Padres' lineup? 'You could pick 1-2-3-4 out of a hat'

February 23rd, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Realistically, it doesn’t matter all that much who hits where at the top of the Padres’ lineup. They’re going to rake.

They were fearsome enough late last season with and in the middle of the order. Since then, San Diego has added to that mix and will welcome back from suspension on April 20.

That's 13 All-Star selections and 11 Silver Slugger Awards in the top four spots -- and no one from that group is older than 30.

"We'll figure it out as we go along," manager Bob Melvin said. "But really, once Fernando comes back, you could pick 1-2-3-4 out of a hat."

Melvin, of course, will not be picking names out of a hat. Instead, he has the (very enviable) task of trying to maximize the skill sets of that quartet.

"There's no wrong answers," Tatis said.

Sure, but which of those options is the best answer? Which 1-2-3-4 would give the Padres the most production? Here's a look at three potential scenarios:

The self-evident lineup 
1. Bogaerts
2. Soto
3. Machado
4. Tatis

Simple enough, right? Machado previously expressed a preference for hitting third, and his skill set is suited for it. Same goes for Soto and hitting second.

"I joked about it yesterday that the only two [lineup] spots that are for sure are Soto 2 and Manny 3," Melvin said. "It might not even look like that tomorrow. ... A lot of it probably comes down to comfortability. We'll see where it goes."

From there, a healthy Tatis is the lineup's top power threat, while Bogaerts has posted a slightly higher on-base percentage over the past few seasons. Those tendencies would seem to tilt toward Tatis in the cleanup spot and Bogaerts at the top.

But there’s perhaps an even better reason for this alignment: With Tatis returning from three surgeries, the Padres might prefer to keep him out of the top spot, where stolen bases and baserunning take on greater importance. The best way to keep him healthy might be to keep him out of those situations in the first place.

Count this lineup as the most likely option, even if the others have plenty of merit, too.

The heavy-metal lineup 
1. Tatis
2. Soto
3. Machado
4. Bogaerts

Want to start things with a bang? How about putting Tatis' unique blend of power and speed at the forefront of this juggernaut offense.

In 2021, Tatis proved himself an elite tone-setter, slashing .324/.381/.726 with 12 home runs in 113 plate appearances as the leadoff man. That season, pitchers were still batting in the NL. With the universal DH, Tatis would get more RBI opportunities in the top spot.

Tatis also says his surgically repaired left shoulder is 100 percent. That issue was the impetus behind the club asking him to rein in his aggressive baserunning late in 2021. Imagine a healthy, havoc-wreaking Tatis on the basepaths while opposing pitchers navigate Soto-Machado-Bogaerts. (Not to mention new rules that should benefit aggressive baserunners.)

The downside? Well, there’s a lost power threat in the cleanup spot. But Machado and Bogaerts are more than capable of driving in runs.

Ultimately, Melvin noted that Tatis' lineup placement might be predicated on his buildup. If there are lingering effects of Tatis' injuries, that could change the calculus.

"Let's see how he gets there first," Melvin said.

The outside-the-box lineup 
1. Soto 
2. Tatis 
3. Machado 
4. Bogaerts

Easily the least likely of the three, it seems, because ...

"Whatever the order is, I'm definitely not leading off," Soto said with a laugh. "We will see."

The Padres have not asked that of Soto, so he hasn't seriously considered the possibility. But it's certainly intriguing.

Among the Padres' four superstar hitters, only one qualifies as the sport's best on-base weapon. That's Soto, whose OBP projects about 50 points higher than the rest of that group. Once every 20 plate appearances or so, Soto is on base, when, say, Tatis or Bogaerts would not be.

That's quite the table-setter. There is, after all, nothing more important out of the leadoff spot than an ability to reach base. And no, Soto isn't your prototypical leadoff man. But there are RBI opportunities to be gained for Tatis, Machado and Bogaerts with Soto hitting at the top.

There is a downside, however. If Soto bats first, it lumps the three right-handed hitters together -- potentially allowing for opposing teams to use a righty-specialist reliever to face the three-batter minimum.

By hitting Soto second, he breaks up those righties and would likely face a high percentage of right-handed pitchers himself. (Not to mention the fact that the No. 2 spot in the lineup is also an excellent place for an elite on-base threat.)

"It's going to be a great-looking lineup," Soto said. "I don't know how it's going to be. ... But definitely, it's going to be wild. We’ll see how Bob is going to mix it up."

"It's special,” Tatis added. “It's definitely special."

That much figures to be true, no matter how Melvin fills out his lineup card.