SAN DIEGO -- Padres general manager A.J. Preller held a pre-Trade Deadline press conference a few hours before his team’s 8-3 loss to the Mariners on Tuesday night at Petco Park. On the playoff bubble 10 days ago, Preller’s Padres are now obvious contenders -- and they’re buyers at the Deadline for the first time in a decade.
The biggest reason for that leap? Manny Machado’s breakout.
The Padres’ star third baseman remained red-hot, going 4-for-5 and falling a homer shy of the cycle, even as the Padres saw their seven-game winning streak snapped. It’s no coincidence that Machado’s emergence has taken shape during the Padres’ best stretch of the season.
So, as Preller wrapped up his press conference on Zoom, he was asked, one final non-Deadline question in Spanish. It was about Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. on the left side of his infield. Preller waxed about the way the two complement each other, and he came up with a gem of a metaphor:
"Tati tiene fuego. Manny esta como hielo."
"Tati has the fire. Manny is like ice."
Tatis has emerged as a National League MVP frontrunner. He’s grabbed headlines for his fiery and exuberant brand of baseball. Machado, meanwhile, does it coolly. When he launched his go-ahead two-run homer on Sunday, the Padres dugout went wild. Machado merely dropped his bat and pointed to his teammates without so much as a glance at them. He pounded his chest once and broke into a casual home-run trot.
“It’s a nice left side of the infield to have, which is really what we kind of envisioned,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “Seeing not only what they’re doing defensively, but the threats in the box and having them in back-to-back spots in the batting order -- you feel really good.”
More than halfway through the season, both Machado and Tatis lead the NL in WAR at their respective positions. Tatis, of course, has been red-hot since the start. But Machado wasn’t always so locked in.
At the season’s quarter mark, Machado was hitting just .193 with a .636 OPS. He has turned that around in a big way, having raised that mark by more than 300 points in the last 16 games.
Machado’s past seven games have been extraordinary. He has multiple hits in six of them and is hitting .536 in that span with four walks and eight extra-base hits. Machado took home NL Player of the Week honors Monday -- then he pounded out four hits as an encore.
“The superstars, they have that ability,” Tingler said. “Sometimes, it’s a struggle or a fight to find it. But that’s the difference. When they find it, they’re able to hold it for incredibly long periods of time. That’s just a gift that he has. That’s why he’s special.”
Paddack roughed up
Back to the drawing board for Chris Paddack.
The Padres’ right-hander was roughed up Tuesday night, allowing six runs for the second time in three starts. He surrendered eight hits, including home runs by J.P. Crawford and Austin Nola.
“Probably not going to get much sleep,” Paddack said. “I’m not just talking about tonight. I’m talking about the past four or five starts. I haven’t been pleased with myself, personally. There are some things I need to fix. I need to get back to the Chris Paddack that I was last year.”
The first thing Paddack needs to fix is his fastball. A season ago, it was a legit weapon. He located it where he wanted, and it missed bats. Opposing hitters batted .204 against the pitch a season ago. Entering play Tuesday night, that mark was .316 with an ugly .772 slugging percentage.
Sure enough, Paddack’s changeup was solid, and his curveball was useful, though sparing. But the Mariners made some loud contact against his heater. No, Paddack isn’t locating his fastball as well as he’d like. But the pitch also isn’t doing what it used to.
“We’re trying to execute glove-side -- down and away to a righty, in to a lefty -- and it’s coming back over the plate,” Paddack said. “Usually, that’s not my fastball.”
That was precisely the issue on both of Paddack’s home runs, one to a lefty and one to a righty. Instead of catching the corner, both pitches tailed over the heart of the plate.
“Big league hitters can hit thigh-high fastballs,” Paddack said. “It doesn’t matter how hard you throw.”
Eric Hosmer homered Tuesday night. But he still probably deserved better than his 1-for-5 showing. Hosmer put four balls in play, and his three outs each came with a hit probability above .500. His first-inning lineout to shortstop clocked in at 112 mph off the bat -- his hardest hit ball of the season.
It was another night without any ground balls, though, as Hosmer continued his transformation at the plate. He’s hitting .250/.308/.556 this season, and his ground-ball rate sits in the low 40s, roughly league average. It was 56.8 percent a season ago.