The San Diego Padres Need Their Young Arms to Come Into Their Own to Turn the Corner

It seems that the San Diego Padres religiously end the regular season on a high note, leaving their fan base and the sport buzzing with optimism about their future. This offseason is no different, but if this pattern stays the course it means the Padres would miss the playoffs for the 14th consecutive season. The only way they’re going to turn the corner is if their young starting pitchers come into their own.

The Padres 2020 starting rotation projects to include Chris Paddack, Zach Davies, Garrett Richards, Dinelson Lamet, and Joey Lucchesi.

Paddack had a standout rookie season. Recording a 3.33 ERA and an 0.98 WHIP while totaling 153 strikeouts and holding opponents to a .204 batting average across 26 starts, he exemplified excellence on the rubber. He overpowered hitters with his fastball and got them to whiff badly at his changeup. The 24-year-old is a future ace, if he isn’t one already.

Davies was acquired in a November trade with the Milwaukee Brewers where the Padres sent infielder Luis Urias and left-hander Eric Lauer to Milwaukee for the right-hander and outfielder Trent Grisham.

Last season was a plausible bounce-back season for Davies after he was left off the Brewers’ 2018 postseason roster. Posting a career-best 3.55 ERA across 31 starts he was the Brewers most steady starting pitcher en route to them clinching a National League Wild Card berth. He keeps hitters guessing with his array of off-speed pitches and works through trouble.

After Paddack and Davies is where matters get dicey for first-year manager Jayce Tingler’s rotation.

When healthy, Richards can be an efficient starter. Unfortunately, that caveat has plagued his career. Richards was limited to three starts last season due to a shoulder injury and has made just 31 starts since 2016. From San Diego’s perspective, anything they get from him is a bonus. What they get from their young starters not named Paddack is pivotal.

Lamet and Lucchesi have each shown glimpses of potential in their first two years in the big leagues. They’ve held opponents to a low batting average, seen their ERAs hover around four, and have lengthy starting experience at the big-league level. But if they don’t take the next step or show considerable signs of growth, the Padres aren’t going to stand much of a chance in the NL.

That means pitching deeper into games, which entails finishing off hitters and garnering more plate command.

While Davies, 27, improves their rotation, he’s not a blockbuster acquisition. Heck, you could throw him in the uncertainty section. Sure, he had an impressive 2019 campaign, but it’s not as if he’s unhittable. Davies puts a lot of runners on base and doesn’t pitch deep into games.

San Diego didn’t come up with any top-of-the-rotation starters in free agency such as Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, or Zack Wheeler. They also still haven’t made a big trade for an ace or someone who could form a lethal one-two punch alongside Paddack.

Perhaps the Padres, who have arguably the best farm system in baseball, are ready to make a blockbuster trade during the regular season, as most of the pieces are in place for the long haul? In the meantime, it’s difficult to play the what-if game. They didn’t make a groundbreaking move for a starting pitcher, and their rotation is set.

This rotation is accompanied by a deep bullpen. Kirby Yates was lights out in the ninth inning last season, posting a 1.19 ERA and totaling 101 strikeouts across 60 appearances. His heroics in the closer role earned him a spot on the NL All-Star Game roster. Craig Stammen has been easy peasy setting up Yates; Andres Munoz held his own in 22 appearances last season.

This offseason general manager A.J. Preller acquired two relievers: Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan.

Pomeranz inked a four-year, $34 million deal. He found success pitching out of the Brewers bullpen in the second half of last season and has extensive starting experience; this is modern-day pitching versatility at its finest. Pagan, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays for most notably center fielder Manuel Margot, was one of the best relievers in the sport last season, as he recorded a 2.31 ERA and 0.83 WHIP while totaling 96 strikeouts across 70 innings.

Around the diamond, the Padres are loaded. Manny Machado is as good as it gets at the hot corner; Fernando Tatis Jr. may be considered the best shortstop in baseball in a year; Eric Hosmer is a productive, line-drive hitter; Tommy Pham, who was acquired from the Rays for most notably Hunter Renfroe, has posted an OPS over .800 in each of the last three seasons; Jurickson Profar, who was acquired from the Oakland Athletics, has pop in his bat and brings defensive versatility to the table; Wil Myers is versatile, too.

This is a tantalizing ballclub with upside, though, hasn’t that been the case in years past? At some point, your young talent has to make a leap. Offensively? They’ve certainly done so. Bullpen? They have one of the best relief corps in the sport. This team’s regular season shortcomings stem back to starting pitching. You can’t hold the Commissioner’s trophy without a reliable rotation.

You can’t keep making complementary moves; you have to make the big ones. When you don’t, and young players don’t improve, you get nowhere. Despite the optimism they produced in the batter’s box last season, the Padres finished 70-92, which was last place in the NL West. They finished behind a San Francisco Giants team looking for direction and a Colorado Rockies team whose pitching staff imploded.

The Padres are, at best, the third-best team in their division. The Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t going anywhere, and they reiterated their persistence towards winning the World Series by acquiring the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player of the Year Award winner, Mookie Betts; the Arizona Diamondbacks got on a roll towards the end of last season, finishing with 85 wins. This offseason they signed Bumgarner and acquired outfielder Starling Marte from the Pittsburgh Pirates; they’re only getting better.

The Padres are supposed to be what the D-Backs were last season: a ballclub with a vibrant offense and a starting rotation of young pitchers with upside. Making the second element a reality is a two-way street: the Padres fine-tuning with their starters’ offerings and the individuals breaking out themselves.

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