHIP while totaling 46 strikeouts. His fastball peaks in the mid 90s, he pitches with a swagger, and is an overpowering presence on the rubber.
However, Paddack isn’t the only Padres starter impressing this season. Former reliever Matt Strahm has excelled in his first season as a full-blown starter. He currently owns a 3.00 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Strahm has been efficient in the innings he has pitched, is working through trouble, and serving as a reliable starter every fifth day. While they have been underwhelming, left-handers Joey Lucchesi and Nick Margevicius have shown glimpses of promise and are still just 25 and 22 years old; their best days are ahead of them.
To round it out, the Padres have reliable backend relievers, most notably Kirby Yates. The 32-year-old right-hander has been a comforting presence in the Padres bullpen in recent memory, but this year he has taken it to the next level. Serving as the team’s closer, Yates is a perfect 16-for-16 in save appearances, owns a 1.35 ERA, and has totaled 37 strikeouts in 20 innings. Concurrently, Craig Stammen and Trey Wingenter continue to serve as reliable setup relievers.
Without a doubt, they need more depth, but if their starters can get the ball to their bullpen in the seventh inning, the Padres are in good shape to close out games.
General manager A.J. Preller has shown a willingness to spend big in free agency and take chances. In all likelihood, that’s only going to continue, and one could argue the time is now for the Padres to pursue a midseason trade for a disgruntled starting pitcher, or one on the trade block. Plus, imagine if they sign a high-profile starting pitcher this offseason such as Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, or Cole Hamels: They’d be a legitimate playoff threat.
Of course, the Padres have teams in their way when it concerns a rise to prominence, the Dodgers in particular. They’ve won the National League West in each of the last six seasons, are the back-to-back NL pennant champions, and have arguably the deepest roster in MLB; the Colorado Rockies have been a Wild Card team in each of the last two seasons and have a deep lineup; the Arizona Diamondbacks have been surprisingly competitive this season and have a respectable ballclub.
At the same time, the Rockies starting pitching has struggled this season, and the jury is out on whether the D-Backs’ success can be sustained as the season drags on. And going forward neither team is a lock to be in the playoff race. Now, it’s a different story with the Dodgers, as their core is locked up long-term and are, as a whole, a resilient team. But the Dodgers being better moving forward doesn’t mean the Padres can’t be a force to be reckoned with.
Look at the Boston Red Sox teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s. From 1998-2006, the Red Sox won 85-plus games in every season but one (2001), but lost the American League East to the New York Yankees every time. It wasn’t because the Red Sox were a bad team, in fact they were a potent one from top to bottom, the Yankees were just a little bit better.
The Padres have a deep and well-versed lineup. Their starting rotation, which has been a liability in years past, is turning the corner, and they have reliable backend relievers. In today’s MLB, having the latter is imperative. Times are changing for the California baseball team that has been swept under the carpet this decade.
The Padres may not make the playoffs this year, and they may fall short in 2020. But, in time, they’re going to be the next big thing in MLB.