Week 10 Recap: Patient Padres portray promise

San Diego Padres' Tommy Medica (14) is greeted in the dugout after scoring when teammate Chris Denorfia was walked with the bases loaded by Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano during the fourth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 4, 2014, in San Diego.  

Friday @ White Sox: 4-1 Win

Saturday @ White Sox: 4-2 Win

Sunday @ White Sox: 1-4 Loss

Chicago Series Recap:

As discouraging as last week was, I found this series against the Chicago White Sox a new start filled with hope. Winning two out of three is nice, but it was the fashion in which they did so that has me believing that the jury is still out on the 2014 Padres.

Any team can get hot and win a series, but this three-game set against the ChiSox looked like something San Diego can repeat moving forward. Their starting pitching was very good (3.00 ERA with a 1.17 ERA), but not so good to consider the performance an outlier that won’t happen again. The starters gave up their fair share of extra base hits (every run that was scored via hit for Chicago came from an extra base hit) against a very powerful White Sox lineup, but they battled and avoided the big inning (20:7 strikeout-to-walk rate).

The bullpen was back to being the dominant group that we’ve seen for the majority of the season, allowing just one hit and three base runners in eight scoreless innings of work. While it didn’t impact this series, the fact that the ‘pen struck out 11 batters is a positive sign when it comes to future high-leverage situations when they are asked to strand multiple runners in a tight game. At the end of the day, the starting pitcher may get credit for the win and the stat stuffing batter the highlights, but this set of relievers is about as good as it gets in the big leagues, and they are the primary reason that this Padres team can smell .500.

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As for the bats … they weren’t great. Scoring nine runs in a three game series isn’t usually going to be enough to win two games, but don’t let the lack of overall production discourage you. OK, so maybe Chris Sale looked like an all-time great on Sunday against them (the first 12 went down in order, Chase Headley homered, Tommy Medica singled, double play, final 13 down in order), but there’s a reason he’s undefeated and viewed as a Cy Young candidate: he’s really good. In game one, the Padres had three important hitters (Chris Denorfia, Carlos Quentin, and Yonder Alonso) combine for seven hits. If these players can record hits on a consistent basis in the middle of the order, producing runs will become much easier, as they have struggled for the majority of the season. Quentin and Will Venable, another important hitter as he is the lone Padre with a strong power/speed skill-set, led the charge on Saturday by reaching base seven times. Quentin displayed patience that you only see from him when he is locked in (he saw 27 pitches and drew three walks), while Venable flashed some speed that we haven’t seen since last season (two doubles and a stolen base). Everth Cabrera is a nice piece atop the lineup, so if the 2-7 hitters can get on base like they did in the first two games of this series, there is no reason to think that this Padres offense can’t rank closer to the MLB average than the cellar from this point forward.

Monday vs. Pirates: 3-10 Loss

Tuesday vs. Pirates: 1-4 Loss

Wednesday vs. Pirates: 3-2 Win

Pittsburgh Series Recap:

Winning just one game in this series may not seem like the ideal outcome, but given the fact that San Diego starters combined to pitch just 12.1 innings and that 70 percent of their hits this week came in three individual innings, one win was probably better than anyone could have expected. The starting rotation continued to be treated rudely by opposing batters, as Ian Kennedy’s strong outing last night lowered the rotation’s series ERA and WHIP to 5.84 and 1.62 respectively. With the exception of Kennedy, the Pirates series was simply a continuation of the starters’ struggles to go deep into games.

The bullpen looked exhausted in attempting to cover yet another short outing from Tim Stauffer (6.1 innings, 12 hits, and eight earned runs), but they quickly rebounded and gave the Padres a realistic opportunity to steal this series. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the relievers combined to pitch 8.1 innings while allowing just two base runners and striking out seven. How long until San Diego takes full advantage of what is a top-notch weapon?

Pittsburgh’s starters were dominant (just eight hits and five runs allowed in 15.2 innings of work), but the Padres offense worked hard on elevating their pitch count (11 walks) and getting to the ‘pen. While this didn’t directly result in victories, the patient approach is a step in the right direction for an offense that has struggled to put runners on base all season long.

As mentioned, the bats struggled to actually make contact. The Padres constantly put runners on base via the walk, but the big bats need to do better than 3/19 in run-scoring situations. We will find out in the coming weeks if their plate discipline this week, which included seven different players earning a walk on Wednesday, is a developing skill or the result of Pirate wildness, but there is reason for optimism. With a healthy Carlos Quentin, this lineup has power potential – even if they haven’t shown it this season – that could support a well above average pitching staff.

Weekly Grade: C+

Three up and three down in a week that the bullpen dominated. No, it’s not sexy, but given the number of innings they are pitching these days, the continued elite production is something every team wishes they had.  We continue to wait on the middle of the order to produce at the level they have proven capable, and until they do, anything more than a .500 record is nothing but a dream. That being said, if a player or two catches fire and the bullpen continues to dominate, an extended winning streak may not be as far away as it seems.

San Diego is host the Nationals and then travel to Philadelphia for six games in the coming days. Both teams find success the same way in which the Padres do: great pitching and just enough hitting. It’ll be interesting to see if San Diego can have success in a pair of series’ that figure to be decided in the latter innings, games that are decided by a single hit or two.