Slugging stars offset by rotation woes, lack of clutch hits

May 21st, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres still have enough star power to fill a highlight reel. Yet they continue to struggle to fill the win column.

once again obliged with the highlights Saturday night with a marvelous catch in right field and a 440-foot monster home run. But the Padres went without a hit with a runner in scoring position for the second straight game, resulting in a 4-2 loss to the Red Sox at Petco Park.

The Padres have lost four straight games and 11 of their past 13. They also have dropped five straight series, including this three-game weekend set.

That macro trend clearly is troubling. Here’s a look at the team’s micro trends:

Trending up: Tatis
Tatis continues to show the tools he displayed before missing last season because of injury and a PED suspension. In the fourth inning, he darted toward the right-field line to rob Triston Casas of extra bases on a 108.8 mph liner. There was a catch probability of 35% on the play, coming one night after he made a snag with 30% catch probability.

Two innings later, Tatis walloped a slider from Boston starter Chris Sale, sending it 440 feet to left-center field at 107.2 mph off the bat.

“To see him every day,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said, “how he plays, how he works, how he impacts the game, the way he’s taken to right field -- he’s one of the premier athletes in the game.”

Trending down: Batting with RISP
The Padres were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position after going 0-for-3 in the series opener. In the sixth inning, Ha-Seong Kim followed Tatis’ homer with a double and moved to third on Xander Bogaerts’ flyout to right field. Sale then struck out and to strand Kim and maintain a two-run lead. The game ended with runners on first and second when recent callup Brandon Dixon popped up against closer Kenley Jansen.

The Padres are last in the Majors with a .191 batting average with RISP. That’s beyond a small sample size and might have graduated from being a mere trend.

Trending up: Soto vs. lefties
Soto is batting .164 against left-handed pitchers this year and has struggled against southpaws since joining the Padres last August. But he smashed a Sale fastball for a no-doubt home run to right-center field in the second inning and has hit his past two homers off frontline lefties, after notching one off the Dodgers’ Julio Urías last weekend.

Here’s something to consider about Soto’s ability to turn around his numbers against lefties: Over the past two seasons, his actual batting numbers vs. southpaws have been well below his expected numbers, based on quality of contact:

.310 xBA (.261 actual)
.568 xSLG (.436 actual)
.375 xwOBA (.299 actual)

Trending down: Starting pitching
As noted, the Padres’ offensive issues aren’t merely a recent trend. Beyond the RISP issues, the Padres are 27th in the Majors with 175 total runs. But the starting pitching had, to some degree, offset the run production.

Against the Red Sox, however, the Padres were in holes in each of the first two games as and were hit early. Musgrove on Saturday needed 97 pitches to get through five innings. A second-inning slider to No. 8 hitter Enmanuel Valdez caught the center of the plate and was sent airborne for a three-run homer.

“Overall, I thought I made pretty good pitches,” Musgrove said. “But they battled and fouled off pitches until they got something a little better in the zone they could hit.”

Trending up: Bullpen
Luis García, Tim Hill and Steven Wilson followed Musgrove with four scoreless innings. The relievers are riding a streak of 26 1/3 scoreless innings over seven games. But they are having to keep deficits in check, rather than protect leads.

“The margin for error right now is not big,” Melvin noted.

To the relievers’ credit, they have maintained focus and turned in their best week while the team at large struggles.

“They’re competitive,” Musgrove said. “Everybody down there wants the ball. They feel like they’re locked in with their delivery, their focus. Everyone’s eager when that phone rings. They hope it’s their name called. That’s what you want.

“It’s frustrating, pitching as well as we are, to not be able to push a few runs across and get some wins. We’re playing well on the defensive side of the ball. That’s baseball. These things come and go.”