Padres Week 22 Recap: Solid finish after some spotty starts

San Diego Padres' Yasmani Grandal watches his RBI single against the Milwaukee Brewers in the third inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, in San Diego. The Milwaukee Brewers catcher is Jonathan Lucroy.

Thursday @ Dodgers: 1-2 Loss

Los Angeles Series Recap

Tyson Ross went toe-to-toe with Clayton Kershaw, but one error is all it takes against the best pitcher in baseball and that’s all it took to swing the narrative of Ross’ outing. Instead of being labeled the star of the night, one elevated slider to Justin Turner in the eighth inning made Ross just the side note of another spectacular Kershaw outing.

Ross went the distance, giving up just six base runners (three in the eighth inning) and recording a hit of his own in the sixth inning to break up Kershaw’s no-hit bid. His ERA fell to 2.68 but you wouldn’t know it with his 11-12 record, that’s seven more losses than a pitcher in Homer Bailey whose ERA is more than a run higher. The 27-year-old has recorded nothing but quality starts since the middle of June and now owns a 2.88 ERA in his 62 San Diego appearances, displaying "ace" potential in the process. Look past the 12 losses San Diego fans, you may have a diamond in the rough here.

The Padres bats were very quiet against the Dodgers, but so is life when the reigning Cy Young Award winner is on the bump. San Diego struck out twice as often as they reached base and didn’t have a hit through the first five-plus innings, but the middle of the order had the right approach (the 2-4 hitters worked three walks, recorded two hits, scored a run, and knocked in a run) and that’s a positive step. The Padres got beat by a better team here; it’s that simple, but Tyson Ross shined bright and gave them a chance in a game they had no business in winning.

Friday @ Diamondbacks: 1-5 Loss

Saturday @ Diamondbacks: 2-5 Loss

Sunday @ Diamondbacks: 7-4 Win

Arizona Series Recap

There is no shame in getting shut down by Kershaw, but Josh Collmenter and Vidal Nuno? C’mon San Diego, you’re better than that.

The Diamondbacks unheralded duo allowed just two earned runs and six hits (to only four different batters) in 15.2 innings of work. They combined to strikeout six batters per walk issued and controlled the game essentially from start to finish. In fact, the Padres had as many errors as at-bats with runners in scoring position and saw their 2-7 hitters go hitless in 20 at-bats on Friday. That is how you fail to record a hit in seven of nine innings against a team that ranks in the bottom fifth of the league in team ERA.

The Padres starters weren’t bad this weekend, none of them gave up more than three earned runs, but they were anything but efficient and therefore forced to depart earlier than their counterparts. Despaigne, Cashner, and Kennedy surrendered 20 hits in 15.2 innings (yea, it took three starters to get as many outs as Collmenter/Nuno) in a series that feature a bend but don’t break effort from the starting staff. Under most circumstances, that’s not a bad thing, but the bullpen has been faltering a bit as of late, and that trend continued in the desert. Their recent struggles all came to a head on Saturday when Kevin Quackenbush coughed up a three run homer to Didi Gregorius after the Padres had finally clawed their way back to tie the score in the top of the eighth. For the series, the relievers recorded a 4.82 ERA despite a solid 1.07 WHIP.

As poor as the offense was in the first two games of this three game set, let’s not bury the lead: they looked good on Sunday! Yasmani Grandal and Will Venable powered up for homers as every starter sans Craig Nelson reached base. As a team, San Diego worked six walks, a level of patience that we rarely see. This, and a few productive outs, allowed the limited Padres offense to put seven runs on the board while having just four at-bats (and one hit) with runners in scoring position. This offense is hands down the worst in the league, but the power seems to be showing up on occasion, providing the fan base with hope that this team can eventually combine run production with their impressive pitching.

Monday vs Brewers: 1-10 Loss

Tuesday vs Brewers: 4-1 Win

Wednesday vs Brewers: 3-2 Win (10 innings)

Milwaukee Series Recap

It’s a good thing they play sets of games instead of single contests, because the impression left by the Padres after one game would have been dismal. That being said, San Diego rebounded nicely to take two of three from the NL Central leaders thanks to some high end production from a pair of unheralded players.

Can we just erase that first game? It simply wasn’t Padre baseball. Eric Stults (five innings, nine hits, four earned runs, three walks, and three strikeouts) was lit up and the bullpen was even worse (10 base runners and six earned runs in four innings of work) in one of the more lopsided affairs of the season. Kyle Lohse, of all people, shut down an improving Padres offense, as only Yangervis Solarte (on base three times) and Alexi Amarista (two hits) produced. But that was just a bad dream and the Padres woke up in a big way to wrap up this series.

Tyson Ross and Odrisamer Despaigne spun gems, combining to hold a very good Brewers attack to just two earned runs in 13.1 innings. Allowing few earned runs is nothing new for these two, but how about 15 strikeouts? Now, these aren’t elite K pitchers, but they flashed the ability to take advantage of an overly aggressive lineup, showing me that they are now "pitching" as opposed to "throwing." The ‘pen pitched to their league leading statistics, striking out six batters and allowing just one hit in five and two-thirds innings. On Tuesday, this meant holding onto a lead that San Diego had all night and on Wednesday it meant keeping the Brewers attack in check long enough for the Rene Rivera to play the role of Superman.

Yea, I said Rene Rivera. The catcher followed up a big day from Abraham Almonte (two hits, HR, SB, two runs, two RBI, and a walk) by lining a game-tying leadoff homer in the ninth inning against an elite closer in Francisco Rodriguez. He took advantage of seeing two fastballs that missed the zone and put a great swing on the 2-0 fastball, a level of aggressiveness that I love to see as it is a change in the mindset. Instead of forcing one of the better closers in the game to throw his first strike, Rivera zeroed in on where he thought the next heater was going and was ready to take control of the game. Now, is this always going to mean a home run? Of course not, but this aggressive mindset is crucial in an offense that struggles to produce, as they need to take advantage anywhere they can.

But Rivera wasn’t done. After K-Rod got lifted for Zach Duke in the 10th, Seth Smith walked and Yasmani Grandal singled on a ground ball. A fielder’s choice eliminated Smith, but the winning run was on second base with Rivera stepping to the plate. Another three pitch at-bat and another big hit. Rivera, who now quietly has at least one hit in eight of his last nine starts, drove a fastball past the infield and set the Padre faithful home happy. While the reserve catcher bats in the bottom of the order, it was the top of the lineup that consistently put the pressure on the Brewers starters (three of the top five hitters reached base three times apiece). The offense is spotty, but since the All-Star Break, we have seen signs of patience and power, a combination that we never saw in the first half of the season. Baby steps people, baby steps.

Weekly Grade: C+

The week as a whole was not much more than average, but things improved as the week progressed. Oddly enough, San Diego was more competitive against the playoff teams on the schedule and struggled against the Diamondbacks. Gaining consistency is going to be key for the growth of this franchise as a whole, but at least we are seeing signs here and there as the season winds down.The Padres continue their home stand with three this weekend against the Dodgers and then welcome in the Diamondbacks for a four-game set.