Alright, all. After 14 long, long years, our San Diego Padres have finally made it back to the postseason. They face off against one of our old foes, the St. Louis Cardinals. But before we get to the Birds, let’s take a look a look at our Friars.
Simply, our Boys in Brown need to answer some questions, especially if they intend to be eating that “big cake” at the end of the year. While this Padres team is the most complete it’s been in YEARS, they do have some holes/issues they’ll need to address. I’ve come up with a few questions; feel free to add your own down in the comments section.
Let’s get after it:
Who’s starting Games 1 and 2?
Might as well start with the biggest question mark we’ve got. If you’d asked me this question 2 weeks ago, it would’ve been easy. It would’ve been RHP Mike Clevinger, followed by dark-horse Cy Young candidate RHP Dinelson Lamet, and then, if necessary, letting the steady RHP Zach Davies come in for game 3 to finish them off.
Well, we all know what’s happened since then. Clevinger went down in his last start with a biceps issue, what would later get diagnosed as an elbow impingement. On the same day Clevinger got his cortisone shot, Lamet took himself out of the game on Friday due to tightness in his bicep, becoming the 3rd Padre pitcher this year to suffer from the injury (RHP Emilio Pagan being the other). Simply, the injuries to Clev and Lamet are the biggest cause for concern right now. If they can go, and go throughout the playoffs (which, I should note, the team currently believes will be the case, especially with Clevinger responding well to a cortisone injection and both players throwing what was described as “aggressive catch” on Monday), the team believes it has the pitching to match up against anyone.
If they can’t, then things get dicey. We’re looking at some combo of Davies, RHP Chris Paddack (who’s been maddingly inconsistent this year, locking down foes in one game to getting lit up the next), and possibly pulling RHP Garrett Richards out of the ‘pen to make a start (where, it should be noted, Richards has also been inconsistent). To whit, here’s what each of those starters have given us this year, if Clevinger and Lamet can’t start in the Wild Card series:
Zach Davies: 12 starts (7 wins, 4 losses), 69.1 IP, 2.73 ERA (63 ERA-/3.88 FIP), 63 Ks, 1.067 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 5.77 innings per start.
Chris Paddack: 12 starts (4 wins, 5 losses), 59 IP, 4.73 ERA (109 ERA-/5.02 FIP), 58 Ks, 1.22 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.91 innings per start.
Garrett Richards (starting only): 10 starts (2 wins, 2 losses), 46.1 IP, 4.27 ERA (98 ERA-/4.27 FIP), 41 Ks, 1.29 WHIP, 7.96 K/9, 4.63 innings per start.
That’s... not exactly comforting.
Simply, this is a much better team, and pitching staff overall, if Clevinger and Lamet are a part of it. I’m sure the team would GREATLY prefer to roll out their best pitchers for the team’s biggest game and series in a decade. But if they can’t, the team will need quite a few players to step up their play to keep the Padres in the postseason.
Who’s on the bench/in the bullpen?
The Padres have until Wednesday morning to set their roster for the Wild Card round. While most of the roster is already known (pending injury news), there still are a few questions left to answer. The team is currently evaluating its options for the end of the bench and the bullpen, with the big decisions coming down to a few players (listed in order of probability):
Bench: Greg Garcia (lock); Jorge Mateo (probable); Greg Allen (probable); Jorge Oña (unlikely); Luis Campusano (unlikely).
While I’d personally be shocked if Garcia doesn’t make the postseason roster given his versatility and reliability, I also have a question: what role does Garcia fill? He’s unlikely to play in the field much, as most of the starters will play all game (barring injuries), and he’s not likely to get many pinch-hitting opportunities. So, while extremely valuable over the regular season, where you have to give players at least an occasional day off, that’s not as valuable in the postseason, where you play your starters as much as possible. Jorge Mateo, on the other hand, possesses elite speed and an ability to play the outfield, despite a lackluster bat (and that’s being generous, given his .154/.185/.269 slash line this year). Greg Allen can provide excellent outfield defense, and would represent a true back-up for CF Trent Grisham. Oña and Campusano, despite their lack of experience, represent righty batters with true home run power, an important consideration given the Padres bench consists currently of 3 lefty bats and Mateo (plus, if C Jason Castro is out for any length of time, the team will want another catcher on the bench).
Really, this decision comes down to what pros and cons the team prefers, as each of these players come with deficiencies in their game. The team will need to balance out the potential risks that each player consists of, and the potential rewards each player could provide in the pressure-cooker that is the MLB playoffs.
Bullpen: RHP Austin Adams (lock); LHP Adrian Morejon (probable); RHP Dan Altavilla (probable); RHP Luis Patiño (unlikely).
If Clevinger and Lamet are healthy (and the Pads decide not to carry an additional bench player), then this really comes down to whether the team believes more in Altavilla or Patiño. Morejon bounced back nicely last night after giving up 4 ERs on 3 home runs in his previous appearance, and looks pretty likely to remain on the team as one of the few LHP options. Altavilla has posted a 3.86 ERA and 2.05 FIP since joining the squad, while Patiño is an uber-talented prospect with electrifying stuff, but finding out it’s a whole different ball game at the MLB level. As things stand, I see Adams, Morejon, and Altavilla making the postseason roster, with Patiño Heading back to the alt site.
Are the Padres out of their hitting slump?
For most of this season, the Padres were an offensive juggernaut, especially in late August and early September when the team earned the moniker Slam Diego (good times!). Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Wil Myers have all hit this year, with Machado and Tatis looking like MVP candidates. Eric Hosmer had a great year, despite interruptions from various injuries. Jake Cronenworth turned in a likely Rookie of the Year performance. Despite a slow start, even Jurickson Profar posted solid numbers. From top to bottom, this Padres lineup hit well, a welcome development after literal years of last in the MLB-levels of offensive ineptitude. However, over the last 2 weeks, the team experienced a concerning dip in performance. Coming into Sunday’s game, the team posted a .219/.296/.384 slash line with an 85 wRC+, good for 18th in MLB in that span. Obviously, some of that was due to trying to get returning players back in a groove in prep for the postseason, there was some lineup tinkering, etc. All decidedly normal stuff that a team can have happen on the way to the postseason. But still, given the timing, you have to wonder if the Padres’ bats are primed for the playoffs.
In all likelihood, the Padres are still a good offensive team. They finished the year with the 3rd best slugging percentage in the NL (.466), the most steals (55), and the 7th best batting average and OBP (.257 and .333, respectively), even with that 2-week team slump. Hell, their team-OPS of .796 is the 4th best in MLB. This is a team that can and most likely will put up runs in bunches, and can so at any time in the game.
But still, in a postseason where 1 or 2 bad games can mean you’re going home, the recent struggles at the plate are troubling enough to raise an eyebrow, and especially so since, in this pandemic-shortened season, the team will have not played their opponents once this year. They’ll be going in largely cold, using only what they’ve seen on TV (of course, that goes for our opponents as well).
Can the bullpen keep shutting things down?
Hard to believe, given the volatility we witnessed earlier in the year, but the Padres bullpen has actually turned itself into the shutdown ‘pen it was promised to be. Since 17 August (the founding of Slam Diego), the Padres bullpen has actually been the best in MLB, based on fWAR. If you’re into more traditional stats, across MLB, the bullpen actually has the 4th best ERA (3.19), the best FIP (3.30), and the 3rd best K/9 rate (10.76). Simply put, this has turned out to be a dang good ‘pen, with multiple options the team can use to get to Trevor Rosenthal in the 9th inning. That becomes even more crucial, given the lack of off-days during each playoff series; no team will be able to pull a 2019 Washington Nationals, who basically rolled with 3 relief pitchers and 2-3 starters to postseason glory last year.
That said, the wounds incurred from the ‘pens early season struggles are still pretty fresh. And again, all it takes is 1 poor performance from a starter to suddenly burn through an entire bullpen, something that carries additional significance in a postseason series with no off-days to reset a pitching staff. The Padres have mitigated the risk of such a pitching implosion by moving Garrett Richards and potentially Chris Paddack to the bullpen for the Wild Card series, shoring up already available options like Matt Strahm and Adrian Morejon as pitchers capable of providing several innings in relief. But that’s largely contingent on Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet being healthy and available to start. Safe to say, if Paddack and Richards have to start in the Wild Card round (both of whom averaged 4.91 and 4.63 innings per start this year, respectively), the demands on the bullpen will only go up, raising the possibility on an implosion and an early Padres postseason exit.
So that’s what I see as the major questions for the Padres going into the playoffs. What do you think, and what did I miss? Let me know in the comments below.
GO PADRES!!! RESPECT SAN DIEGO!!!