Padres, Reds enter series finale built to last

Eric Hosmer was supposed to be the San Diego Padres‘ answer to all the questions about whether they’d effectively tank it for the 2018 season.

Whether they’d give up all hope of winning now in exchange for getting high draft picks and young talent for finishing well down in the standings and, possibly, winning big in the future.

Teams such as the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins made no real effort to go after big-ticket free agents — and, in fact, the Marlins shed the stars they already had in Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

But while the Padres were coming off seven consecutive losing seasons, including two with 90-plus losses in 2016 and 2017, they sought to do it a different way.

Sure, they were intent on stockpiling younger players and promoting prospects, but also by signing established first baseman Eric Hosmer away from the Kansas City Royals for $144 million over eight years. The idea was to build around an established hitter and proven clubhouse leader who could help promote winning now as well as winning later.

But as the Padres go into the fourth and final game of their weekend series between last-place teams against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday at Great American Ball Park, they’re in the same place they were before they signed Hosmer.

Fifth and last in the National League West.

On Sunday, San Diego starts right-hander Jacob Nix (2-3, 4.85 ERA) against Reds right-hander Tyler Mahle (7-9, 4.95), who makes his first start since being removed from the rotation after a 10-4 loss to the Washington Nationals on Aug. 2, when he gave up six runs in 1 2/3 innings.

The Reds won for the second day in a row Saturday, taking a 7-2 decision in a game moved up an hour by a bad weather forecast but cut short by rain in the seventh inning. Joey Votto hit the Reds’ second grand slam in as many days — Scott Schebler hit one during Friday’s 12-6 victory — and Matt Harvey (7-8) struck out 10 while limiting the Padres to two runs and four hits in six innings.

“The guys did a great job of putting up a lot of runs, and the stuff (his pitches) was working pretty good,” Harvey said. “It was one of those days where everything was coming out pretty good, I could tell in the bullpen. … I was able to pretty much settle down and let the pitches work.”

The Reds have a club-record 11 grand slams this season. But the Hosmer signing hasn’t been a slam-dunk success for the Padres.

They’re already out $25 million for signing Hosmer — a $5 million signing bonus and $20 million salary for 2018 — and they’re on the hook for $20 million more in each of the next four seasons, or before Hosmer could exercise a buyout clause after five seasons.

Hosmer is hitting .252, well below the .318 he hit last season for Kansas City. He has 15 home runs after hitting 25 in each of the last two seasons. And he has only 61 RBIs in 547 at-bats, well down from the 97 he averaged for the last three seasons.

With only 18 games remaining, he doesn’t have much time to pull up his numbers before the offseason arrives — even though he is 4-for-11 with two home runs and five RBIs in the series.

“It’s been tough,” Hosmer told the San Diego Union-Tribune last month. “I just want to help the team win any way I can. I feel like if I’m doing my job and driving in runs, that gives us a really good chance to win ballgames. There is no excuse for it (his season to date). There’s nothing different about what’s happening. I just have to do a better job of getting it done.”

The Reds can relate to the Hosmer contract situation, in multiple ways.

After they went 90-72 and made the playoffs in 2013, they signed staff ace Homer Bailey to a six-year, $105 million contract. But he has experienced almost nothing but injuries and aggravation since, winning only 18 games in the last five seasons. He has been so bad this season, with a 1-14 record and 6.09 ERA, he’s now out of the rotation.

And franchise icon Votto turns 35 on Monday, yet the All-Star first baseman is only one season past the halfway point of a 12-year, $251.5 million contract that he signed in April 2012. The Reds went 97-65 that year, the first of successive 90-win seasons. Since 2013, though, they haven’t broken 76 victories even as Votto has produced. He has had five .300 seasons since signing the deal.

Perhaps the lesson in all this is that even when a franchise tries to spend money to win, and not take the cheaper and perhaps easier road of a total rebuild with prospects, there’s no guarantee it will succeed.

Mahle won his only start against the Padres, allowing five hits in five shutouts innings of a 7-2 victory at San Diego on June 1.

Nix will make his sixth career start and has never faced Cincinnati.