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3 areas hurting the Padres offensively

@AJCassavell
April 18, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Suddenly, the Padres’ offense has gone ice cold. Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. have emphatically solved the left side of the infield. But through 20 games, San Diego still ranks in the bottom third of the league in every major offensive category. It’s not all that

SAN DIEGO -- Suddenly, the Padres’ offense has gone ice cold. Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. have emphatically solved the left side of the infield. But through 20 games, San Diego still ranks in the bottom third of the league in every major offensive category.

It’s not all that hard to discern a reason, and it surfaced again in Thursday's 4-1 series-opening defeat against Cincinnati at Petco Park. Right now, there are three glaring holes in the Padres’ lineup. The offensive production at catcher, first base and second base has been well below league average.

On Thursday night, Padres right-hander Chris Paddack made two mistakes -- Joey Votto and Tucker Barnhart hit both of them out. Otherwise, the rookie right-hander was sharp, allowing three runs and finishing his day with a four-pitch sixth inning. The slumping Padres offense couldn’t back him up.

“We’re just not stringing together consecutively good at-bats,” said manager Andy Green. “We’ve got to do more offensively to win games. But I’m confident we will.”

That offense was supposed to be a strength this year. It still might be. Twenty games is an awfully small sample, and there are obvious bright spots. Tatis, starting his first game in the leadoff spot, went 2-for-4 on Thursday. Machado drove in the only run with a sixth-inning double. The outfield has been solid.

But right now, three-eighths of the lineup is underperforming significantly. Here’s a look at the team’s production from each spot, compared with the league average, entering play Thursday.

Catcher

Padres: .176/.233/.309, 41 wRC+

League average: .234/.310/.383, 86 wRC+

First base

Padres: .198/.278/.296, 54 wRC+

League average: .240/.338/.437, 108 wRC+

Second base

Padres: .148/.257/.239, 41 wRC+

League average: .234/.300/.381, 82 wRC+

Simply put, the Padres need improvement at those three spots. It’s easier said than done. Here’s a look at each of those three positions, and how the Padres might go about getting that improvement.

Catcher

Of the three, this one’s clearly least concerning. Austin Hedges is an elite defensive catcher, meaning his subpar offensive numbers are easier to bear.

That said, Hedges hasn’t been able to find his form from 2018. Last season, Hedges notched a .711 OPS, which was above the league average for catchers. This year, he’s at .604, and his average dipped to .186 with his 0-for-3 night on Thursday.

Top catching prospect Francisco Mejía has been worse. He’s 4-for-28 on the season with a .387 OPS. It’s fair to wonder whether there’s more to be gained by giving Mejia regular reps. It’s also fair to wonder whether those reps should come at Triple-A or in the big leagues. Questions about his defense persist.

In any case, the Padres would probably be able to withstand a subpar offensive showing from their catcher’s spot in the lineup -- if it were the only offensive position at which they were struggling.

It’s not.

First base

Eric Hosmer’s bounceback season hasn’t materialized. With a 1-for-4 night on Thursday -- in which Hosmer singled but was doubled off first base when he misread a deep Machado fly ball -- his OPS dipped to .551.

There are some positive signs in Hosmer’s game this season. His penchant for ground balls has lessened a bit. His average launch angle is up to 4.9 degrees after a dreadful -1.2 mark last year. Statcast has pegged Hosmer’s rate of “topped” ground balls at 35.3 percent, easily the lowest mark of his career. He’s hitting the ball hard, too. Hosmer’s average exit velocity (90.1 mph) and his hard-hit rate (43.1 percent) are better than his career averages.

And yet, the results haven’t come. Hosmer admits he fell into some poor habits during the team’s recent road trip. But he scalded two baseballs on Tuesday night, and his fourth-inning single was a 100-mph rocket. (Then, in two key spots later in the game, he struck out and grounded back to the pitcher.)

“I’m a guy that’s based on feel,” Hosmer said prior to Thursday’s game. “If I’m feeling the way I want to be feeling, the results are going to be there at the end of the year. I had some results at the end of the road trip where I didn’t have that feel. But besides that, early on in the season and [Tuesday], the feel was there. Hopefully the balls start finding some holes.”

Second base

The most glaring short-term hole in the Padres’ offense is at second, where Ian Kinsler and Luis Urías have split time this season, and they’ve both struggled mightily.

“We definitely need more production out of that spot,” Green said. “But we have confidence in both those guys.”

With his eighth-inning strikeout, Kinsler’s average dipped to .145. Urias worked an impressive nine-pitch walk in the sixth, perhaps a sign he was turning a corner. But he struck out in a big spot to end the seventh, dropping his average to .091, before he was double-switched out for Kinsler.

“He’s in good battle at-bats,” Green said. “He’s just not squaring baseballs up right now.”

With both struggling, utilityman Greg Garcia might get a start or two against right-handed pitching. But that’s clearly not a long-term solution. Whatever the answer, something needs to change.

When the Padres signed Kinsler, they hadn’t yet signed Machado and they didn’t envision Tatis’ arrival in the big leagues so quickly. Now, Kinsler’s at-bats come at Urias’ expense. Urias is the team’s No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, and it’s worth wondering whether he could find a better groove playing every day. The Padres might be leaning that way internally.

“We’re going to have to continue to look at what’s best for us,” Green said. “We’ll talk about that every night and figure out the best way to go.”

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.