The much hyped Nationals were the team with offensive struggles on this night. They pounded out hit after hit against the Padres, but this offense (led by the expensive Jayson Werth alongside the promising Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond among others), failed to cash in on a single one of their 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position, a deficiency that ultimately cost them a very winnable game.
An Anthony Rendon sac-fly in the third gave the Nats a 1-0 lead, but the Padres once again prevented the opposing pitcher that all important shut down inning, answering in the top of the fourth when Seth Smith doubled home Chris Denorfia. Washington got two hits in the fifth, but wasted them both, while San Diego turned two hits into two runs in their half of the sixth inning thanks to a two-out two-run double by Yasmani Grandal.
Neither starting pitcher lasted more than six innings, but both Jordan Zimmerman (six innings, five hits, and three earned runs) and Eric Stults (5.1 innings, 10 hits, and two earned runs) were effective. Nick Vincent served up a long homer to Adam LaRoche with one out in the seventh inning, tying the score and clinching that neither starter would factor into the decision.
As was the case for most of the night, the Nationals continued to get their chances and failed to capitalize. They loaded the bases in the ninth inning off of Tim Stauffer with Danny Espinosa standing in the batter’s box (with a .317 season batting average who already homered). Three fastballs later, Stauffer induced a harmless pop up and the game moved to extra innings.
Watching the game, it felt as if Washington couldn’t possibly lose, as they had twice as many hits as San Diego and were simply due to cash in one of them eventually. That, however, wasn’t the case, as the Padres managed to scratch across a run in the top of the 12th inning. The power hitting Jedd Gyorko singled, stole second, and advanced to third on a throwing error. With two outs, the Padres got something the Nationals couldn’t get all night: a clutch hit. Xavier Nady worked a 2-0 count off a fatiguing Craig Stammen (three innings pitched in relief) before sneaking a groundball through the middle of the infield, giving the Padres a 4-3 advantage.
This game wouldn’t end without drama, as Harper led off the home half of the 12th with a sharp double to left field. After a Tyler Moore strikeout, Huston Street caught lightening in a bottle as Jose Lobaton roped a ball up the middle … right at a perfectly positioned Everth Cabrera. Off the bat, it felt like a game tying single, but the shortstop snared it and flipped to Gyorko in one-motion, picking off Harper and ending the game. Eight Padre hits is a mild offensive outburst, but winning a game in which their starter didn’t have his best stuff and the bullpen was less than perfect is big time for this San Diego team.
Friday @ Nationals (1-11 Loss)
This game was close … and then the National Anthem ended. Unlike most of their past losses, this game was over early and the Padres never threatened to make it an entertaining game. Three hits and a walk led to two first inning runs from Washington (an Ian Desmond double and Bryce Harper single knocking in the runs), more than enough for the way Steven Strasburg was feeling on this day. The Nationals’ ace not only struck out the side in the next half inning, recoding the much sought after "shut-down inning," he did so in absolutely dominating fashion. It took the righty just 12 pitches to fan the entire middle third of the Padres lineup, and only one of those pitches made any contact with a bat at all.
After those three quick outs, it was clear that San Diego had no chance at touching Strasburg, making a two-run deficit their best case scenario until the starter left the game. That best case scenario, however, didn’t last long with the struggling Robbie Erlin on the bump against an aggressive Washington batting order that saw blood in the water. Three of the first four batters reached base in the third inning, giving Harper another chance to do serious damage. He cleared the bases with a line-drive triple to right field and would score one batter later on a Jose Lobaton single. The rout was on.
To the Padres’ credit, they would put nine runners on base against Strasburg in his seven innings of work, but all seven hits were singles and they very rarely were able to string enough together to create a serious jam for the 25-year-old. On the bright side, three of those hits came from Everth Cabrera, a welcomed site now that Chase Headley (calf) is expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks. It didn’t result in much on this day, but if the speedy leadoff man can get on base with consistency, it should inject some energy and opportunity into an otherwise stagnant unit.
Erlin would give up two more runs before departing in the middle of the sixth, continuing a disturbing trend. Not only has the young lefty given up 15 earned runs in his 16 innings since an impressive performance against the Indians (six innings, four hits, no walks, six strikeouts, and one earned run), over 70% of his non-strikeout outs have been fly balls. While he has only surrendered one homer this season, allowing major league hitters to elevate the ball with that type of consistency is playing with fire and figures to be a problem sooner rather than later.
Nick Hundley was responsible for the lone Padres run (an RBI single that scored Jedd Gyorko), but the game was all but over at that point. Two positives to take away from this game: the bullpen wasn’t shredded (most 11-run games involve using many pitchers and leaving yourself short-handed over the next few days) and this is only one game. The complete domination isn’t encouraging, but this is one loss and doesn’t count more than a close loss would have.
Saturday @ Nationals (0-4 Loss)
Momma told me there’d be nights like this. Call it a breakout performance by Tanner Roark if you’d like, but this was just a brutal showing by an offense that has set a low standard to begin with. The talented 27-year-old threw a complete game three-hitter, extending his scoreless streak to 18 innings in the process. In fact, it wasn’t until Rene Rivera (he of the 344 career at-bats in a professional career that began in 2004) lined a slow curve into centerfield that a Padre reached base … in the sixth inning!
San Diego got comparatively hot from that point forward, notching three base runners in the final three innings, but never were multiple players on base. It’s hard to score a run, let alone win a game, in that fashion, and the Nationals made sure that they took an early lead and let Roark find his rhythm without feeling too much pressure. The best start of Roark’s career came against a pitcher in Andrew Cashner who had been rolling out gems like that with regularity late last season and early this year. The Padres’ ace, however, has lost a bit of his form over the last week (12 innings pitched, 16 hits, and eight earned runs) and the Nats jumped on him right out of the gate. After getting Denard Span to line out, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth put the pressure on by recording back-to-back singles. The next three hitters (Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, and Danny Espinosa) all notched RBI’s, and this was a 3-0 game before most fans settled into their seats.
After giving up four hits in the first inning, Cashner only gave up five hits over the next five innings, but spotting Washington three runs was too much to overcome on this day. San Diego finished this game with as many errors as hits-plus-runs, a trend that will win maybe one game a decade. The Padres offense has been quiet and the pitching has regressed closer to the expected mean over the last week or so, and while I’m willing to write that stretch as just a rough patch that all teams will go through during a 162 game season, this team cannot get out of Washington fast enough.
Sunday @ Nationals (4-2 Win)
Now that was more like it: high level pitching, patient offense, and solid defense. It’s not a sexy style, but it can win games, a lot of games, if executed with the perfection in which the Padres did in Washington on Sunday.
This was a less than ideal start, as back-to-back doubles gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead before their cleanup hitter even came to the plate, but that was about the only blip in the radar this day. Danny Espinosa was hit by an Ian Kennedy curveball to kick-off the home half of the second inning, but the Padres starter responded by retiring the next 16 (seven by way of K) in dominating fashion. His ability to locate and change speeds kept a very good Nationals offense off balance, but the question was whether or not the early mistake would cost him a shot at his second victory of the season.
San Diego sent just 10 players to the dish in the first three innings, but they displayed the type of patience that would pay dividends sooner rather than later. The fourth inning saw Chris Denorfia (my vote for team MVP up to this point) work a six-pitch walk, never taking the bat off his shoulder, and Yasmani Grandal follow up by lacing a 0-2 pitch to right field, putting two runners in scoring position with 0 outs. The Padres were only able to muster a Jedd Gyorko sacrifice fly, but the momentum had shifted.
Everth Cabrera single handedly ignited a fifth inning rally, singling after the first two batters were retired. He then stole second base and advanced to third on a wild pitch, before scoring on a Denorfia single. It wasn’t a pretty way to take the lead, but given the rhythm of Kennedy, no one was arguing.
After yet another 1-2-3 frame from Kennedy, the Padres willingness to take pitches finally paid off. Three straight singles from the bottom half of the order loaded the bases, and after a Kennedy strikeout, Cabrera watched four straight fastballs miss the target, resulting in the easiest RBI of his career. The hot Denorfia easily could have bailed out reliever Aaron Barnett by trying to break this game open with one swing, but he instead grinded out a seven-pitch free pass, extending the difference to three runs.
Major League Baseball could have saved some time and just called the game at this point, as it was obvious that the Nationals simply had no answer for Kennedy. When all was said and done, he pitched seven innings and gave up a mere three hits while striking out nine batters and walking zero (on the heels of surrendering one earned run in six innings of work in his last outing against the Brewers). This season has followed an eerily similar path as Kennedy’s 21-win 2011, where Kennedy struck out 10 batters without a walk (on April 25th) on the heels of an impressive performance (5.1 innings and one earned run). It’s worth noting that his current ERA of 3.16 is nearly 20% lower than his 2011 April ERA.
The pitching has been nothing short of phenomenal this season, and while the "big bats" in the middle of the order have yet to make their existence known, the top third of the order is coming around and keeping them competitive. The middle third of the lineup will likely determine the long-term success of this Padres team, but stealing wins with them struggling in April is important if they want to be playing meaningful games in August.
Monday @ Giants (6-4 Win)
They say the best time to get to an ace starting pitcher is in the first inning, before he settles in and discovers a rhythm. The Padres narrowly missed an opportunity to do just that, as Alexi Amarista was called out on strikes after Xavier Nady and Tommy Medica had worked back-to-back walks (seeing 14 pitches in the process) to load the bases with two outs. San Diego isn’t a team that gets a ton of opportunities as it is, so the missed opportunity against Madison Bumgarner was especially deflating.
Tyson Ross was locked in from the start, facing the minimum through three innings before getting some run support. After Bumgarner appeared to find a groove, a fielding error by Brandon Crawford gave the Padres some life to lead off the fourth inning. I can’t say for sure that the mistake rattled the Giants’ ace, but Amarista and Rene Rivera went on attack-mode, seeing only a total of three pitches and recording back-to-back doubles, giving the road team a 2-0 lead.
San Francisco, however, gave San Diego a taste of their own medicine, not allowing Ross to have the all important shut down frame. With a single, triple, and a walk by the first three hitters of the Giants half of the fourth, this was now a 2-1 game with two runners on base with no outs. A wild pitch by Ross moved Brandon Belt from first to second, and it appeared that things were coming unraveled. Michael Morse singled up the middle, and the Padres, who had considerably more scoring opportunities, now trailed 3-2.
The "fireworks," a word I never thought I’d use in this series, continued into the fifth inning. Two of the first three batters reached base before the ultra-aggressive Rivera stepped to the plate. Bumgarner started him with a changeup, a pitch that the catcher had yet to see this game: didn’t matter. He waited on the off-speed pitch and crushed it to left-center field, a three-run homer that gave Ross a multi-run lead for the second time. For the game, Rivera (who has four hits in his last eight at-bats) saw a total of seven pitches in his five at-bats, a risky approach that paid major dividends on this night (five RBI).
Maybe pitching with a decent lead isn’t Ross’ thing. After the second consecutive big inning, the righty immediately gave some of the advantage back, serving up a majestic homer to Brandon Hicks three pitches into the fifth inning. He gave up an infield single to the next batter and it was becoming obvious that Ross was tiring. To his credit, he was able to induce a double-play from the speedy Angel Pagan, but the Padres were clinging to their 5-4 lead and were going to need a strong performance from the bullpen.
Ross came out of the dugout to start the sixth inning, a questionable decision given his obvious fatigue. He struck out Brandon Belt to open the frame, but he then gave up a frozen rope double to Buster Posey and a single by Morse that was hit too hard to score Belt from second. The bullpen was called on to get him out of this sticky situation, and they did just that. Alex Torres struck out Pablo Sandoval on four pitches, getting him to swing and miss on three in a row, and Nick Vincent came in to retire Brandon Hicks with the bases loaded.
The Giants would never threaten again, as the Padres ‘pen continued to be among the best in the bigs. Will Venable doubled to lead off the ninth inning and came around to score on a fielder’s choice, giving Huston Street a little extra breathing room. The insurance run allowed Street to be aggressive, a comfort level that he thrives with. He struck out two and fielded a weak grounder, earning his 10th save in as many chances. The Giants currently lead the NL West, making this a strong start to an important early season series.
Tuesday @ Giants (0-6 Loss)
Yusmerio Petit has had an impressive April, giving up only three runs and striking out nearly five batters for every walk … as a reliever. But he was thrust into the rotation after Matt Cain was a late scratch, having no time to stretch out his arm, theoretically giving the Padres a massive edge not only in this game but also for tomorrow if San Francisco was forced to burn through bullpen arms. That’s the thing about theories, though, they aren’t always accurate.
Petit retired the first nine batters and faced just two over the minimum in his six shutout innings, dominating a San Diego lineup that was missing two of their power bats (Jedd Gyorko and Chase Headley). As impressive as he was given the circumstances, the Padres certainly helped him by being overly aggressive. A mere 35% of batters saw at least five pitches against the emergency starter, allowing him to pitch six strong innings and throw only 72 pitches. This allowed the Giants to use only three pitchers, a win in itself for the home team.
Eric Stults threw fewer pitches than Petit, but it was because he was ineffective, not efficient. Angel Pagan, who is battling a knee injury and averages one homer every 58.2 at-bats for his career, jumped on the third pitch that left Stults’ hand and deposited into the left field stands. After a Hunter Pence grounded out, Buster Posey put a first pitch curveball into the stands not far from Pagan’s shot, and just like that, the Giants held a 2-0 lead.
Michael Morse followed the Posey homer with a long double, and while Stults was able to work out of the inning without any more damage, he was looking shaky at best. The bottom third of the order went down in order in the second inning, but the top of the order crushed the Padres starter again in the third inning. Single, single, walk and he was once again on the ropes and in serious danger of losing control of this game. Morse rapped into a 1-2-3 double play, but Stults couldn’t capitalize on this golden opportunity to escape. He intentionally walked the scuffling Pablo Sandoval (.177 batting average), a questionable move as it put pressure on a pitcher who lacked confidence. Hector Sanchez and Brandon Crawford followed with singles, building a 5-0 lead and allowing Petit to pound the strike zone.
I will give the Padres ‘pen credit, as they gave up a mere two hits and zero walks in the final 5.1 innings and preserved multiple arms for the coming days. Donn Roach led the way with 4.1 innings of two-hit ball, giving up one unearned run. In fact, he even notched a single of his own in his first at-bat of the season. Unfortunately, the Giants bullpen was even better (nine up and nine down), never allowing the Padres to gain any momentum or hope. This game made it obvious how important it is to have power potential in the middle of the lineup, even if they are struggling. It was clear that San Francisco wasn’t worried about getting beat by the long ball, allowing them to force the issue.
Wednesday @ Giants (2-3 Loss)
The early offense from the Giants proved to be just enough to beat the late push by the Padres, as Tim Hudson (8.2 innings, five base runners, two earned runs, 17 ground ball outs, eight fly ball outs, and six strikeouts) earned his fourth win in five decisions. The veteran starter posted a very similar outing in his first start against San Diego (seven innings, eight base runners, two earned runs, 16 ground ball outs, eight fly ball outs, and four strikeouts), but came out on the losing end as his offense could only scratch across one run.
San Francisco wasted no time in getting Hudson some support in this one, as Michael Morse doubled home Hunter Pence with two outs in the first inning and Brandon Hicks launched the second pitch of the second inning into the right field stands. It was Hicks’ second home run of the series, a nice surprise for Giants fans as the shortstop is a lifetime .166 hitter with nearly three times as many strikeouts as hits, and dug the Padres a 2-0 hole against a pitcher in Hudson whose season ERA sits at 2.17. Mathematically, San Diego was already in trouble.
After giving up four hits his first time through the lineup, Robbie Erlin (6.2 innings, nine base runners, three earned runs, and five strikeouts) would find a comfort level. He continued to put runners on base, but he was able to come up with the big punch-out when he needed it. With runners on second and third, he rung up Hicks on three pitches, a huge out given the role of Hudson. He also was able to navigate around a leadoff triple by Brandon Crawford in the fourth, striking out Hudson and Juan Perez on six total pitches. He wasn’t unhittable in this outing, but he made good pitches when he needed to after a bumpy start, allowing his Padres to remain competitive.
Hudson continued to cruise, working on a three-hit shutout when he got another run of support. Erlin gave up a leadoff single to Joaquin Arias, but the next two batters were retired on ground balls, leaving Arias at second base with two outs. While Erlin was pitching around this sort of trouble all day, San Diego decided to yank their start (97 pitches) in favor of their league leading, in terms of ERA, bullpen. Dale Thayer, who hadn’t pitched since Saturday, promptly gave up a soft single to Hunter Pence, putting runners on the corners for Buster Posey. The All-Star catcher took the first pitch he saw and grounded it up the middle for an RBI single. This run would not be charged to the bullpen, but it was a letdown that Thayer could strand what would prove to be a crucial runner.
The Padres were able to get that run back by manufacturing a run in the eighth (Cameron Maybin doubled, advanced on a ground out, and scored on a ground out by Alexi Amarista) and still had hope. It took Hudson only 81 pitches to get through eight innings, however, and it appeared that the Padres would have trouble scoring two runs on him in the ninth (it took them eight innings to score once). He retired the first two batters without much trouble, and Yasmani Grandal represented the only thing between the 15-year veteran and a complete game. The impressive catcher, however, wasn’t ready for this game to end, and he crushed a 2-2 offering over the right field wall. With the tying run coming to bat, San Francisco elected to bring in Sergio Romo. While Romo is a very good closer, the Padres had hope, as he wasn’t the pitcher who had quieted their bats for the first 8.2 innings. Chris Denorfia and his .314 batting average came off the bench to pinch-hit, and all of a sudden it felt as if a rally was imminent.
Unfortunately, Romo changed speeds effectively and took advantage of Denorfia not typically pinch-hitting, inducing a harmless ground ball to end the game. The loss was pinned on Erlin, although had the bullpen done their job, this game may still be going on. Jedd Gyorko returned to the lineup and recorded one of San Diego’s five hits, but it is difficult to win games without a single hit with runners in scoring position. For the second consecutive game, the Padres failed to draw a walk, a major issue for a team that struggles to put men on base with consistency.
Weekly Grade: C+
A 3-4 week isn’t bad when you consider the quality of opponent, but 17 runs in a full week of games isn’t going to result in many successful weeks. With the exception of the blowout loss to the Nationals, the pitching continues to make nearly every game interesting, a trend that should allow this team to threaten 80 wins if it continues. That being said, if the hitting doesn’t come around, a prolonged losing streak is a very real possibility should the pitching struggle for any period of time. If you told me this team would have a -26 run differential at the end of April, Iâ’ be ecstatic with the 13 games they were able to win. San Diego has a very real chance to win at least four games this week, and with the NL West leading Giants starting a 14-game road trip against playoff contenders, San Diego could make a nice move up the divisional standings should they take care of business.
Next Week: Begin a 10-game homestand with three games against the struggling Diamondbacks starting tomorrow. The Royals then come to town for a three-game set starting on Monday. This is a week of opportunity, as Arizona is the league’s worst team and Kansas City is a mere 6-9 on the road this year.
MLB questions? Fantasy sports advice? Hit Kyle up @unSOPable23 on Twitter and he’ll set you up for success.