Padres Week 20 Recap: Power and pitching help Padres prevail

San Diego Padres center fielder Abraham Almonte makes the leaping catch at the fence to rob Colorado Rockies' Drew Stubbs in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, in San Diego.

Friday @ Pirates: 1-2 Loss

Saturday @ Pirates: 2-1 Win

Sunday @ Pirates: 8-2 Win

Pittsburgh Series Recap:

The Padres won their third straight August series, this one coming on the road against a team in the thick of the playoff race in the National League. The pitching once again drove the success, as the starters recorded three quality starts on their way to a 1.96 ERA and the bullpen struck out nine batters without issuing a free pass or allowing an earned run in 7.2 innings of work. All five of the Pirates’ runs in this series came in the first frame, a level of dominance by San Diego that would have confused the casual observer as to which team was in desperate need of victories.

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While the Padres staff was bending but not breaking (25 base runners allowed), the suddenly opportunistic lineup was cashing in on their few opportunities (eight runs scored against the Pirates starters on just 13 hits). Some may call this "luck," but look at the process that took place and you’ll notice that the production wasn’t a mistake. A team that lacks power needs to manufacture runs, and that is exactly what they did. The top two hitters in the lineup (a variation between Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista, and Yangervis Solarte) accounted for two-thirds of the team’s hits in the first two games and scored three runs on Sunday, while the middle of the order assumed the role driving in the runner. It wasn’t always pretty (four of their 11 runs came via the sac fly or wild pitch), but the fact that there were runners in a position to score those runs is a step in the right direction.

I’m not suggesting that this offense resembles the great lineups of the old time Yankees, but the fact that they are displaying patience and occasionally taking advantage of dangerous situations is a skill that they seem to be developing. On Sunday, for example, they averaged 4.12 pitches seen per plate appearance and the top half of the order worked more walks than punch outs. This roster (and home ballpark) is not built to beat opponents with the three-run homer, making it all that more important that they take advantage of the chances they do generate. It’s too late to make a playoff push, but with a young pitching staff that is breaking out and a maturing batting order, it’s not too late to inspire confidence moving forward.

Monday vs. Rockies: 4-3 Win

Tuesday vs. Rockies: 4-1 Win

Wednesday vs. Rockies: 5-3 Win

Colorado Series Recap:

Knock on wood, but is there a team playing better than the Padres right now? The pitching has been nothing short of elite and the offense has shown tremendous growth … can they sustain it?

Just another series for the starting staff, as Hahn/Despaigne/Kennedy owned a 3.00 ERA and struck out 21 batters in 18 innings against a talented Colorado team that seems poised to finish 10-plus games behind San Diego when all is said and done in 2014. No team in the big leagues has a lower ERA and more quality starts than the Padres, and while the starters did nothing this week to hurt those numbers, it was the bullpen that shined the brightest in this three game set.  The relievers gave up a mere five hits (four of which came last night) and one run in nine innings of work while punching out 16 batters without walking a single Rockie. Webster Dictionary is looking at replacing their current definition for "dominant" with that last sentence, and I’m not sure they’d get much of an argument. Nobody is going to confuse the Padres for a team with elite talent, thus making the ability to shorten the game crucial when it comes to winning with consistency.

This series was played against, but not in, Colorado, so the four homers by four different players should not be ignored. Yangervis Solarte, Yonder Alonso, Abraham Almonte, and Rymer Liriano all went yard since Monday, the type of power we thought we might see from this lineup (although not these players) this season. For better or for worse, Jedd Gyorko appears to finally be comfortable at the dish, as his aggressive approach is back (he saw a total of 21 pitches in eight at-bats since Tuesday). He’s not a perfect hitter, but the Padres need a big bat in the middle of the lineup and Gyorko is looking more and more like the 2013 version of himself that we came to accept as our run-producer. Maybe he’ll mature as a hitter, but an aggressive power bat is something that any Padre supporter will take in a heartbeat.

Weekly Grade: A

Better late than never when it comes to the Padres playing their best ball of the season. The five straight wins are impressive and are simply an extension of the solid baseball they have been playing since the All-Star Break. The pitching is doing what they”e been doing all season long, but the batting order is finally producing extra base hits, a style of play that can be successful in this era of low run totals. Looking long term, San Diego is still a few pieces away from competing, but streaks like this provide reasonable hope, as they are doing it on the backs of some young players.

They start a four-game set with the Cardinals in St. Louis today and then head to LA to face the Dodgers for three to open next week. Two more teams that are challenging for a playoff spot and have some elite pitching of their own, a week of action that will serve as a good measuring stick for just how good the Padres good can be.