SAN DIEGO -- A week and a half ago, when the Padres returned to San Diego awaiting capacity crowds at Petco Park, they resolved that their performances would match the energy of their fan base.
Sure enough, nine victories later, the Padres left town on Sunday with the city abuzz. If the past 11 days are any indication, a dramatic summer of baseball awaits in San Diego.
“It’s going to suck leaving and going on the road,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler, “because it’s been so fun playing here.”
With a 5-4 victory over the D-backs on Sunday afternoon, the Padres capped a 9-1 homestand. They used a three-run seventh-inning rally to take the lead, capped by Fernando Tatis Jr.’s go-ahead double.
Here are three important takeaways from one of the most thrilling Padres homestands in recent memory:
Tatis is finally getting some help
Predictably, Tatis was excellent during the homestand. He authored his first three-homer game on Friday night, and he continued making his MVP case. The Padres’ superstar shortstop leads the National League with 25 homers, and his 16 stolen bases are tied for the NL’s top spot.
“He’s had big at-bats, and he’s lining the ball in all directions,” Tingler said of Grisham. “Love to keep him going. He’s such a dynamic player.”
The Padres' offense was one of the best in baseball last season, and on paper it figured to be one of the best this season, too. For two months, it wasn’t. Instead, it was Tatis and very little else.
Suddenly, however, the San Diego offense is starting to look like the fearsome group that finished in the top five in nearly every major team category last season.
“When guys have gotten their pitches to hit, we’ve hit ’em,” Cronenworth said. “Those balls are finally starting to fall.”
A pitching conundrum
Approaching the midway point of the season, the Padres’ pitching staff has been excellent. Its 3.19 ERA is the second-best mark in baseball. Still, with the July 30 Trade Deadline looming just over a month away, it’s starting to look as though the Padres could use some reinforcements.
General manager A.J. Preller always has been aggressive in his pursuit of pitching, and the Padres will at least explore the possibility of bolstering their rotation and bullpen over the next month. In the meantime, they’ll continue to ask the usual suspects to carry the load.
Again, Yu Darvish gave the Padres bullpen some breathing room on Sunday, working six innings of one-run ball. He's done that on more than one occasion this season, and the Padres are 13-3 in Darvish’s 16 starts. His outing Sunday was a particularly important one with the Padres having asked their relief corps to cover 6 2/3 innings in each of the previous two nights.
“I know it’s very important for me to go out there and eat up innings,” Darvish said. “Obviously, that’s going to lead to saving our bullpen.”
In that regard, Darvish has been one of the best in the business.
Wild, wild West
After a 9-1 homestand, the Padres gained only a game and a half on the rival Giants in the NL West race. It’s been that kind of battle in what is starting to look like baseball’s toughest division.
The three best teams in the NL all reside in the West -- and the Padres took care of one of them earlier this week, sweeping the Dodgers for the first time since 2013.
“We knew our division -- and it’s played out to be true -- was going to be tough,” Tingler said. “... It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you’re in for a fight every night.”
The Padres get a respite from playing their two biggest rivals. They won’t face either the Dodgers or Giants until late August, at which point we might be in for a frantic finish. In the season’s final six weeks, the Padres play 19 games against those two clubs.
For now, the goal is to enter that stretch in the best position possible. The Dodgers and Giants play each other nine more times before the end of July, which means ample opportunity for the Padres to gain ground on at least one of those teams. So long as they do their part.
A memorable second half awaits. And if the past 11 days have proven anything, the city of San Diego is more than ready for it.