With Soto & Co., Padres feel they'll 'never be out of the game'

August 5th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- For one afternoon, at least, the sky-high Padres came back down to earth.

It’s been quite a week in San Diego. Remember when signed that five-year contract extension? Feels like it happened about two months ago, doesn’t it? That was Monday.

Since then, of course, the Trade Deadline came and went. The Padres overhauled their roster, addressing nearly every flaw they needed to address. They added superstar upon superstar and won four straight games against the Rockies in the process.

But that elusive five-game sweep wasn’t to be. In Thursday’s series finale, Colorado jumped out to an early lead and won 7-3 despite a strong showing from the Padres’ newcomers -- including a pair of extra-base hits from Juan Soto. Here are a few quick takeaways:

1. Musgrove hits a rough patch
Considering the flawless nature of his start to the season, Musgrove was perhaps due for a bit of regression. He certainly ran into some rough batted-ball luck on Thursday.

“A lot of bloop hits,” manager Bob Melvin said. “That’s going to happen sometimes. We hit some balls hard, too, and had nothing to show for it. That’s the way the game goes sometimes.”

Musgrove reached 100 pitches with two outs in the fifth inning and was running on fumes. His 101st pitch -- a hanging curve to Ryan McMahon -- landed in the beach area in right-center field, a three-run shot that put the Rockies on top, 6-0. That was all for Musgrove, who has now posted a 5.71 ERA in his past seven starts.

Don't read too much into that number. Seven starts is an arbitrary endpoint, and if you tabulate the ERA for any pitcher from his worst start of the season, it'll probably look pretty high. That said, Musgrove clearly hasn't been himself since about mid-June.

“I’m at the point right now where I don’t feel great with the delivery,” Musgrove said. “I feel a little inconsistent. Every season, it comes at some point. You’ve just got to try and weather it and find a way to pull out of it.

“I’m competing still. I’m not far off. I look at the video, and it’s hard to see what looks different. But there is something that’s off there. We’ll work hard this week to figure it out and get back on track.”

As much as anything else, Musgrove’s work ethic is a major part of the reason the Padres were so comfortable giving him that extension. They’re confident he’ll figure it out.

2. The new guys are all right
Believe it or not, until Wednesday night, Melvin had never seen Soto play. Their paths never crossed during Melvin’s tenure as A’s manager, and the Padres haven’t yet played the Nationals this season.

Like just about everyone else, count Melvin as a fan of Soto’s plate approach.

“He’s pretty advanced,” Melvin said. “Simple, but advanced. He’s looking for the ball in the middle of the plate. You don’t throw it there, he doesn’t swing. Then, with two strikes, he has a way to battle.”

Soto was a bit fortunate with his sixth-inning triple, when a Rockies outfield miscommunication allowed his fly ball to drop. In the seventh, he laced a double into the right-field corner.

In the meantime, Josh Bell notched his first hit as a Padre and finished 2-for-3 with a walk. Though the Padres trailed early, they mounted several threats, even if they ultimately came up empty.

“Honestly, it just seemed like they were getting all the breaks,” Bell said. “All we needed was one or two to get things going. But … I don’t think we’ll ever be out of the game, no matter what the deficit is.”

3. How good is this bench?
It’s certainly not the most glamorous aspect of the moves the Padres have made this week. But this bench -- especially when  finally returns from his left wrist fracture -- looks like a championship-caliber bench.

Consider the wealth of options Melvin had at his disposal against the Rockies’ Kyle Freeland on Thursday afternoon. Presumably, Brandon Drury, Wil Myers and Bell all must start against left-handed pitching. And if the Padres were hesitant to play Myers in center field, that meant choosing between the red-hot Ha-Seong Kim and All-Star Jake Cronenworth.

So Cronenworth sat. But he was called upon in a big spot, with two men aboard in the sixth inning, as the Padres began chipping away at the Rockies’ lead. He popped out -- but that belies the importance of the moment. The Padres had an All-Star coming off their bench.

“With the roster that we have right now, we’ll probably have one really good matchup over the course of the game coming off the bench,” Melvin said. “That was the one right there. He worked the count, got into a decent hitting count. Just popped it up.”