The San Diego Padres just finished what might have been the worst road trip in franchise history. In seven games against the bottom-feeding Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, the Padres went 1-6, were blown out twice, were felled by a walk-off home run and were no-hit by a pitcher in his first big league start. Given the roster and expectations San Diego had entering the season, that was as bad as it gets. The Friars are a team fully in freefall.
The Padres were 49-33 through the end of June and sat in a really good place. Since then, they've gone 18-23. San Diego once held a commanding lead for the second wild card spot, up by 6.5 games on July 1. Now the Cincinnati Reds are 1.5 games back and charging. Since the All-Star break -- and against the easiest part of their schedule -- the Padres have been an unmitigated disaster, going 14-16. They now have the most difficult remaining schedule of any team in baseball and a tenuous grip on the final wild card spot.
So how did we get here? How did a team with so much hype and a wealth of talent collapse against terrible teams? Blame can be found up and down the roster.
It would be easy to put the blame squarely on the Padres' pitching staff. They've suffered countless devastating injuries that have wrecked organizational depth and ruined any chance of continuity this year. Starting with Mike Clevinger in the offseason, a rash of players have needed Tommy John surgery. Young stud starter Adrian Morejon was probably the most impactful loss, but Keone Kela, Dan Altavilla, Michel Baez and Jose Castillo were all expected to make an impact this season. Meanwhile, elite reliver Drew Pomeranz is also done for the year with a torn flexor tendon.
Along with the season-ending injuries, Yu Darvish has been bothered by back and hip issues since before the All-Star break, Dinelson Lamet has barely pitched this season with elbow issues and Chris Paddack is currently out with an oblique strain. Throw in Blake Snell not living up to expectations and 21-year-old Ryan Weathers hitting the rookie wall with the force of a Fernando Tatis Jr. line drive, and you have a pitching staff scrambling for answers a near-daily basis.
How bad is it? The Padres signed a broken-down Jake Arrieta off the scrapheap to make the start in Colorado on Wednesday. As you can probably guess, it went terribly.
While the pitching staff has a built-in excuse due to a staggering stretch of bad injury luck, the team's offense has no excuse for being this bad.
Despite a ton of high-priced talent, the Padres have been inconsistent all season and have vastly underperformed at the plate. A lineup that features Tatis, Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, Trent Grisham, Adam Frazier, Tommy Pham, Wil Myers, Austin Nola and Eric Hosmer should not struggle to score runs. But on a regular basis, San Diego's offense is inept.
The Padres currently rank 10th in MLB in runs per game (4.72), are ninth in batting average (.247), 12th in OPS (.739), 13th in slugging percentage (.412) and 16th in home runs (147). In reality, it's worse than that. If you take out two games in Washington where the Padres scored a combined 34 runs to open the second half, they only average 4.51 runs per game, which drops them to 13th. That offensive performance is unacceptable from such a collection of talent.
Want proof this group can be better? A year ago with largely the same lineup, the Padres ranked third in runs scored (325), fourth in home runs (95), fourth in OPS (.798) and third in slugging percentage (.466). The air has largely gone out of the team's offensive balloon.
Tatis has held up his end of the bargain. He's the frontrunner for National League MVP and is putting up staggering numbers considering he's missed 32 games. Cronenworth has been solid, as has Machado, though his power numbers are down. Nola can be forgiven because he's been injured for most of the campaign. Frazier arrived at the trade deadline and has been average at best as he's adjusted to new surroundings. Other than that, everyone in the lineup is underperforming and it's killing the team.
The Padres have struggled get on the same page since Opening Day. Some players will be rolling, others will be cold. For some reason, they can't get everyone clicking at once, which has absolutely killed any lineup continuity. More than that, the team that was such a joy to watch in 2020 has seemingly lost its spark. The dugout is noticeably quieter, there's no energy, no fun being had. The most exciting team in baseball has suddenly become a downer. The franchise that employs the "swag chain" has absolutely no detectable swag.
Could San Diego turn it around, find that spark, get rolling and secure a playoff spot? Sure. There are 39 games left in the season and they're still 11 games over .500. But nothing we've seen out of the Padres over the past two months suggests a turnaround is coming. The pitching staff is a mess, the offense can't score runs consistently and they'll be facing a brutal schedule. There isn't much room for optimism.
If the season does continue on its current trajectory, plenty of tough questions need to be asked of the team's decision-makers. Manager Jayce Tingler's lineup construction and rotation decisions should be scrutinized, as do some of his mid-game maneuvers. But mostly general manager A.J. Preller will have to answer for his roster decisions before and at the trade deadline.
Preller opted to swing big to add Frazier to the offense and Daniel Hudson to the bullpen. But he failed to secure starting pitching depth for a rotation that had struggled to eat innings all year. Now with Darvish and Paddack injured, the Padres only have Joe Musgrove as a reliable starter. While Preller was never going to overpay for Max Scherzer or Jose Berrios, it's certainly worth questioning why he didn't opt to add some depth on the cheap. Now the Padres have questions at four of their five rotation spots.
The Padres strutted into 2021 riding high, with World Series hype and more swagger than anyone in baseball. It's late August and all of that is gone. They're limping to the finish and barely staying afloat. And the worst may be yet to come.