Padres befuddled by regression with bats

June 3rd, 2023

SAN DIEGO – The offense, the Padres whole-heartedly believed, had turned a corner on their recent road trip. They averaged 5.8 runs per game on that trip, and they broke out for a handful of big numbers – 10 runs on Thursday, nine on Tuesday, seven on Sunday.

On Friday night, they returned home by welcoming Manny Machado back after he’d missed half a month with a fracture in his left hand. If ever there were a time for the San Diego offense to assert that it had squarely broken through those early season doldrums, this was it.

And then… that?

The Padres dropped the series opener, 2-1, to the Cubs on Friday night at Petco Park. They mustered only one run against Cubs right-hander Jameson Taillon, who entered the game with an 8.04 ERA. They did little over the final 3 1/3 innings against a Chicago bullpen with the highest ERA in the National League.

“One day we play some of the greatest baseball out there, the other day, it just doesn’t happen,” said. “I don’t know if the baseball gods are punishing us right now, but damn. We’re just going to keep pushing. We’re just going to keep working hard.”

On top of all that, the Padres saw , perhaps their hottest hitter, exit with a left groin strain in the bottom of the eighth inning. Odor notched two of the team’s four hits Friday night -- the only two to the outfield. As he rounded first after the second of those hits, he slammed on the brakes as the injury arose.

When Cubs center fielder Mike Tauchman bobbled the ball, Odor valiantly limped to second. But he would leave the field with a team trainer shortly thereafter. Odor, who has posted a .310/.396/.619 slash line since the first game after Machado’s injury, had carved himself an important role on the Padres offense. Now he appears headed for a stint on the injured list.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s severe,” Melvin said. “But I’m told afterward, these things do typically take a little bit of time. … He gives us length in the lineup. He had been great for us. So, if you lose him for a significant period of time, it's going to hurt.”

Adding insult to literal injury, the Padres failed to score in the inning. After Odor reached second, worked a walk, bringing the top of the lineup to the plate with nobody out. The Cubs went to their bullpen for right-hander Adbert Alzolay.

Alzolay hung a slider with his second pitch. hit it hard -- on the ground, and directly at third baseman Patrick Wisdom, who started an around-the-horn double play. Tatis followed with a strikeout. In the ninth, , Machado and struck out in order against Mark Leiter Jr. to end it.

“We come in with a lot of momentum,” Melvin said. “We felt like offensively we were starting to hit our stride. It didn’t happen today, so it continues to be a little bit frustrating. Everybody is [frustrated]. We’ve just got to keep working.”

Right-hander , named the National League Pitcher of the Month for May on Friday afternoon, was nowhere near as crisp in his first June start. He walked five Cubs over 4 2/3 innings, including three times leading off an inning. 

“Definitely frustrated with the walks,” Wacha said. “I felt like I just added a lot of stress to my innings there, just trying to be too fine.”

Still, Wacha managed to limit the damage to two runs. Somehow, he worked around each of those leadoff walks without allowing a run in any of those innings.

Behind Wacha, the Padres’ bullpen was excellent again. , and each pitched more than one inning of scoreless ball. For Cosgrove, it was his 11th consecutive scoreless outing to begin his career, putting him one shy of the Padres record currently shared by (2009) and (2001).

And yet, the story offensively was a maddeningly familiar one, particularly at home this season, where the Padres are just 12-16.

“Yeah, that’s really the hard part,” Melvin said. “There’s so much enthusiasm in this place every inning. It’s hard on everybody not to play well at home. It seems like we swing the bat a lot better on the road, and we play better on the road.

“If we’re going to get where we want to go, we’re going to have to start playing better at home, reward our fans for coming out.”