Mike Clevinger's Elbow Is the Key to Padres' Postseason Aspirations

Mike Clevinger, Los Angeles Angels v San Diego Padres
Mike Clevinger, Los Angeles Angels v San Diego Padres / Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

When the San Diego Padres acquired Mike Clevinger in a massive nine-player deal at the trade deadline, it appeared they had landed the final piece of their puzzle. Clevinger was a legit No. 1 starter with postseason experience who could front the team's rotation. After three solid starts things went sideways and now he may not be available in October.

Clevinger left Wednesday's start after one inning and immediately got an MRI on his pitching arm. The diagnosis? A sprained elbow, which could end his season. While there is some optimism that it's not a serious injury and that the 29-year-old could pitch in the postseason, the Padres can't plan on it.

Clevinger was a huge part of what general manager A.J. Preller has been planning for a few years. He's been looking for a frontline starter for almost two full seasons. He dabbled in trade talks for Noah Syndergaard, Chris Archer and others but wisely stayed away from their ballooning price tags. He wound up landing Clevinger this year without surrendering a top 100 prospect and will have him under control for two more seasons.

In his four starts for the Padres, Clevinger looked like an ace. He was 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 19.0 innings. His supreme confidence, ability to impose his will on hitters, and go deep into games fundamentally changed San Diego's pitching staff.

Now that Clevinger is potentially out for a few weeks, things become a bit dire for the Padres. With no days off scheduled, teams will need to plan to use four starters in the postseason instead of the usual three. Dinelson Lamet will now be San Diego's No. 1 and he's worthy of that designation. He's a National League Cy Young Award contender. The other spots get tricky.

Zach Davies has been excellent this season (7-4, 2.85 ERA) and he's likely the second-best starter available. Meanwhile, Opening Day starter Chris Paddack has struggled (4-4, 4.23 ERA) for most of the campaign. Garrett Richards was the team's fourth starter but he's been moved to the bullpen in the lead up to the playoffs. He could start a game as a makeshift bullpen day, but the team really doesn't have another legitimate starter on the roster right now.

The Padres could likely get through the wild card round unscathed with the guys they currently have. But if they plan on going beyond the divisional round, they'll need Clevinger back. The team's potential for a deep playoff run rests on the health of his right elbow.