Manny Machado’s Padres Are Playing Like a 1st-Place Team—And Will Get Better | Bleacher Report

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It was around this time last year that the San Diego Padres took a hard turn from the best of times to the worst of times. They went up from leading Major League Baseball at 34-19 to 79-83 on May 29.

Most Padres fans probably haven’t forgotten this, but how many of them bother to care now is another question.

It’s a new season, after all, and the Pads have gotten off to an even hotter start with 27 wins from 41 games. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers stand between them and first place in the National League West, and at just one game that gap is small.

According to FanGraphs, the chances of it being another déjà vu for these Padres are also slim. They may only have a 31.2 percent chance of winning the division, but their odds of making it into MLB’s newly expanded playoff field are almost safe at 92.7 percent.

Without context, you have to like these odds. Given the fact that these Padres haven’t gotten their hands on superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., so their peak is almost certainly yet to come, they’re gotta be loved.

oh sure Something could still go wrong. Injuries could happen. Burglaries can happen. And while Bob Melvin brought all manner of accolades and credibility with him when he replaced Jayce Tingler in the manager’s chair, even his leadership could be tested if the losses pile up.

That has yet to happen, however, because having several of the best players in baseball, an excellent supporting cast, and an attacking plan that just works is never a bad thing.

It’s the Machado, Musgrove and Rogers show

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There’s no one right way to build a competitive team, but it’s doubtful anyone will object to a blueprint that calls for a three-pronged foundation with a superstar hitter and ace hurlers in the starting rotation and bullpen.

Speaking of which, let’s see where Manny Machado, Joe Musgrove and Taylor Rogers Rank among position players, starters and helpers in FanGraphs WAR:

  • Manny Machado (3.5): 1
  • Joe Musgrove (1.8): 7
  • Taylor Rogers (1.3): 3

Yup, this will work.

Machado started the season with just one hit in eight at-bats. Still, he’s done nothing but score since then, to the extent that he now leads at least the National League in batting average (.374), on-base percentage (.446), and slugging percentage (.619).

While this is hardly the five-time All-Star’s first rodeo as a superstar, the times when Machado has been are rare this locked in.

The right-handed swinger was chasing pitches on the inside half of the plate and was so successful at getting around them that he’s hitting .519 and hitting .942 when drawing the ball. He’s also saved his best hitting for bruises, hitting .400 and hitting .950 with high leverage.

Since his 1.90 ERA doesn’t mean as much dominance as Justin Verlander’s MLB lead of 1.22, it’s not as easy to back up Musgrove as baseball’s top pitcher.

But most consistently awarded? Yes, it works. Musgrove has pitched at least six innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in all eight of his starts, putting him on an island to himself.

If there’s a resemblance between the right-handed Musgrove and the left-handed Rogers, it’s that both live and die by their sliders. That’s especially true of the latter, as he’s spent his 55 percent of the time allowing just one deserved run in 19.1 innings and 16 saves.

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Taylor Rogers, evil 80mph slider. 🤢

Add Musgrove and Rogers sliders together, and you get 11 hits in 96 At bats. That’s a .115 average, and nearly half of those at-bats (43) ended in strikeouts.

So, in case anyone was curious about where the bulk of San Diego’s MLB-leading 22 quality starts and 18 saves came from, here we go.

With special guest stars Hosmer, Kim, Profar, Gore and Crismatt

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After it was announced that Tatis would be out for several months with a broken left wrist, anyone could have looked to San Diego and assumed that Machado would be getting the bulk of his support Wil Meyers, Luke Voit and Jake Cronenworth.

As recently as 2020, Myers and Voit were among MLB’s most prolific players, with the latter even leading the majors with 22 homers for the New York Yankees. That year was also Cronenworth’s big break, and he followed it up with an All-Star campaign in 2021.

Unfortunately, none of these three made a difference in 2022. While the Padres wait for those winds to blow in a different direction, they can just admire the whole doldrums Eric Hosmer, Ha Seong Kim and Jurickson Prof have picked up.

In just a matter of weeks, Hosmer has gone from someone the Padres wanted to jettison to a .319 batting average to a vital part of the lineup. Kim has quietly put up the 3rd best OPS+ of any NL shortstop while holding it for Tatis. And after hitting all four homers in 137 games last year, Profar is on five this year.

On the mound, the Padres have had mixed results from branded hurlers Yu Darwish, Sean Manaea and Blake Snell, who was hit-or-miss by a strained adductor on his return on Wednesday. And also from Nick Martinezwhose moderately hyped return from a successful stint in Japan has posted a 3.86 ERA in eight games.

Again, these are winds the Padres must hope will change. In the meantime, thank God for MacKenzie Gore and Nabil Crismatt.

Left-hander Gore’s first 35 innings as a major league included a 2.06 ERA while showing a particular talent for mowing down right-handed hitters. They only hit .222 against him, including .202 against a four-seam fastball that seems to explode upon hitting the hitting zone:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

MacKenzie Gore, 97mph 🔥

Crismatt’s for its part vanishing change hasn’t let him down as he has a 1.25 ERA in 12 games in which he played all sorts of roles in 21.2 innings. In contrast, batters are only 4-for-47 with 14 strikeouts.

Who needs power when you can hit and defend situationally?

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If the Padres of 2022 have a fatal flaw, it’s not because they’re missing Tatis or because they’re receiving potentially untenable productions from role-players while waiting for stars whose names aren’t Machado, Musgrove or Rogers.

It’s power. Or rather a lack of it.

It may be that no one hits that many home runs in 2022 – thank you, dead ball – but the Padres in particular aren’t hitting them. They only have 32, or not even twice as many as the 17 that Yankees slugger Aaron Judge has alone.

One might be suspicious that the Padres are still above the league average with 4.5 runs per game. But dare we suggest: maybe they are actually ahead of the curve.

It’s a question worth asking any team using alternative methods to score in this year’s Homer-starved environment. And the Padres, in turn, use the tried and true method of getting them over and in after they get them.

At 0.314, they’re not even in the top 10 in terms of base percentage. But filtered by the situation on the bases, here’s what happens:

To boot, it’s worth noting that the Padres are also second in productive outs. While they may not be the best at getting the line going, once they get one going it moves.

On the other hand, the pitching staff doesn’t have to overcome the equivalent of the lineup’s home run deficiency. It is doing well indeed with the three true counts and sixth, tenth and fifteenth places in strikeouts, walks and home runs per nine innings.

Plus, San Diego pitchers also have something of a secret weapon: defense.

San Diego Padres @father

Nobody does it like Manny.#TimeToShine

The Padres are nothing if not efficient, like only five teams were better at converting balls into outs in play. Mistakes just aren’t part of the equation since her 14 mistakes are the fewest in baseball.

The Padres have also benefited from continuing to embrace the shift, particularly in infield.

In 2021 they moved their infielders to 25.8 percent of the seats. That’s up to 32.6 percent this year, and opposing batsmen average just .163 on groundballs against those shifts. That’s third best in the majors.

Here’s how it gets better

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For all that has been said about how the team’s clubhouse culture has rotted over the past year, the injury bug has been even more the Padres’ undoing. According to Spotrac, they lost more days to the injured list than any other team.

Along with potential gains from turnarounds from Myers, Voit, Cronenworth, Darvish, Manaea, Snell and Martinez, the IL could be yet another source of salvation for the Padres.

According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, Tatis is on track to return before July. Much like the Minnesota Twins do with Byron Buxton or Atlanta with Ronald Acuna Jr., the Padres would do well to treat the 23-year-old with care to increase the likelihood that he will stay on the field and play up to his skills.

Lest anyone forget, said skills are extreme. Despite missing about half of 2019 and 32 games last year through injury, Tatis is one of only four players with .900 OPS, 80 homers and 50 stolen bases before the age of 22.

Next month should also see the return of the ace right-hander Mike Clevingerwho had to return to the IL with a strained triceps not long after his comeback from Tommy John’s surgery on May 4th.

helper pierce johnson, Drawn bitterness and Austin Adams have more uncertain schedules, but there seems to be a non-zero chance of everyone returning before the All-Star break. Ditto for left-handers Adrian Morejonwhose return from Tommy John surgery has already entered the rehabilitation phase.

In short, reinforcements are coming. And at this rate, they won’t serve to prop up an ailing team. Rather, your job will be to make sure it never fails.

Watch the Padres take on the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday at 9:40 p.m. ET on TBS.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Savant.

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