Padres, offense stay afloat without Machado

June 27th, 2022

SAN DIEGO – It has now been a week since Manny Machado crumpled in a heap, clutching his left ankle beyond the first-base bag in Colorado. The Padres’ offense, somewhat predictably, has felt the effects of his absence.

Still, despite an 8-5 loss to the Phillies on Sunday afternoon, the Padres wrapped a Machado-less homestand at 4-3. They also completed a brutal stretch of 31 games in 31 days at 17-14, keeping them squarely in the National League West race -- even without Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. at the heart of their lineup.

Ahead of their first off-day in 18 days, it’s a good time to take stock of a Padres’ offense that still features plenty of question marks.

Here are a few thoughts:

1. The whole picture isn’t complete
The trickiest part about gauging the overall state of the Padres’ lineup is that it hasn’t been whole all season. Really, it hasn’t been close to whole since Wil Myers went down with a knee injury at the end of May. And even then, Luke Voit had only just returned from the injured list with a biceps issue.

The biggest absence, of course, has been Tatis. Now Machado has joined him, though the Padres are hopeful he’ll return at some point on their forthcoming road trip through Arizona and Los Angeles.

“We feel like we’ve been holding it down OK,” said Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer. “But obviously we want them back as quickly as possible.”

Indeed, the Padres’ offense has been “OK” this season -- not great and not terrible. Their 101 wRC+ indicates league average offensive results, more or less.

At this point, it’s clear the San Diego lineup has flaws. It’s also clear that a healthy Machado-Tatis in the middle of that lineup would mask some of those flaws. But to what extent?

2. Where the Padres must look to buy at the Trade Deadline
Machado has been the National League’s best third baseman. Jurickson Profar has turned himself into an above-average left fielder. But at three other positions where you’d expect to find offensive thump, the Padres have gotten subpar production. Here’s where they stood in the Major League-wide OPS rankings, entering play Sunday:

1B: 17th
RF: 25th
DH: 16th

The good news? If you’re looking for a major offensive boost, it’s much easier to find a big-time bat for those positions than at any premium up-the-middle defensive spot. Heading into trade season, that’s the Padres’ biggest focus. They need another hitter -- and the quality of that hitter’s defense doesn’t particularly matter.

At various points this season, Hosmer and Voit have been very productive. But not consistently enough. Myers, meanwhile, has spent the bulk of the year on the IL. If the Padres could find one big-time bat to throw into the Voit/Hosmer/Myers DH/1B/RF jumble, their lineup would be a lot more potent. They could mix and match better, taking advantage of those hitters’ strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. (Not to mention it would give cover for Myers and Voit, who have both dealt with injury issues this season.)

3. The catching situation seems fairly settled
The Padres’ biggest need has always been a corner thumper. But it’s no longer clear what their second-biggest need is. That’s because Jorge Alfaro and Austin Nola have solidified the catcher position with their performances this month. Entering play Sunday, Padres catchers had a slash line of .311/.379/.534 in June, with a 158 wRC+ that ranked at the top of the National League.

The Padres have found a nice rhythm with their two catchers, splitting their reps relatively evenly. Nola continues to backstop Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish, who boast deep and tricky arsenals that are difficult to learn on the fly. But Alfaro has garnered plenty of starts lately and is proving his mettle both defensively and offensively.

Perhaps the extra rest is paying dividends for Nola, who doubled home two runs on Sunday and is now reaching base at a .415 clip over the past 11 games -- “a good rhythm at the plate,” Nola called it. Not to mention, Nola and Alfaro have backstopped one of the sport’s top pitching staffs.

There are just over five weeks until the Trade Deadline. A lot can change. But for now at least, the Padres should be pleased with their production at catcher – and perhaps able to focus their Deadline resources elsewhere.