SAN DIEGO -- With the Trade Deadline looming mere hours away, some important question marks hover over the future of the Padres’ rotation.
Joe Musgrove is not one of them.
The right-hander worked seven scoreless frames, striking out 11 in the Padres’ 3-0 victory over the Rockies, a dominant performance that looked an awful lot like the version of Musgrove that burst onto the scene in April and May.
On the eve of what should be a frantic Friday -- and shortly after the Padres apparently lost out on ace Max Scherzer to a division rival -- Musgrove offered an important reminder: The foundation of a solid playoff rotation is already on board in San Diego, even if it’s imperative that the club acquires another starter -- or perhaps two -- before the 1 p.m. PT Deadline.
It was early Thursday afternoon that Musgrove first began seeing rumors that Scherzer was headed to the Padres. He tuned out that noise and set about preparing for his start, same as ever, no distractions. It wasn’t until after the game that Musgrove was informed of Scherzer’s now likely destination -- the division-rival Dodgers. Unflappable as ever, Musgrove had this to say of the deal that would reportedly send shortstop Trea Turner to Los Angeles as well:
"It doesn't change things, man. We feel like we're better than that team, regardless. We feel like we want it more, we've got the pieces that we need. We've still got another day, so who knows what [general manager A.J.] Preller's got up his sleeve."
We’ll find out soon enough. The Padres are expected to be one of the sport’s busiest teams over the next dozen hours or so.
“Whatever happens, this group is awesome,” added second baseman Jake Cronenworth, who launched a two-run homer off the right-field foul pole in the eighth inning Thursday night. “I’m ready to go to war with these guys.”
Cronenworth noted that on Thursday night, Musgrove looked every bit as sharp as he looked on the night he authored the franchise’s first no-hitter in April. To an extent, Musgrove agreed. At long last, he said, his delivery clicked.
Lately, it had been a bit of a grind for Musgrove, who posted a 5.31 ERA in four July starts before Thursday night. But his elite breaking pitches returned, and he used them to keep Rockies hitters off-balance all night.
“The curveball was the best it’s felt all year,” Musgrove said. “The slider was back to how it usually is. … It was just kind of the perfect storm for me tonight.”
So after Musgrove’s dominant showing, here's where things stand as the San Diego front office enters a critical day of decision-making. The Padres are 60-45 -- 5 1/2 games back of the Giants and 2 1/2 behind the Dodgers in the National League West race.
At the same time, they own a five-game lead on Cincinnati for the second Wild Card spot -- but their goals are loftier than that. As such, the Padres have already moved to fill a couple areas of need, adding Adam Frazier to their offense Monday and Daniel Hudson to their bullpen Thursday night. But the biggest need -- starting pitching -- remains unaddressed.
According to sources, it won't be unaddressed much longer. They may not have landed Scherzer, but the Padres have their eyes on several different starting pitching options to fill out a rotation that has been solid this season, but perhaps too top-heavy for their liking.
At the top, Musgrove and Yu Darvish have done nearly everything asked of them since they landed in San Diego this offseason. That’s the foundation of San Diego’s playoff rotation -- likely Darvish for the Wild Card Game or a potential Game 1, and Musgrove to follow.
After that, the question marks emerge. Chris Paddack has been much better lately, but he’s still an enigma. Blake Snell has struggled and saw his ERA balloon to 5.44 on Wednesday. The Padres would love for those two to assert themselves as serious frontline starting pitchers down the stretch. It’s possible one, or even both, of them make an impact in October.
But the Padres aren’t going to cross their fingers and hope -- not with Friday looming as the last chance to upgrade their roster via trade.
Even Musgrove seems to think Preller might have something “up his sleeve.” It won’t be long before we find out what.