Hot Padres head into Miami looking to continue turnaround
The Padres’ effort is starting to pay off.
They have won three straight series for the first time in 11 months. Their bullpen’s 3.29 ERA ranks seventh in the majors. And, after a 10-20 start, they are 19-15 since May 1.
“Everyone is playing the game the right way,” Padres shortstop Freddy Galvis told the media. “Everyone is doing their homework. The pitching has been good. The bullpen has been awesome. We’re trying to be a winning team.”
That effort will continue Friday night when the Padres visit Marlins Park to open a three-game series. The host Padres swept three games from the Marlins last week.
On Friday, the Padres will start rookie Eric Lauer (2-3, 6.82 ERA) against Miami’s Caleb Smith (4-6, 4.03) in a battle of young left-handers.
Lauer, a 2016 first-round pick out of Kent State, will be making his ninth major-league start.
Smith, drafted by the New York Yankees in the 14th round in 2013 out of Sam Houston State, broke into the majors last season and will be making his 15th big-league start.
Lauer, whose fastball averages 90 mph, has yet to post consecutive solid starts. He is coming off a good performance against the Cincinnati Reds, allowing one run in five innings. In his previous outing, he allowed five runs in 2 1/3 innings, and that has been his hot-and-cold trend all year.
The Padres are 2-6 when he starts.
Smith, whose fastball averages 93 mph, has been better of late, going 4-3 with a 3.03 ERA in his past seven starts. He has been inconsistent overall, although not as much as Lauer.
For the season, Smith is averaging 11.0 strikeouts and 4.2 walks per nine innings, and both of those ratios rank among the 11-best (strikeouts) and 11-worst (walks) in the majors.
Batters are hitting .101 against his slider, which ranks him second in the majors among qualified starters while using that pitch.
Smith, of course, is hoping the Marlins can hit the ball the way they did this week in taking two of three games from the host St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards won the Thursday finale 4-1 after Miami pounded a season-high 17 hits Wednesday in an 11-3 victory.
“It sounds simple,” said Marlins left fielder Derek Dietrich, who went 4-for-5 on Wednesday with three RBIs, “but I’m ready to take my best swing every time up.”
As for this weekend’s matchup, there are similarities between the teams. The Marlins haven’t made the playoffs since 2003. The Padres haven’t reached the postseason since 2006.
Some of the key members of the Padres’ rebuild are first baseman Eric Hosmer, a 28-year-old South Floridian who signed an eight-year, $144 million contract this past offseason; and left fielder Wil Myers, who is on the disabled list until likely July and has only played 10 games this year.
Myers, 27, hit 58 combined homers the past two years.
Padres center fielder Manuel Margot, 23, is a terrific athlete who is off to a slow start with a .212 batting average and a .595 OPS. He stole 17 bases last year, posted a .721 OPS and finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year balloting.
Another Padres’ building block is right fielder Hunter Renfroe, 26, who has a cannon arm and belted 26 homers in 122 games last year.
On the Marlins side, their daily lineup is comprised of players all in their 20s, led by catcher J.T. Realmuto, who is having an All-Star season.
The 27-year-old Realmuto is regarded by many as the fastest catcher in the majors, and he also has a strong arm defensively. He leads the Marlins in triples with three, in batting average (.311) and OPS (.911). If those batting average and OPS figures hold up, they would be career highs.