Snell sharp as ever, but LA starts to separate

July 2nd, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- This was the Blake Snell the Padres have been waiting for -- the version of Snell that dominated late last season, the version that won a Cy Young Award in 2018.

“A good Blake Snell, like you saw at the end of last year, is one of the better left-handers in the league,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin.

It was clearly “good Blake Snell” on Friday night at Dodger Stadium. He struck out 12 hitters across five innings while inducing a ridiculous 22 whiffs on 49 swings. And yet, even after a start like this one, Snell still remains winless this season. The Padres remain winless in Snell's eight starts.

After Snell’s exit, the Dodgers pounced on the San Diego bullpen, sending the Padres to a 5-1 defeat, their eighth straight at Dodger Stadium. The loss dropped San Diego 3 1/2 games back in the NL West, and five back in the loss column.

The Padres haven’t won a game in Los Angeles since April 2021. Unless they can snap that skid this weekend, they’re looking at a seven-game deficit in the loss column at the 81-game mark -- the season’s true halfway point.

“It always stings to lose to these guys, really everybody in the division, but especially at the top of the division,” said center fielder Trent Grisham, whose home run provided the entirety of the San Diego offense. “We’ll look to bounce back the next two days.”

Snell did his part to snap the streak. He allowed only a solo home run to Max Muncy, but was otherwise averse to hard contact. Snell’s 12 strikeouts were one shy of his career high, though he did walk four Dodgers, which put him in some tricky spots in the third and fourth innings. Both times, he dialed up nasty put-away pitches to escape trouble.

“Stuff as good as we’ve seen all year,” Melvin said. “It was good last time, seems to be getting better every time. He has something to really hang his hat on this time.’

It was Snell’s slider that did the most damage to Dodgers hitters, who offered at the pitch 12 times and came up empty on 11 of those swings. Last start, Snell’s curveball was his weapon of choice. Clearly, Snell’s stuff is electric. He’s proven, time and again, that when he’s in the strike zone, he’s one of the sport’s most dominant pitchers.

“When I’m locating the fastball, they have to start swinging,” said Snell, who reached double figures in strikeouts for the seventh time as a Padre -- the most for a left-hander in franchise history. “They can’t be as patient as they normally are.”

Grisham’s solo blast temporarily tied the game in the top of the fifth inning -- a home run that carried 428 feet to the loge level in right field. That’s rarified territory at Dodger Stadium for any left-handed hitter.

“I was just trying to get something going, get us going in the dugout a little bit,” Grisham said. “It didn’t work all that well.”

Grisham’s homer was the only run Tony Gonsolin would allow. And, sure, Gonsolin has been one of the sport’s best pitchers this season. But that’s part of the issue in San Diego. The Padres’ offensive struggles against good teams (with good pitching) is becoming a serious concern.

If it feels like the Padres have done most of their damage against bad teams while struggling against high-quality starters, well, the numbers back that assertion. Entering play Friday, here's where the Padres offense ranked, MLB-wide, against teams with winning records:

BA: .224 (24th)
OBP: .293 (21st)
SLG: .332 (28th)
HR: 34 (T-28th)

The Padres are hopeful those numbers will be different with a healthy Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado in their lineup. (Machado, who is dealing with the effects of his sprained left ankle, sat Friday, before striking out in a pinch-hit appearance and playing an inning at third base.)

In the meantime, the Padres will continue to ride their starting pitching, with a rotation that currently runs seven deep. While the rest of those starters have flourished this season, Snell has dealt with injuries and inconsistency. But he’s proven in the past that he can be as dominant as any starter on the Padres’ staff -- and he has shown flashes of that pitcher in his past few starts. Friday was his best yet.