Padres Tied For NL West Lead After 62 Games Without Fernando Tatis Jr.

Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs
Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs / Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/GettyImages

The San Diego Padres took the biggest injury blow in Major League Baseball this season when Fernando Tatis Jr. underwent wrist surgery in March. Tatis, arguably MLB's most exciting young star, missing time might have been a death knell to the Padres' playoff chances. Instead, after 62 games without their young phenom, the Friars find themselves tied for first place in the National League West, while sporting the fourth-best record in baseball at 38-24.

San Diego's offense struggled at times in 2021 and has repeated that pattern in 2022 without Tatis. Luckily for the Padres, their starting rotation goes seven-deep and has been dominating opponents all season. The team's starters are 23-14 and rank third in both ERA (3.08), and WHIP (1.12) and boast a league-best batting average against of .212.

Joe Musgrove is leading the way, and putting together a Cy Young-type year. The San Diego native leads all of baseball with a 1.50 ERA, and is 7-0 with a sparkling WHIP of 0.93. More than anything, though, Padres starters have been consistent. Musgrove has earned a quality start in each of his 11 turns in the rotation. Sean Manaea has nine in 11 starts, Yu Darvish has nine in 12 starts. Meanwhile, rookie MacKenzie Gore has been phenomenal, Mike Clevinger has shown flashes of being his old self after Tommy John surgery and with each appearance swingman Nick Martinez has become more valuable in his role. The only starter truly struggling is Blake Snell, and even he has been pretty good in three of his last four starts.

Starting pitching is a huge reason why the Padres are where they are, but Manny Machado deserves a heap of credit as well. San Diego's other superstar leads the National League in fWAR (3.5), while slashing .322/.391/.530 with 10 home runs, 38 RBIs and 42 runs scored. A mini-slump of late has taken some of the air out of his numbers, but he's still been the best player in the NL this season, while being every bit the leader the Padres need on and off the field.

The Padres currently rank 25th leaguewide in OPS (.672) -- which is awful -- and their teamwide slugging percentage of .361 ranks 27th. Those numbers are not tenable long-term for a team trying to contend. That said, there have been signs of life from the offense lately. Jake Cronenworth and Luke Voit have begun breaking out of season-long slumps, and Trent Grisham has shown signs of life as well. Meanwhile, Jurickson Profar leads all NL left fielders in fWAR (1.7). Unfortunately, the Padres still aren't getting much offense from their other outfielders, and Eric Hosmer has been enduring the kind of prolonged slump that has plagued his time with the franchise.

The Padres need the boost Tatis can provide and they need it as soon as he's ready. He hasn't yet started swinging a bat as the team has been careful with its 23-year-old superstar's recovery. There's hope he'll return sometime in July. Until then, pitching will have to continue carrying the team unless general manager A.J. Preller can find another consistent bat.

Even with Tatis back, the Padres will likely need to add a hitter before the trade deadline. While the rotation is incredible, it's unlikely to keep up its current pace all season. There will be some regression, which means the offense will have to pick up the slack.

Still, after 62 games without their brightest star, the Padres find themselves in a statistical tie for first place in the NL West with the big, bad Los Angeles Dodgers. It has been a pretty remarkable feat given the massive hole Tatis left in the team's lineup.

Now comes the hard part: continuing to keep pace.