Padres Week 2 Review

San Diego Padres starting pitcher Robbie Erlin allowed one run in sixth innings in the second game against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

Padres Week 2

Friday @ Miami Marlins (2-8 Loss)

A disturbing trend is beginning to rear its ugly head, and while we are still only four games into the regular season, it could prove fatal should it continue. For the third time in as many games, the Padres fell behind by multiple runs before their opponents cleanup hitter even stepped to the plate, this time courtesy of an absolute bomb hit by Giancarlo Stanton. There’s no shame in giving up a homer to one of the game’s elite sluggers, but the early nature that the runs have been scored put immediate pressure on a Padres offense that is less than potent (and even worse when forced to press the issue). Unlike their series with the Dodgers, however, San Diego was unable to limit the damage and never proved to be competitive in this one. The pitching staff (led by starter Eric Stults) failed to record a single 1-2-3 inning all night long, and the visitors fell behind by five runs before they put a runner in scoring position.

The offense generated some excitement in the fifth inning, loading the bases with only one out, but pinch-hitter Tommy Medica and Everth Cabrera couldn’t deliver a big hit against the crafty Tom Koehler (six innings pitched, seven hits, two earned runs, and one strikeout). The top of the order continued to struggle in a massive way, as the 1-4 hitters combine for just one hit 16 at-bats (seeing only 3.59 pitches per plate appearance in the process). It’s possible to win that way, but not when the Marlins first four batters record seven hits (not to mention four walks), six runs and four RBI.

When it comes down to it, offenses that are limited need their best player to provide the spark (see Stanton, Giancarlo), and the Padressimply haven’t gotten that out of Chase Headley in the early going (1/16 with no walks).

Saturday @ Miami Marlins (0-5 Loss)

Andrew Cashner and Jose Fernandez both came into this game touted as the future of their respective pitching staffs and neither disappointed as they both recorded "quality starts." Both workhorses figure to be on the wrong end of their fair share of pitchers duels, and that was the case for the Padres ace as his offense couldn’t muster anything against Fernandez (they had one ball reach the outfield grass through the first seven innings). Once again, this game was determined by the production (or lack thereof) of the middle of the lineup. Giancarlo Stanton knocked in the first run of this game with a two-out RBI single and led a Miami attack that saw five of their hitters batting 2-7 reach base multiple times. On the flip side, San Diego saw their 2-7 hitters combine for two hits in 18 at-bats, struggles that included Seth Smith grounding into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the third inning of a scoreless game.

Cashner (two earned runs in six innings) did his part to keep the Padres close, but the bullpen (eight base runners and three earned runs in two innings) couldn’t hold down a Marlins attack that was constantly threatening (15 base runners in eight innings). Could you nitpick and question why Cashner challenged Stanton with two outs? Sure. Could you blame the newly acquired Joaquin Benoit making a mess of the eighth inning (double-single-walk-sac fly-line out- single)? It certainly didn’t help the cause. But at the end of the day, you’re not going to win any games with zero runs. Through five games this season, the Padres are batting a shade under .185 and have scored just five runs during their four game losing streak. Jedd Gyorko and Chase Headley were supposed to lead a revamped offense, but with just four hits in their first 37 at-bats of 2014, the eight runs San Diego has scored this season might well be considered overachieving.

It’s still far too early to panic, but winning when Cashner is on the bump is a necessity to avoid long losing streaks … especially against well below average opponents.

Sunday @ Miami Marlins (4-2 Win)

This game was similar in a lot of ways to the previous four, but the result was a bit different. The Padres put a runner on base in each of the first three innings, and while it resulted in exactly zero runs, it constantly gave them opportunities to score runs. Giancarlo Stanton once again was responsible for the first action (an RBI single in the fourth inning), but Ian Kennedy was able to induce a double play two batters later, limiting the damage and keeping the Padres without shouting distance.

After three straight innings of putting a man on base, San Diego sent the minimum to the dish over the next three and it felt as if the Padres missed their opportunity to beat the very talented 24-year-old Nate Eovaldi. But as the youngsters pitch count rose, his ability to dominate late in the count faded. Will Venable beat out a soft grounder and Tommy Medica connected on a solid single, putting runners on first and second with one out. A groundout put the go-ahead run in scoring position with the pitcher’s spot due up: decision time. Ian Kennedy had a gem going (six innings of three-hit one-run) and had thrown 96 pitches; making it very possible that he could pitch the bottom half of the seventh inning should he bat for himself.

Bud Black decided to be aggressive, either a product of trusting his bullpen or not trusting his offense, and rolled the dice by pinch-hitting Alexi Amarista (a lifetime .230 hitter and 0/5 this season). He fell behind 0-2, but he continued to battle and wait for a pitch he could drive. After seeing seven pitches (four of which came in at 96 miles per hour or faster), Eovaldi snapped off a 75 mph curve ball that just missed, leveling the count at 2-2. Amarista demonstrated the ability to keep up with the heat earlier in the at-bat, but the Marlins decided to test him again on the ninth pitch, a pitch that would leave the batter’s box faster than it came in. Amarista smoked the slider over the right field fence, finally giving the Padres the boost they needed. San Diego finally took the lead, but with the dominating Kennedy out of the game, could the bullpen hold on?

Alex Torres coughed up a run, but the ‘pen was up to the task and retired the final seven batters of the game. Yonder Alonso added an eighth inning sac fly, more than enough insurance for a healthy Huston Street (three up and three down on just nine pitches).

The victory was far from perfect (Jedd Gyorko/Chase Headley continued to struggle and the Padres struck out ten times), but it was much needed. San Diego’s inability to stop Stanton scares me (especially in a loaded division that includes Yasiel Puig, Buster Posey, Troy Tulowitzki/Carlos Gonzalez, and Paul Goldschmidt), as an elite offensive player has the potential to single-handedly win these low scoring games. That being said, we saw vintage slump-stopping Kennedy in this one, a very encouraging note moving forward. Kennedy has struck out nine batters and walked just two, a stat line that is trending toward his elite 2011 campaign where he registered a career best 3.6 strikeout: walk ratio.

Monday @ Cleveland Indians (PPD)

Tuesday @ Cleveland Indians (6-8 Loss)

Once again, the Padres couldn’t get on the scoreboard before their opponent, and while the offense would eventually come around, it proved to be too little too late.

The scoring started in the third inning, where the first two Indians reached base and were sitting at first and third with nobody out. Tyson Ross did what he could to limit the damage, but a throwing error by Jedd Gyorko allowed Cleveland to score three runs via the next three hitters despite not one of them recording a hit (error – ground out-€“ sacrifice fly). The Padres second baseman (who was dropped to seventh in the batting order) was able to redeem himself to some extent in the next half of inning, as he broke a season long slump by smoking a double to deep center field with two runners in scoring position. San Diego’€™s rally ended there, but trimming the deficit to one was a welcomed site.

Good teams, however, shut down their opponent after they cut into a lead, something the Padres were unable to do. Ross didn’€™t help his own cause by committing an error which ultimately gave the Indians a fourth out … and three runs. Two batters after Ross’€™ mishap, David Murphy deposited 3-1 pitch into the right field seats, extending the lead to 6-2. The Padres were down four runs courtesy of five unearned runs as they once again struggled to put together a complete game.

With a four run deficit, the Padres began to press a bit, giving them almost no shot to comeback. Gyorko added another RBI via a single, but the Indians gained more distance in the bottom of the sixth inning thanks to Murphy (RBI double) and Nyjer Morgan (RBI single). With an 8-3 lead in the ninth inning, the Indians let their foot of the gas a bit and the Padres showed some grit by grinding out three runs in the final frame. It ultimately didn’t matter as Will Venable represented the tying run and flew out to end the game, but the six run performance might give San Diego some confidence moving forward.

The fact that the Padres had 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position is a step indirection, but cashing in on only three of those opportunities (especially when you consider that Gyorko went 2/3 with RISP) isn’t going to cut it. This team cannot afford to beat itself in the fashion it did tonight (two fielding errors that resulted in five unearned runs, a passed ball, a runner picked off of first base and five free passes issued) and will continue to struggle until they fix some of these flaws. On the bright side, they are "fixable" mistakes, as they were primarily unforced errors.

Wednesday @ Cleveland Indians (0-2 Loss) @ Cleveland Indians (2-1 Win)

Game 1: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Padres couldn’t get on the scoreboard before their opponent? What’s that? You can’t stop me because this is an article that was written before I asked the question? Stupid internet.

The concerning trend did in fact continue, spoiling the gem that Eric Stults spun (one earned run on five hits in 5.2 innings of work). A homer to center field (one that bounced off the top of the wall no less) was the only damage the 34-year-old Southpaw gave up, as he largely kept the anxious Indians off balance. As good as Stults was, Cleveland’s Zach McAllister was even better (seven strikeouts and only five base runners in 7.2 shutout innings). The Padres occasionally made solid contact (three of the five hits were doubles), but as has been the case all season, they failed to string multiple hits together (failed to put more than one runner on base for the first seven innings). My theory for the struggles at the dish is simple: opposing pitchers don’t respect the Padres hitters. Listen, hitting a baseball is difficult, that’s a fact. So when pitchers feel comfortable in pounding the strike zone (and why wouldn’t they?), the hitter will see less pitches and thus lower the odds of the pitcher making a mistake or hanging a pitch.

Never was this more evident than when the Padres tried to mount a ninth inning rally. With the tying run in scoring position and one out, Will Venable promptly struck out on four pitches (only one of which was actually in the strike zone) and Xavier Nady hit a harmless fly ball to right field on the first pitch. They can’t afford to be patient because they are falling behind in the count within the first three pitches with regularity. For the season, San Diego’s hitters are striking out 4.2 times for every walk drawn; a ratio that is going to result in scoring slumps.

If hits are going to continue to be difficult to come by, San Diego needs their speed players (namely Everth Cabrera and Venable) to wreak havoc on the base paths. Putting the ball in play would be a good start to accomplishing that game plan, but five strike outs in seven at-bats made putting pressure on opposing defenses nearly impossible.

Game 2: Well how about that! The Padres not only took a lead, they did it in the first inning. San Diego was able to take advantage of a throwing error by Asdrubal Cabrera and put a run on the board three batters into the game. I could nitpick and tell you that they had runners on second and third with nobody out and managed just one run, but why ruin the moment?

After retiring the first six batters in order, Robbie Erlin gave up back-to-back singles to start the third, putting the early lead in serious jeopardy. A sacrifice fly by Mike Aviles tied the game, but Erlin was able to recover before the middle of the Indians order had a chance to do damage. Neither team threatened again until the Padres seemingly spotted fatigue in Trevor Bauer in the sixth inning. The youngster had found a rhythm after a bumpy first inning (he faced 13 batters in innings 2-5), so the Padres decided to attack early in the count, a risky decision as it could backfire and keep Bauer in the game even longer: but what did this offense really have to lose?

First pitch swinging … single for Everth Cabrera.

First pitch swinging … deep fly out for Chris Denorfia.

It only resulted in a runner on first, but the aggression was getting to Bauer. Seth Smith took a called first strike and then swung at the next five pitches. He spoiled pitch after pitch, a pest quality that resulted in him being hit by the eighth pitch in the at-bat. Yonder Alonso followed up the gutty at-bat by taking four straight pitches out of the zone, leaving the bases loaded for Chase Headley.

First pitch swinging … soft liner that dropped in left field and scored the go-ahead run.

Bauer wasn’t rattled for long (he retired the next two batters without much trouble), but the Padres jumped when they saw blood in the water, and the reward was a one run lead with 12 outs to get.

The next three innings (pitched by Erlin, Dale Thayer, and Joaquin Benoit) didn’t see the tying run get into scoring position, putting the game (and the mental state of the team … it’s tough to lose two games in a few hours) in the hands of Huston Street. The oft-injured closer got a big first out when he won a seven pitch battle with Carlos Santana, but promptly gave up a single to Ryan Raburn and a walk to Michael Brantley. With the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on first, Street remained committed to throwing his slider. He took advantage of an overly aggressive Yan Gomes, inducing a fly out on only two pitches. Cleveland’s final shot at sweeping the double dip was in the hands of Asdrubal Cabrera, but little did he know that he was in for a masterful pitch sequence.

Street had thrown a ton of sinkers and started Cabrera no differently, grooving two 90 mph sinkers in for strikes. He continued to attack with his patented pitch, but it was obvious that Cabrera was timing it up better as a result of seeing it thrown earlier in the inning and now being in the box for two of them. After missing with one and Cabrera fouling off another, Street decided to go for broke and threw his changeup (a pitch that he has limited control of, but comes in considerably slower). The knees buckled and the game ended.

Weekly Grade: C+

The week ended on a high note, but the lack of offense is a major issue. The pitching is solid, especially if what we saw this week from Ian Kennedy is here to stay. It was good to see Jedd Gyorko and Chase Headley show some signs of life, but they hold the key to the season and continued to struggle on the whole. My major concern is that San Diego isn’t taking full advantage of the strong pitching performances (a 3.23 ERA wins more than three of nine games nine times out of ten), but I have confidence that this lineup boasts considerably more power (maybe not average, but power) than they’ve shown through two weeks.

Upcoming week:

Begin a ten-game home stand, as they play host to the Tigers and then welcome the Rockies to town for a four game set. I don’t care how good the pitching of San Diego is, it is going to be nearly impossible to shut down the Tigers or Rockies offense. Could this be the week where the offense heats up a bit? Maybe, but the pitching will need to be up to the challenge again this week. They catch a break, as Andrew Cashner matches up with Rick Porcello, giving the Padres the edge in what amounts to a must-win game if they want to have a decent week. I’ll say Cashner does enough to get his team a victory, but that’s all San Diego gets against Detroit. Their matchup with the Rockies should be a bit more even, and a split seems likely. If Erlin can prove that yesterday wasn’t a fluke, I like the Padres to win their first series of the season, and finish the week with as many wins as losses.