Padres Week 3 Review

Padres' closer Huston Street has recorded five saves in as many tries in 2014 so far, giving up no earned runs and allowing just three hits.    

Friday vs Detroit Tigers (6-0 Win)

I mentioned in my Padres Opening Series Review (Padres Opening Series Review) that Andrew Cashner should be not only regarded as San Diego’s best pitcher, but as a legitimate ace. Believe me now? All he did was mess around and one-hit the Tigers (the same Tigers offense that boasted the league’s top batting average last season), while striking out 11 (seven different players, including the two-time reigning MVP in Miguel Cabrera) and even getting a base knock himself.

The overall stat line was a thing of beauty, but there were two defining moments in this game that allowed the first complete game in the majors to take place. For the second time in as many games, the Padres jumped out to a lead in the first inning. Everth Cabrera started things off with a solid single to center, but appeared to be destined to be left on the base paths after back-to-back groundouts. But the middle of the order, which is quietly starting to gain confidence, delivered in a big way. Jedd Gyorko crushed a ball to right field, a ball that probably should have been caught on the run but wasn’t, for a triple. Finally, a break and a big two-out hit for the Padres! Chase Headley smoked a 1-2 Rick Porcello offering into centerfield, making it 2-0 and setting the stage for near perfection. For an ace like Cashner, pitching with a lead puts the pressure on the opponent as they know scoring chances will be few and far between. This allows him to use their aggression in his favor and shouldn’t be overlooked as a factor into how Cashner was able to navigate this loaded lineup without giving up a hit his first two times through it.

The second defining moment came in the sixth inning, the Tigers lone run scoring opportunity. The Padres offense was stuck in a rut again, sending just 13 batters to the plate in the four innings since their explosive first stanza, and Cashner appeared destined to give back some, if not all, of the two run cushion. After he struck out Porcello on three pitches, Rajai Davis broke up the no-no with a liner to center field. He then stole second base, a move that seemed to rattle Cashner a bit. Ian Kinsler drew a five pitch walk and Davis swiped third base, putting runners on the corners with one out … and big bad Miguel Cabrera stepping to the plate, representing the go-ahead run. At this point, it was difficult to count on the Padres adding to their run total (Porcello had really settled in after the rocky start), essentially making this the ball game. Ace against MVP. Emerging star vs highest paid player in MLB history.

Score one for the kid. Cabrera had seen only four pitches in his first two at-bats, something Cashner clearly understood. He threw an 85mph slider (an off-speed pitch for someone who is regularly in the mid-90’s) and Cabrera took the bait. He was out in front as a result of protecting against the heat, and wrapped into an inning ending 5-4-3 double play. Detroit had squandered their opportunity, and with Cashner on a roll, this essentially ended the game.

For good measure, Chase Headley added a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning in an at-bat that looked a lot like a slump buster (after falling behind 0-2 to a hot pitcher, he fouled off a tough pitch and evened the count before driving a no-doubter over the right field fence.) A fielder’s choice and RBI ground-out would result in San Diego’s fifth and sixth runs, but that was simply icing on the cake. After wriggling out of the sixth inning, Cashner set down the final nine Tigers in order, ending the game by striking out Cabrera with three straight fast balls (each one faster than the previous).

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This is what stud pitchers do. The bullpen got a night off and the entire roster gained confidence, something that will be needed as they face two of the last three AL Cy Young Award winners over the weekend.

Saturday vs Detroit Tigers (2-6 Loss)

Strikeout pitchers are going to give the Padres trouble this season and Justin Verlander would qualify as such. That being said, I thought San Diego showed some grit in this defeat, a positive sign moving forward.

Detroit tallied their first run (a deep RBI double by Ian Kinsler) just five pitches into the game, but Ian Kennedy managed to limit the damage by retiring Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Austin Jackson in succession, stranding Kinsler.

Chris Denorfia almost single handedly produced a run in the bottom of the frame, singling on a line drive, then stealing second and third before being knocked in via a Jedd Gyorko sac fly. They say you need to get to high-end pitchers before they establish a rhythm, and Denorfia’s aggression allowed the Padres to do just that.

It was that Kinsler guy again in the third inning that caused Kennedy issues, leading off the inning with another deep double that, once again, came on the first pitch he saw. This Tigers lineup is too deep to put runners in scoring position with no outs and expect to come away unscathed, so the one run allowed in the third (a laser to left field that resulted in a double by Miguel Cabrera) should be considered a minor victory for the home team. But giving Verlander his second lead of the afternoon is something San Diego simply couldn’t overcome.

The former Cy Young Award winner sat down six of the next seven batters and then helped himself a little bit at the dish. For the first time in his career, Verlander registered a base knock (a sharp grounder through the right side), once again putting men on base for the strong top half of this Detroit offensive attack. They once again cashed in (Torii Hunter scored two runs with a single up the middle) and the Padres now faced a 4-1 deficit that might as well have been 40-1.

Give them credit though, for the second time in three instances, the Padres didn’t allow Verlander to have that "shut-down inning" that most aces pride themselves on after getting run support. Chase Headley led off the fourth inning with a two-bagger and would score on a Yasmani Grandal (by the way, this kid is the real deal … it’s OK to get excited about him) single. That was the last run the Padres could muster in this ball game, but that’s not to say they didn’t have more success at the plate than games past. They recorded 10 hits (eight of which came off of Verlander), but Grandal’s RBI single was the only hit with runners in scoring position (1/10 for the day), and that simply isn’t going to cut it with a pitcher of this caliber on the mound. On the bright side, the Padres were putting men on base, as they went down in order just twice all night long.

I wouldn’t call Kennedy’s outing (6 innings, 8 hits, and 4 earned runs) a great one, but to strike out 7 Tigers and only walk one is impressive. I do worry about 73% of Kennedy’s non-strikeout outs being recorded via the fly ball, as that is less likely to be an effective strategy away from Petco, but part of that can be written off to a very versatile Tigers attack.

At the end of the day, a loss is not the ideal result, but I thought there was more good than bad to be taken away from this game against a team that boasts superior talent.

Sunday vs Detroit Tigers (5-1 Win)

That, my friends, is a series victory. This game was decided by a great pitching performance (not by the reigning Cy Young winner) and a strong middle of the order batting line (not from the reigning MVP or any of his upper echelon teammates).

Tyson Ross retired the first six batters of this game, but didn’t have another 1-2-3 inning in the next five. Despite tip-toeing around base runners all day long, Ross held this elite offense to just one run in seven hard fought innings. He battled control issues in his first two starts this season (one walk for every strikeout), but displayed great discipline by never giving into this ferocious Tigers lineup (one walk and seven strikeouts). Miguel Cabrera faced the 26-year-old three times but never made contact, and he wasn’t alone. For the game as a whole, Detroit’s 4-7 hitters recorded just one hit in 15 at-bats, striking out five times in the process. It was a day of role reversal, as the Padres 4-7 hitters (all of whom were struggling to open the season) combined to knock in three runs and score four.

Jedd Gyorko opened the scoring; as his solo homer in the second inning gave him six RBI over his last six games (he had only two hits and one RBI in his first six games of the season). Scoring first is nice (especially after the first two weeks), but it was their second bout of scoring that has me encouraged. After Ross coughed up the lead (Victor Martinez tied things with a RBI single), the offense once again responded immediately. Will Venable’s double scored two and Ross helped himself with an RBI single, giving the Padres a three-run cushion.

The run totals have been better of late (five-plus runs twice this series, something they did only once prior to this set), but the strikeouts are continuing to be an issue (13 more today). That being said, weekends where your ace wins and you defeat the opponent’s ace don’t come around often, so there is no need to nitpick.

The Padres have won three of their last four (scoring first in all three instances) and continue to get very good pitching from start to finish. We know Andrew Cashner is the real deal, but maybe this staff is a bit underrated. Pitching at home is going to help, so we will get a chance to see how legitimate this staff is with a 10-game road trip coming up after a showdown with the Rockies.

Monday vs Colorado Rockies (5-4 Win)

Good teams have the ability to win games in a variety of ways, something that up to this point, we had yet to see from the 2014 Padres. That, however, all changed as San Diego displayed a patient approach at the plate and came from behind to beat the Rockies in a game in which they trailed by four runs (and that’s a big deal for a team that was averaging 2.8 runs per game entering action.)

Eric Stults struggled from the get-go (the first two batters of the game reached base) and Colorado broke the scoring seal in the third inning on an infield single by Troy Tulowitzki. Things got worse before they got better for the Padres starter, as he surrendered three straight singles to open the fourth inning (on just six total pitches) and Colorado’s lead doubled.

Despite not having his best stuff, Stults refocused and, looking back at the game, came up with arguably the biggest three outs of the game following those three base knocks. With two on, nobody out, and a two-run deficit, Stults retired the 9-1-3 hitters, leaving Tulowitzki on-deck and not allowing him to break the game open.

The damage control didn’t last long, as Tulo opened the fifth inning with a single and Wilin Rosario followed with a towering homer, giving the visitors a 4-0 lead. The four run deficit seemed much greater given the fact that just 13 Padres had come to bat in the game’s first four innings, but Jordan Lyles seemingly lost his rhythm, and San Diego capitalized in a huge way.

Three straight extra base hits from the most unlikely of sources (pinch-hitter Tommy Medica, Everth Cabrera, and Alexi Amarista) resulted in three runs and gave the home team a pulse. They were still trailing, but the momentum had clearly shifted dugouts. Alex Torres tried to lose this game (he recorded just one out and walked three batters ahead of Tulowitzki), but Nick Vincent (who now has four consecutive outings without giving up a base runner) got the All-Star shortstop to line into an inning ending double play. Vincent wasn’t credited with any statistic (not a save, not a win, not even a hold), but that one pitch he threw to Tulowizki was the most important play of the game.

The Rockies wouldn’t put another man on base for the remainder of the game, but could the Padres capitalize?

Rex Brothers, for my money Colorado’s best arm, entered the game in the eighth inning, looking to preserve a one run lead. The inning started with Xavier Nady setting the tone (an eight pitch walk), allowing his teammates to see every pitch Brothers has to offer. Seth Smith was willing to pass the baton as well (six-pitch walk) and suddenly the Padres had belief. The two walks put pressure on the Rockies reliever: pressure that would win the game in a few batters.

The newly signed Jedd Gyorko and Chase Headley hit the ball hard, but ultimately had nothing to show for it. That being said, it was clear that Brothers was lacking confidence as the four Padres he had faced either worked a walk or scolded the ball to the outfield. Yonder Alonso worked a five-pitch walk (four of which were fastballs that weren’t particularly close) and now we have a situation. With the go-ahead run in scoring position and the Padres bullpen looking sharp, the game was on the shoulders of Yasmani Grandal. I love Grandal, but this wasn’t about him. It was about the Padres patience and their ability to force the issue (twice as many walks as strikeouts in this game). Brothers uncorked a wild pitch, allowing the tying run to score, and Rosario compounded the mistake with a throwing error, allowing Smith to score from second and the Padres to take their first lead of the evening.

Grandal flew out when all was said and done (a hard hit fly ball), but the damage had been done … without a single hit. Huston Street came on and continued the strong bullpen effort, as he retired Colorado’s 2-3-4 hitters on just 10 pitches (seven strikes.)

This Padres team is far from perfect, but with each game, I gain more confidence in their ability to shut down their opponents. Sure, they won’t score a ton of runs, but if the opposition only scores a few runs, they will be competitive more often than not. Gyorko, Headley, and Alonso have just 26 hits in 141 at-bats (.184 batting average) this season, something that figures to correct itself as the season goes on. Scoring 3-4 runs a night might not grab headlines, but if the team in the other dugout is scoring 2-3 runs, it is a successful strategy.

Tuesday vs Colorado Rockies (2-3 Loss)

This game took a bit of a different turn, but the result was the same: pretty good pitching and very limited hitting. The difference was that the offense came early, as the Padres notched four hits and two runs before a single out was recorded. Those first four batters were patient (saw 18 pitches) and forced the Rockies to make a trip to the mound to settle down Juan Nicasio (entered this game with a career ERA north of 5.00), threatening to end this game before it even started. Seth Smith and Jedd Gyorko knocked in runs with sharp singles to right field, staking Robbie Erlin (who had given up just one run in 6.2 innings pitched this season) to a 2-0 lead.

Erlin was unable to get that sought after "shut-down inning" in the top of the 2nd, giving up a two-out two-strike RBI single to DJ LaeMahieu. He only gave up the one run, but the time consuming inning (six batters and 27 pitches) halted any momentum the Padres gained in the first inning, something they would never regain.

In fact, remember those four hits the Padres got from the first four hitters of this game? That would end up being half of their total hit count for the entire game. That’s a major issue when your starting pitcher cannot retire the middle of the opposition’s lineup, as Erlin gave up another run on a Nolan Arenado sacrifice fly following a double by Troy Tulowitzki and a double by Wilin Rosario.  After the middle few hitters, the Padres starter had no issue getting out of the inning, but the game was now tied and the Rockies were the team swinging with confidence while San Diego appeared to be uncomfortable (16 batters recorded 15 outs following the 4/4 start to open this game).

The middle of the order would come to bat once again for Colorado in the top of the fifth … more trouble. Erlin struck out two batters to open the frame (half of his outs were recorded via the K), but then gave up a single to Michael Cuddyer and walked Carlos Gonzalez in front of Troy Tulowitzki and Wilin Rosario, two players that had four hits in their first four at-bats in this game. To no one’s surprise, San Diego elected to pull their starter instead of allowing him to face the twosome that had hit him hard in the early innings, but the damage had already been done: Erlin had allowed the powerful tandem to gain confidence. Former starter Tim Stauffer entered the game and promptly walked Tulo on four straight pitches. With the bases loaded, Rosario hit a grounder up the middle that glanced off of Stauffer and trickled to the shortstop, advancing all runners one base and giving the Rockies their first lead of the ball game.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: with a limited offense, San Diego’s pitchers cannot afford to get beat by opposing stars. Tulowitzki and Rosario went 5/5 with two runs scored and a RBI through five innings, giving the Rockies the opportunity to play the matchup game in the later innings and ultimately winning them this ball game.

The Padres, however, would not go down without a fight. Yonder Alonso led off the seventh inning with a single and, after Chris Denorfia/Nick Hundley fly outs, Yasmani Grandal/Xavier Nady drew walks (seeing a total of nine pitches). With the bases loaded and two outs, the game came down to Boone Logan vs Alexi Amarista. Logan had just walked Nady on four consecutive pitches, leading me to believe that Amarista would keep the bat on his shoulder early in the count in an effort to force Logan to locate the strike zone.

Not the case.

Amarista came out swinging at the first pitch, resulting in a harmless grounder and sucking the air out of the Padres balloon. Maybe there was something in the scouting report about attacking early pitches (the game ended on a first pitch swing that resulted in a double play), but the Padres lack of a killer instinct with the bat was once again obvious. For the game as a whole, the Rockies saw 38 more pitches than the Padres did, and with neither team sending their ace to the mound, a patient approach would seem to make sense. At the end of the day, San Diego wasted a hot start from their offense by recording four hits and 27 outs the rest of the way, and that’s simply not going to get it done unless Andrew Cashner is tossing a one-hitter.

Wednesday vs Colorado Rockies (4-2 Win)

I realize we are just four starts into the season, but the narrative seems to be identical every time that Andrew Cashner toes the rubber: the opponent will struggle to score runs, and if the Padres can scratch across a few early runs, the game is essentially over before it really begins.

Cashner (who I’ve decided is now good enough that he deserves a nickname: best suggestion that comes in on Twitter @unSOPable23 will be mentioned in next week’s recap) wasn’t at his best, as he sat down the Rockies in order just twice in despite pitching into the eighth inning, but he did what aces do: he limited the damage and gave his team a chance to win. Justin Morneau had his number all night long (3/3 with seven total bases), but he was able to retire the other potent bats with consistency (Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki combined for just one hit in six at-bats), thus allowing him to limit the Rockies to two runs (one earned) in 7.1 innings of work.

Morneau’s blast in the second inning gave Colorado a lead, but Tommy Medica didn’t wait long to respond with a gopher ball of his own to lead off the Padres half of the inning, giving Cashner new life that he took full advantage of. Neither team threatened until the bottom of the fifth inning, where a successful sacrifice bunt by Cashner and a single by Everth Cabrera put runners on the corners with two out for Chris Denorfia (who very quietly has a hit in seven straight games in which he recorded multiple at-bats). A ball in the dirt scooted past Jordan Pacheco on the first pitch, allowing Alexi Amarista to score from third and then Denorfia drove a belt-high splitter to right field for an RBI double, giving the home team a 3-1 advantage.

A two-run lead is going to be safe in the hands of Cashner most times, but he seemed destined to give it back, as he allowed three straight singles (two of which never left the infield) after retiring Tulowitzki to begin the top of the sixth. After the third single, the Padres had a meeting at the mound, a conversation that one can presume went something like this:

"Hey kid, you’re Andrew Cashner, and this is Jordan Pacheco. You still got your good gas?"

"Sure do."

Exit stage right.

Cashner overwhelmed the catcher with a flurry of heaters, each one faster than the previous, and induced a tailor made double-play ball to escape the jam. Denorfia added an insurance run with an RBI single in the seventh and Morneau would knock in his second run of the day with a sac fly in the eighth, but neither team really was ever in position for a rally the rest of the game.  

Cashner gave up nine hits (he had given up a total of ten in his first three outings), but he continually challenged the Rockies hitters, and when you’ve got the ability to overpower opponents, sometimes that is all you need to do. An outstanding 75.3% of his pitches were strikes, a rate that is going to allow him to pitch deep into many ball games this season. The bullpen finished off the solid outing by retiring five of the six batters they faced, striking out three in the process. Denorfia was the only Padre to record multiple hits, but six of his teammates notched a single hit, a lineup balance that was nice to see.

Weekly Grade: A-

They took two out of three from a very talented Tigers team that threw their two aces at the Padres. The hitting was good enough for the most part, especially given the quality of pitching they saw. Andrew Cashner continues to develop into a shutdown ace and the bullpen isn’t squandering leads, a valuable trait to have for a team that is going to struggle to put runs on the board.

Looking forward:

The Padres look to take three games in their four-game series with the Rockies (7-9 this season) tonight and then welcome in the San Francisco Giants (NL West leading 10-5) for a weekend series. After an afternoon finale on Sunday, San Diego travels to Milwaukee to face the hottest team in baseball (MLB best 11-4) for three games from Monday-Wednesday.