SAN DIEGO -- Three hours before first pitch on Monday, Fernando Tatis Jr. emerged from the home clubhouse at Petco Park. He joined his teammates for stretches. He took batting practice and launched a few baseballs into the seats. Then, with three games still remaining on his PED suspension, Tatis retreated up the clubhouse stairs and was gone.
It was one reminder of what’s missing from the San Diego lineup early this season. Then again, the Padres’ slow start offensively hasn’t necessarily been driven by the superstar bat that is absent.
Juan Soto and Manny Machado -- two other superstar bats counted upon to anchor the lineup during Tatis’ absence -- have not reached their usual lofty standards in the season’s first three weeks. The Padres were shut out for a second consecutive game on Monday night -- a 2-0 loss to Atlanta to mark first time they’ve been blanked twice in a row at Petco Park since April 2016. That duo combined to go 0-for-7 with a walk. Soto’s batting average dropped to .164. Machado’s OPS fell to .600.
There are other faults to find in the Padres’ 8-10 start. But these are two of the generation’s most feared sluggers hitting consecutively in the lineup. Look no further for a bigger reason behind the team’s early struggles.
The counter, of course, is that they’re Juan Soto and Manny Machado -- future Hall of Famers, perhaps. They boast lengthy offensive track records, spanning multiple seasons full of All-Star Games and Silver Sluggers.
“Things will change,” Machado said, speaking broadly about the Padres’ offense. “Things aren't coming out our way right now, but we're in a good spot. Just keep doing what we're doing. It's 18 games into a 162-game season. It's still a lot of baseball left.”
And for anyone who would read too deeply into an 18-game sample size?
“Honestly, for me,” Machado said, “it's just: Don't jump on the bandwagon later on when we start [expletive] raking and we're doing what we're supposed to be doing.”
Point taken. They haven’t lived up to the billing just yet. But their track records indicate that Soto and Machado will hit soon enough. Tatis will join them in the lineup on Thursday. Xander Bogaerts, meanwhile, is off to an excellent start to his Padres tenure, having reached base in all 18 games after his 2-for-4 showing on Monday.
When those four pieces are clicking at the top of the lineup, suddenly the fringe offensive issues aren’t such a big deal anymore. That doesn’t mean the Padres are pleased with the early results. It just means they can reasonably expect things to change.
“It’s not frustration,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s just bad timing early in the season. A lot of expectations, and we haven’t gotten off to as good a start we would’ve liked to. Offensively, we always think we have a chance with the guys we have in the lineup. It just hasn’t been that way early in the season.”
Soto and Machado weren’t too far off on Monday night. Soto hit a deep drive to the warning track in the sixth inning, then worked a feisty one-out walk in the eighth that set the stage for Machado in the game’s decisive moment.
With the tying runs aboard, Machado hit a 106 mph laser up the middle … where second baseman Ozzie Albies gloved it on one-hop and started a double play.
Even for Machado -- whose entire baseball ethos is built around his even-keel persona and his trust in the process -- that had to have been frustrating, right?
Machado was as insistent as ever.
“I’m not frustrated,” he said, before later explaining why:
“Sometimes things go well,” Machado said. “Sometimes things don't go as well as we planned, like it is now. But we just keep with the process. Keep doing what we've got to do every single day, and things will turn around.”
Like every hitter, Machado has slumped before. During each of those slumps, he has insisted that things would turn soon enough. And guess what? He’s usually right.
Soto’s struggles can be considered a bit more perplexing. They date prior to his arrival in San Diego. Since last summer’s blockbuster trade, Soto hasn’t lived up to the (incredibly lofty) precedent he’s set for himself. Entering play Monday, he was hitting just .221 -- albeit with a .379 on-base percentage -- as a Padre.
“Even if I’m not getting the results right now, I know I’m going to get it,” Soto said. “I’m going to be fine.”
In the meantime, he’ll keep working those walks -- Soto leads the Majors with 17 despite his struggles.
“Right now, it’s not happening,” Soto said. “I’m going to find a way. … Even if I’m not hitting, I won’t give up. I’m going to try my best to help the team. It can be running the bases. It can be taking some fly balls. It can be taking walks. But I will find a way to help the team.”
Through 18 games, this hasn’t been the 2023 Padres offense as promised.
But, as Machado was quick to warn, it sure wouldn’t be wise to jump off that bandwagon in April.