Sunday, August 13, 2023

Newsletter Excerpt, August 13, 2023 -- "Third Third Previews, Pt. 6"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider.

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3. San Diego Padres (56-61 (.479, 20th in MLB), 536 RS, 478 RS, fourth in NL West)

Hubris. It’s just hubris. 

The Padres have seemed to be on the brink of a breakout for two months now, one that would validate my confidence in this being a playoff team and, once in the tournament, a dangerous one. Then they lose six in a row, including getting swept by the Pirates. Or they give up eight runs to the Dodgers in the eighth and ninth innings to blow a game. Or they get worked by a pitcher in his MLB debut.

Juan Soto blew up after that last one.

"We've got to play as a team. We've got to go out there grind every day. Grind every at-bat. ... It's been really inconsistent. Some days we do, some days we don't. We gotta do it every day. Days like this series, we just give up. Like literally, we just give up instead of keep grinding, keep pushing. We've got to forget about yesterday and keep moving."

Three days later, the Padres were shut out again.

A 16-10 run wrapped around the All-Star break got A.J. Preller to stay the course, retaining Blake Snell and Josh Hader, and going out into the market for cheap reinforcements: Rich Hill for the rotation, Scott Barlow for the bullpen, Garrett Cooper and Ji-Man Choi to extend the lineup. All told, that’s probably not a marginal win combined, but if it is even one win, it may be the difference between in and out of the playoffs. The Padres didn’t trade much to get these upgrades either, maybe not five total career WAR among the five players.

None of it will matter, though, if the expensive stars outside of Soto don’t hit. Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, and Fernando Tatis Jr. have a collective 113 OPS+, which isn’t the kind of thing that gets you released, but is not enough for the core of a good offense. Tatis, since being left off the All-Star team, has hit .188/.235/.321 with a 28/6 K/BB, and a .235 OBP in the #2 spot kills a lineup.

So yes, it’s hubris to look at more than four months of meh and say, “no, now they’ll turn it around.” The Padres are five games out of the last wild-card slot and behind three other teams in that race. Making up five games with 45 left and leap-frogging three teams is hard. Of the teams in this mix, though, the Padres are the one that can score 50 runs in a 7-0 week and change the conversation. 

Reasons to Watch: Juan Soto, who spent April being dunked on nationally, has a .411 OBP, a 157 OPS+, and is on his way to the second-best season of his career. He’s played in every game and started all but two. His takes are more interesting than 300 guys’ swings.

One Stat: The Padres are 0-10 in games with the stupid runner.