The main headline of the MLB trade deadline was the New York Mets surveying the landscape and basically coming to a “fuck this” conclusion. They punted a good chunk of the roster, and haven’t really done much to deny that their eyes are now set on 2025 and beyond, not even next year. Certainly the schadenfreude around baseball is bubbling, given the headlines the Mets took over the winter and the money spent.
But what of their buddies in the Leslie Chow suite when it comes to throwing around cash, the San Diego Padres? After all, the Padres are only three games better than the Mets, and had to win five of their last six to even be there. They’re in no less of a competitive division in the NL West, staring up at LA, San Francisco, and Arizona while also having to climb over the Cubs and Brewers to get to a wildcard spot. This clearly isn’t where they were supposed to be after unveiling another McDuck vault for Xander Bogaerts in the offseason. So why were the Padres spending their trade deadline installing a new 1st base platoon and bolstering their rotation (Rich Hill) and bullpen (Scott Barlow) while the Mets were having a yard sale?
To understand more clearly, you kind of have to look at the notes the Padres aren’t playing. Because under the hood, the Padres look every bit a dominant team. Their +75 was third-best in the NL, until the Cubs turned into the Gashouse Gorillas the past two nights against the Reds. Now it’s fourth-best. Their expected win-loss record, which their run difference says they should be, is 62-47, which would have them a half-game behind the Dodgers for the division lead and setting up a pretty great race in the West the rest of the season, something we don’t really get anymore. They have the best team ERA in MLB.
So what exactly are the Padres doing scraping the floor of the racetrack looking for accidentally discarded winners at the trade deadline instead of taking their massive winnings to the fancy restaurant?
It’s hard not to start with their quite remarkable 0-10 mark whenever a game goes beyond nine innings. Which is…beyond comprehension. There are those out there who would like to chalk that up to a bad bullpen or the Padres missing something between the ears. But thanks to the Stupid Runner, it’s mostly just the most rotten luck one can imagine. There is no overarching theory to it. If the Padres had even just split those games at 5-5, they’d have a half-game lead on Philly for the second wildcard.
And the Padres don’t have a bad pen. They’re seventh in reliever ERA, though 22nd in reliever FIP, which might give a clearer indication of what their bullpen truly is. But the ERA is the actual results, so it’s hardly been a gaggle of pyromaniacs trotting in from the outfield wall so far this season.
Josh Hader has been lights out, though in basically just a normal closer role. Steven Wilson, Nick Martinez, Tom Cosgrove have all been more than effective enough. It is interesting to note that Hader has only appeared in extras in two of those 10 losses, and given up a run in each of those appearances. But no matter who the Padres throw out there in extras, they keep ending up on their ass. Maybe it’s because they give up a little too much contact? Only Hader strikes out way above the league average, with everyone else in the pen being around or slightly below that mark. That’s what the acquisition of Barlow is meant to address. When there’s a runner on, even two outs can get him home if hit in the right place. But that seems an awfully small detail.
That extra-inning record has led to the Padres having a 6-18 mark in one-run games. Again, just splitting those would have the Padres right on the Dodgers’ ass. There rarely is a cause to be so bad in one-run games. Sometimes it’s because a team’s manager huffs glue, but Bob Melvin is considered one of the best in the business.
Certainly the glaring mark is the Padres .229 average with runners in scoring position, second-worst in baseball. But it’s long been proven that there’s no reason for that other than BASEBALL. Bogaerts is hitting .189 with runners in scoring position. The past two years he hit .303 and .289. Manny Machado is hitting .255. In 2021 and 2022 he hit .344 and .319 in that spot. Jake Cronenworth’s game has fallen apart in total, but he’s lost 60 points off his average with runners in scoring position from last season to this one. There’s just a random, collective malaise at work.
The Padres could probably hit for more power, they’re only 14th in team slugging. But it’s hard to hit for power when playing half of your games at Petco Park and trying to charge drives through the marine layer.
The Padres bet is that somewhere in these last two months, their sequencing will change and they’ll start pouring in the runs, as well as occasionally win a one-run and/or extra-inning game. There probably is, and maybe has to be, an 11-game winning streak lying in the weeds. It’s just hard to pick out where on the schedule that might come. There’s a stretch of Oakland-Colorado-St. Louis towards the end of September. But by then it might be too late, as right now the Padres are in a stretch where the only non-playoff contender they’ll see until that part of September are two games against the Mariners (who might still be a playoff contender if you squint) and three games against the Cardinals.
But maybe the Padres’ luck has been so rotten that when it turns it’ll be so powerful that it won’t matter who’s in the other dugout. That’s clearly what AJ Preller is counting on. But just because the cards haven’t been dealt your way at the table for a while doesn’t mean the next hand has to automatically be better.
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