SAN FRANCISCO -- Are the Padres ... back?
Well, they just beat the team with the best record in baseball twice in 24 hours, so, at the very least, it's probably OK to start dreaming about October again.
One of baseball’s most perplexing teams continued its second-half roller coaster on Thursday afternoon, as the Padres beat the Giants, 7-4, to earn a split of their four-game series at Oracle Park.
“We have a happy flight,” said left fielder Tommy Pham, who went 2-for-5 and tacked on an important outfield assist. “To win the last two here, against a really good team, is always a good thing. We can take this momentum to St. Louis.”
Indeed, a pivotal three-game series looms, beginning on Friday night. The Padres trail the Cardinals by half a game in the race for the second Wild Card spot in the National League -- and suddenly San Diego looks dangerous again.
1. Tatis is still the NL MVP favorite
For much of the year, Fernando Tatis Jr.'s case for the National League MVP Award was a no-brainer. Nationally, the thinking has changed on that front -- a result of Tatis missing further time due to his left shoulder injury, then posting numbers that were merely "very good" rather than "MVP-caliber" over the past month. Suddenly, Philadelphia's Bryce Harper and Washington's Juan Soto have entered the conversation.
Well, Tatis is here to remind you that he's still very much the favorite. He’s slashing an absurd .287/.373/.632, back at a premium defensive position. And when he goes, the Padres go.
For the second consecutive game, Tatis reached base four times. He worked a pair of walks and launched his NL-leading 39th home run -- a missile that stayed fair inside the left-field foul pole.
“There are times when teams just aren’t pitching to him,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “When Tati gets into a little bit of a funk, it’s [because] he’s guilty of trying to do a little bit too much with pitches outside the zone. But when he shrinks it, and he forces guys over the plate, he’s -- if not the best -- one of the best in the league.”
2. How about these at-bats?
The Padres re-signed Jurickson Profar during the offseason, envisioning him as a useful utility piece off their bench. Considering the at-bats he's put together since he was inserted into the leadoff spot on Wednesday night, it's hard to envision the Padres moving him out any time soon.
Meanwhile, Adam Frazier has begun to look like the version of Adam Frazier the Padres envisioned when they acquired him from Pittsburgh at the Trade Deadline. The Padres may have struggled to open this road trip, but Frazier is reaching base at a .444 clip.
And it's not just those two. For whatever reason -- and no one can seem to pinpoint it -- the Padres’ at-bats have been better up and down the lineup. Austin Nola reached base four times on Thursday. Wil Myers came off the bench with a valuable pinch-hit RBI for the second straight game.
"We don't know the reason, the 'why,'" said Tingler. "If we did, we would've gotten it going, three, four weeks ago. I just think, up and down the lineup, the guys were loose, they were locked in.
"It's funny, you look up, we're back to four-hour games, but honestly, that's when we're probably playing more winning baseball, grinding long at-bats."
3. An ode to Nabil Crismatt
Much has been made about the Padres' pitching depth -- or lack thereof -- this season. But, all the same, where would they be without the contributions of Nabil Crismatt?
The right-hander, a Minor League free-agent signing in December, owns a 2.76 ERA across 71 2/3 innings this season. He’s been extremely valuable chewing up innings, for a Padres bullpen that has been asked to cover more than any other team in the NL.
On Thursday, the Padres thrust Crismatt into a rare spotlight situation. He delivered. After Pierce Johnson opened with a scoreless first, Crismatt worked four innings of relief, allowing only three singles and a walk.
“How big has he been all year?” Tingler said. “Maybe his best outing today -- four innings against a really good lineup. He gave us exactly what we needed. He just makes pitches.”
4. This Cardinals series will be a doozy
As regular-season series go, they don’t get much bigger than this one. This weekend marks the final series between any two teams in the race for the second National League Wild Card spot.
And as things stand right now, the Padres and Cardinals might just be the two favorites.
“You control your own destiny,” Pham said. “We can go out this weekend and put ourselves in a better situation going forward for the last two weeks of the season.”
No doubt, the Padres would’ve preferred a healthy Chris Paddack and Blake Snell. But with serious questions lingering in their starting rotation, they’ll turn to newly signed Vince Velasquez for Friday’s series opener. Yu Darvish gets the ball Saturday and Jake Arrieta for Sunday’s finale.
Despite recent struggles for all three -- Darvish included -- the Cardinals are a righty-heavy lineup, and all three have had success against right-handed hitters. Plus, the way the Padres' offense has suddenly broken out, they’ll take their chances.
“We’re excited to get into St. Louis,” Tingler said. “We’re playing a team that we’re trailing, and we’re fighting for the same thing. What more can you ask for?”