Well, here we are. Somehow the Padres have already played 81 games and we are officially at the halfway mark of the season. We’ve largely passed the point of small sample sizes and we know who the 2019 Friars are. They’re a solidly .500 team, which would sound much less impressive if they hadn’t lost just shy of a hundred games the year before.
The most marked improvement on the team obviously comes from the infield. A historic signing like Manny Machado is going to drastically improve things, despite the umpires being out to get him. And while Manny struggled in April, he played more like himself in May and has absolutely destroyed the baseball in June. This month he has an OPS of 1.060 and is on the verge of doubling his home run total for the season. And when you combine that with a significantly better Eric Hosmer at first, the corners are well-manned.
After Machado, you’ve got the best San Diego shortstop since Khalil Greene, our sweet prince Fernando Tatís, Jr. Despite only playing 45 games due to a hamstring injury, he’s put himself in Rookie of the Year conversations at every category. His defense is astounding, he runs the bases so fast he took home on a pop fly to second, and he’s putting up a .981 OPS. He’s the most electric player Padres fans have seen in decades, and he’s not even old enough to buy beer.
It’s not all great in the infield, though. Ian Kinsler has been atrocious both at the plate and in the field. Meanwhile, Luis Urías got sent back to El Paso after getting a mere 29 plate appearances. True, they were 29 bad PAs, but he’s destroying PCL pitching, so why is he being left to languish there when Kinsler’s barely playing replacement-level baseball?
Behind the plate, things are more complicated. It’s probably time to admit that, despite his beautiful face and defensive wizardry, Austin Hedges is just never going to hit the baseball. Francisco Mejía shows some promise on that front, but doesn’t quite have the defensive skills of Hedges. The reality is they’ll both likely split duties in the tools of ignorance for some time.
The Padres have had a crowded outfield for a while, and that hasn’t changed this year. Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes are both having career seasons, with Hunter just two home runs away from matching the high mark he set for the team last season. It’s true that the ball is carrying farther this year and a lot of teams are on pace for a record number of bombs, but seeing these two smash massive dingers day in and day out is a treat. Franchy Cordero was looking really good, too, but he’s landed on the 60-day IL.
That leaves Will Myers and Manuel Margot filling things out. Neither are lighting things on fire, but with Renfroe and Reyes in the corners, they don’t need to.
The pitching was a giant question mark going into this season, and while it still is, the future of the rotation is getting a lot clearer. Chris Paddack is obviously the headliner of the young rotation, and his return from Tommy John surgery has been meteoric. He tossed like a Cy Young contender in April before coming down to earth a bit in May and June. He’ll be facing a strict innings limit, so he’ll likely be unavailable in any potential postseason run, but don’t confuse this for a Nationals-Strasburg situation.
Unfortunately, Paddack’s been the only rookie starter to make a mark. Cal Quantrill has struggled so much that the 2016 first round draft pick has been relegated to the bullpen, and Nick Margevicius got bumped back to the farm. Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, and Matt Strahm have shouldered the bulk of the starts, and they’ve been serviceable, but Padres starters just aren’t throwing enough innings, which leads us to our last group.
The good news is that Kirby Yates is still amazing. He’s given up just 7 runs over 34 appearances while picking up 27 saves, which is utterly fantastic. But he’s also appeared in 34 of 81 games. The man is being stretched thin. Some of that is on the offense, who have largely been allergic to large leads. But the rest of the bullpen has blown 14 save opportunities. Kirby’s going out there every other day because there’s literally no one else in the bullpen that can be trusted on the mound. Their collective ERA is pushing 5.00, and that’s with Yates tossing them all on his back. No lead will be safe with this pen.
The Padres could conceivably be a wild card for the first time ever. They’re just a game and a half out of a wild card spot, but that’s going to be a tight race. And should the Friars go into the trade deadline as buyers when their only hope of the playoffs is a one-game coin flip? For my money, any moves A.J. Preller makes this month have to look at least a year or two beyond this October. But whether he does it before the deadline or in the offseason, the goal is clear: Improve the pitching.