Tatis first in National League to 20 HRs

June 16th, 2021

DENVER -- became the first National Leaguer to reach the 20-homer mark on Tuesday night in the Padres’ 8-4 loss in Colorado, swatting a mammoth opposite-field blast on the first pitch he saw from Rockies right-hander Chi Chi González. As usual, Tatis bat-flipped and stutter-stepped and was greeted by a raucous visiting dugout upon his return.

It was the latest evidence of Tatis’ downright spectacular skill set. (As if it weren’t already clear enough by now.) Tatis leads the NL in homers and steals, despite missing 17 games while spending two stints on the injured list.

Tatis can do it all offensively. The Padres would probably prefer that he didn’t.

That is to say, they’d like to put some help around him.

This season, Tatis hasn’t gotten much. While Tatis pieced together a first half that should put him in early NL MVP discussions, the rest of the Padres’ offense has gone ice cold. That trend continued on Tuesday night, with the Padres’ 12th loss in their last 16 games.

Tatis' blast gave the Padres an early 2-0 lead, one pitch after doubled off the top of the right-center field wall. The Padres tacked on two more runs in the second, and an offensive breakthrough felt imminent. It halted right there.

The Rockies clawed their way back with four runs against , then four against the usually reliable San Diego bullpen.

“I was hoping, thinking today was going to be the day offensively that we slowly get it going,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “There were some positives. … We’ve just got to play nine innings.”

Tatis' 20 homers trail only Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s 22 among all Major Leaguers. Tatis also is tied with Ronald Acuña Jr. for the NL lead in steals with 13. In chasing both the home run and stolen-base crowns, he is after a quite remarkable bit of history. No player has led his league in both categories since Chuck Klein did so for the Phillies in 1932.

Tatis' blast on a 92.8 mph fastball left his bat at 104.5 mph and traveled a projected 431 feet, according to Statcast, into the visiting bullpen. It was the second-longest opposite-field home run in the big leagues this season, trailing only a 432-foot blast from White Sox slugger Andrew Vaughn.

“It’s impressive to be able to drive the ball that way,” said Tingler. “But also, I think it’s the best version of himself because he’s covering the plate. When he’s doing that, it feels like he’s laying off sliders. … So I think it’s a great sign.”

Tatis joined Cody Bellinger as the only players aged 22 or younger to hit at least 20 home runs in the first 51 games of a season. He and Adrián González are the only Padres of any age to do so.

As long as Tatis is on the field, the plaudits will continue. There aren't many players like him -- accomplishing what he’s accomplished at such a young age. Tatis has a slash line of .273/.346/.647 in 51 games.

But Tatis posted similarly gaudy numbers last season, too. The difference? He got help from everywhere else around him.

Every qualifying Padres hitter save for Tatis and (who only recently returned from a two-week stint on the IL) has posted a lower wRC+ this season than last. Notably, Machado, and have drastically underperformed compared with their numbers from a season ago.

Lately, the Padres' second offensive threat has been , who missed half of last season because of injuries and struggled at the outset this year. He's reaching base at a .460 clip since the start of June.

After an awkward swing in the eighth inning Tuesday night, a team trainer emerged to check on Pham. He remained in the game and singled, but Tingler revealed that Pham has been dealing with a finger injury for the better part of two months. He’s played through it -- with much success.

Injuries are prevalent elsewhere on the Padres’ offense. Machado has dealt with a balky left shoulder and Myers’ right knee has barked. Beyond what we know publicly, other bumps and bruises almost certainly exist.

But the Padres aren’t the only team in such a plight, and they’re quick to wave off injuries as an excuse. Healthy or not, they need to find a better way to support one of the sport’s most electric young talents on offense.

“You’ve got to continue to work,” Tingler said. “You’ve got to grind. You have to embrace, in this game, the struggles and the challenges in it. And if you don’t do it, this game will eat you alive. We’re going to continue to be upbeat. We’re going to continue to be energetic. We’re going to continue to play baseball. And this thing is going to turn.”