With a 13-run outburst in Chicago and a 12-run laugher against the Cardinals, the Padres showed some life at the plate while Hahn and Ross continued to dominate opponents.
San Diego Padres' Yangervis Solarte follows through with his third hit of the baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, a bases loaded single in the Padres' eight run seventh inning Wednesday, July 30, 2014, in San Diego.
Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press
By Kyle SoppeFOX Sports San Diego
Padres Week 18 Recap
Thursday @ Cubs: 13-3 Win
In the rubber game with the Cubs, the Padres offense exploded for 13 runs (one more than they scored in their first series after the break against the Mets) and have now won back-to-back series to open the second half of the 2014 season.
It's amazing what happens when you get a blend of hitting and pitching ... in the same game! San Diego blew this game open by sending 14 batters to the plate in a nine-run sixth inning that simply couldn't last long enough for the Padre faithful. When all was said and done, three different batters recorded at least three hits (Seth Smith, Will Venable, and Rene Rivera), four recorded multiple RBI (Alexi Amarista, Venable, Chris Nelson, and Rivera) and another four scored multiple runs (Amarista, Smith, Venable, Rivera). Every San Diego position player (including two pinch-hitters) reached base and six different hitters produce a knock with runners in scoring position. Nobody is saying that this is a repeatable feat, but this franchise and their loyal fan base deserved a game like this.
The rarity of an offensive outburst overshadowed another dominating performance out of Tyson Ross. He pitched six innings of one-run ball, striking out 11 while walking just one in the process. The Padres have won back-to-back Ross starts for the first time in more than two months as the righty lowered his season ERA to 2.65 (12th best in the bigs) and his July ERA to a microscopic 1.03. His 41 strike outs in 35 innings this month also put him on pace to increase his strikeouts per nine innings for the third consecutive month, an encouraging sign for a 27-year-old who is only getting stronger as the season progresses.
This series opened with much promise, as the Padres won for the fifth time in six games by defeating a pitcher in Alex Wood who has been sneaky good this season. But the good vibes couldn't carry into the weekend and the Braves dominated the final three games of this extended series.
I'll get to the bad and ugly in a minute, but let's not overlook another stellar performance by Jesse Hahn. The 24-year old tossed six innings of three-hit ball, lowering his ERA to 2.12 and improving his win-loss record to a sparkling 6-2 (he is the only starter with a plus-.500 record). His lone loss in the last six weeks was a quality start against the Giants in which he allowed just seven men to reach base in seven innings. He doesn't get much more run support than any other Padre pitcher, he just refuses to let opponents beat him with the long ball (0 homers allowed since giving up two in his first major league appearance) and buckles down when he needs to. He's not the overwhelmingly dominant starter who has a plethora of pitches and lights up the radar gun, but he is wise beyond his years in how to "pitch", not "throw", and he is only getting more impressive with each passing start.
The weekend starters pitched well, but they encountered one tough frame that doomed them. On an average team, this may not result in a loss, but given San Diego's struggles at the dish, one poor inning is all it takes. The Braves scored four runs (three unearned) in a sloppy fourth inning on Saturday and pounded Eric Stults for 88 percent of their base runners and all six runs in an eventful third inning. In both instances, the Padres had just taken the lead but couldn't recover after the demoralizing frame. The defense didn't help, but Despaigne and Stults combine to strike out eight and walk seven, not a great ratio against one of the most free-swinging lineups in recent memory.
If you're looking for a bright-side in these losses, it was that the offense showed some signs of life. They recorded 32 hits in the three games prior to being absolutely dominated by Ervin Santana on Monday (8 shutout innings that featured five base runners and 11 punch outs). Yangervis Solarte has shown the plate discipline that made him a target of the Padres and even powered up for his first homer since the trade on Saturday. Seth Smith and Alexi Amarista joined Solarte as players who reached base three times in a game over the weekend, but the numerous strikeouts limited the damage that could be done with all of these base runners. When all was said and done, the Padres struck out 39 times while drawing a mere five walks, a trend that has been a concern all season long and one that makes it nearly impossible to win if the home run ball is not an option.
The series did end on a high-note of sorts, as Jason Lane thrived in his first start in an emergency role after Ian Kennedy was scratched. He pitched six scoreless innings before giving up a solo homer to Evan Gattis and looked very comfortable throughout the afternoon. He attacked the strike zone (73.9 percent of his pitches were strikes) and challenged a Braves lineup that has talent, but also has the propensity to be overly aggressive. Despite taking the loss, it was an encouraging start from Jason Lane.
Tuesday vs. Cardinals: 3-1 Win
Wednesday vs. Cardinals: 12-1 Win
St. Louis Series Recap
Well that was tough to predict. The Padres came limping into this series while the proud organization in St. Louis came in looking to make a statement prior to their massive series with the division-leading Brewers, yet it was San Diego that appeared to be the team with more urgency.
Tyson Ross and Jesse Hahn combined to spin 13 innings of two-run ball, giving up a mere eight hits in the process. Ross gave up two or fewer earned runs without giving up more hits than innings pitched and punching out at least five for the eighth consecutive start while the Padres won for the seventh time in Hahn's last eight outings. In both games, the Padres held a lead by the end of the third innings, allowing their red-hot starters to be aggressive and attack the zone. The bullpen was solid in relief of these spectacular outings, not walking a single batter and striking out five in their five shutout innings. St. Louis has a very real shot to play postseason baseball, but through two games, the Padres have taken it to the visitors and dominated every aspect of the game.
The momentum carried over to the bats, as the San Diego attack was fueled by a familiar face from 2013 but one that had been more than disappointing this season: Jedd Gyorko. In the two games, he cranked out five hits that resulted in nine total bases, five RBI, and two runs scored. He displayed the confident and aggressive approach that we loved last year (he saw 12 pitches on Wednesday in his five at-bats), a style of hitting that compliments the smokin' hot Yangervis Solarte (.364 batting average since being acquired) well in the middle of this order. The Padres cashed in with runners in scoring position at a 40 percent clip against the Red Birds, constantly punishing the Cardinal starters when they had the opportunity. Everth Cabrera, fresh off the DL, recorded hits in back-to-back games for just the fourth time in two months, giving San Diego some much needed life atop the order. These two games don't make up for more the first 105, but it is encouraging to see what a healthy lineup is capable of doing, especially when you combine it with the amazingly consistent pitching of the starting staff.
Weekly Grade: B-
We can't overlook the disappointing finish to the Braves series, but the Padres play against St. Louis should inspire some hope. If Gyorko has in fact found his power stroke from 2013, it is still a bit early to say that, then there may be hope for an improved offense moving forward. The combination of speed at the top with Cabrera and "professional" hitter types in Seth Smith and Solarte around a power-hitting middle infielder is a nice thought if they can offer consistency. Only time will tell, but it is good to see San Diego put together a few nice performances against a competitive ball club in St. Louis. They will look to finish a sweep of the Cardinals this afternoon before welcoming the Braves to town for a shot at redemption. The Padres then pack their bags and head to Minnesota for a quick two-game series.
Kyle Soppe is a weekly contributor to FOXSportsSanDiego.com, follow him on Twitter @UnSOPable23.