The Mets aren’t a good baseball team, but there is no such thing as a bad win for the Padres. After a rough first inning (three runs), San Diego solved New York’s weak offense for the next 26 innings (two earned runs) while the offense used a "swing for the fences" mentality to push across enough runs to win the final two games.
Over the weekend, Tyson Ross and Odrisamer Despaigne continued to impress. Ross tossed seven shutout innings and now has a 0.93 ERA in July. The most encouraging part about this season for Ross has been the type of contact, or lack thereof, that is being made against him. He has 18 more strikeouts than hits allowed and 76 more ground balls against than fly balls. Those two trends indicate that his success is sustainable in any environment against any opponent, not bad for a pitcher that projects as the staff’s third option when/if Andrew Cashner returns from his right shoulder strain. Speaking of a player that is far exceeding expectations, the Padres might have a rookie of the year candidate in Despaigne. The 27-year-old’s no-hit bid came up just four outs short, but that is about the only thing that hasn’t gone his way during the first month of his major league career. He has given up just five runs on 20 hits in 34.1 innings of work (for the record, Clayton Kershaw gave up seven runs on 24 hits in the 32 innings prior to his 41 inning shutout streak), a run of dominance that has seen him give up four or fewer hits on three occasions. Is he due to regress? Sure, but for a team without real playoff aspirations, his success provides optimism moving forward.
The bullpen finished this series with two of the three decisions, and while Joaquin Benoit took the loss on Friday, the relievers had a nice first series sans Huston Street (dealt to the Angeles on Friday). In support of their strong starting staff, the ‘pen notched a 1.23 ERA with nine punch outs in 7.1 innings, production that will be good enough more often than not. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no matter how bad this offense is, San Diego will have the opportunity to remain competitive with these arms on its roster.
Speaking of the offense, they finally displayed the type of power that we assumed we’d see on a regular basis this year. OK, so four runs per game may not be considered "raking" in most circles and the hits didn’t come in volume until Sunday, but there is something to be said for solid contact. Chase Headley smoked a two-out, two-RBI single to cap a four-run fifth inning on Friday in an at-bat that resembled a legitimate middle of the order hitter. Saturday and Sunday saw the raw power that occasionally carried this squad last season, as Yasmani Grandal (two homers), Will Venable and Seth Smith all flexed their muscles by driving the ball out of spacious Petco Park. Saturday featured a well-balanced attack as the top five hitters in the order all recorded both a hit and a run scored, while Sunday saw the Padres rap out 11 hits. Are the offensive woes cured, making San Diego a threat to close the double digit gap in the NL West? Not even close. New York’s starters struck out 21 and walked only two during this series (the Mets staff as a whole K’d 11 without issuing a free pass on Saturday), not to mention that the Padres went 1-11 with runners in scoring position, but the power is better than nothing.
For what seems like the first time this season, the Padres caught a break. In a game that they simply dominated on Sunday, they gave up their lead late in the game and seemed destined to blow a game in which a no-hitter looked likely. But a softly hit ground ball by Seth Smith tied Josh Edgin in knots, allowing pinch-runner Cameron Maybin to rush home for the game winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Baseball is a fickle game, so maybe this is the Baseball Gods smiling down upon the Padres.
Tuesday @ Cubs: 0-6 Loss
Wednesday @ Cubs: 8-3 Win
Chicago Series Recap
Statistically speaking, this is one of the few opponents that will be an underdog when facing the Padres. Chicago and San Diego both rank among the three worst offenses in all of baseball, but the Padres prospects are gaining experience in the big leagues and have contributed to a top 10 staff ERA, while the Cubs are a year behind and have loads of talent in the minor leagues.
You wouldn’t have known that the Cubs just traded their top two pitchers and were piecing together their rotation after game one, as Kyle Hendricks mowed down the Padres in just his second career appearance. He tossed seven shutout innings despite 80 percent of the Padres at-bats with runners in scoring position coming with a supposed run producer at the dish (the 3-4-5 hitters). But with Jedd Gyorko still sidelined and Chase Headley dealt to New York earlier in the day (and eventually providing the game-winning hit for his new club later Monday night), San Diego lacks any semblance of run producers. On an encouraging note, the first four hitters in the order did reach base seven times, but if this offense isn’t going to capitalize on this type of opportunity, when are they going to produce?
Ian Kennedy wasn’t too sharp on Wednesday (six innings, three hits, three earned, and five walks), but he did what a veteran should do: he battled. After giving back a three-run lead, Kennedy buckled down for consecutive shutout innings, allowing the Padres offense to add another two runs against yet another inexperienced Cubs starter (Tsuyoshi Wada). In his first action since the Headley trade, Yangervis Solarte (a player I like as part of the long-term rebuild) reached base three times, scored twice, and drove in a run. Is he a strong middle of the order hitter? Not right now, but his plate discipline and patience are a real asset and seem to be his calling card. The promising start to his Padres career was nice, but I’m equally encouraged by Tommy Medica’s evening at the dish. The 26-year-old projects as a potential cleanup hitter for years to come (sooner rather than later should Carlos Quentin be dealt in the next week), so I’ll take all the three-hit, two-RBI performances I can get. He saw more than four pitches per at-bat, a step in the right direction for the occasionally over aggressive .249 career hitter.
Weekly Grade: B
Winning three of five games is a positive, even if they came against poor teams. The offense is still is far from consistent, but at least we’ve seen some signs of life since the All-Star Break. The 3-2 mark is nice, but this grade is affected by the Headley trade that I think was something San Diego needed to do. Chase Headley had struggled in a big way since his 115 RBI effort in 2012 and was showing no signs of turning things around. That being said, his fly ball approach filled a need for the Yankees and was able to net the Padres a young relief pitcher in Rafeal De Paula who could close one day, and a utility infielder in Solarte that is a nice "glue guy" that has the sort of skill set (patient at the plate and versatile in the infield) that is needed to win games in the big leagues. The move was one for the future, and given the uncertainty of the front office, any move that can improve a future Padres team should be applauded.
San Diego will finish up their three game set in Chicago tonight and then head to Atlanta for a four-game wrap around series. They then return home for a date with the Cardinals to end the month of July. Will they make more trades? Should they make more trades?