'Frustrated' Friars' bats go cold at Coors

June 15th, 2021

DENVER -- Somewhere within this meticulously constructed collection of bats, the Padres insist there's an elite offense waiting to click -- “a top-five offense in baseball,” manager Jayce Tingler has said in the past.

And perhaps that's true. Personnel-wise, these Padres are mostly the same group that broke through in 2020, tormenting opposing pitchers by slugging and working counts and running wild. By just about any metric, they finished last season with a top five offense. Then they returned starters at all eight positions.

But if the ceiling for the Padres’ offense is as high as it was last season, right now that feels beside the point. They might be capable of scoring with the best of ‘em. But they aren’t.

In one of their most frustrating offensive performances of the season -- and lately there have been quite a few -- the Padres dropped their series opener to the Rockies, 3-2 on Monday night. It marked the 10th time in the past 14 games the Padres were held to two runs or fewer, as their team OPS dipped to .686, 22nd in the Majors.

“We’re working,” Tingler said. “We’re certainly pressing. A little bit surprised, but I also know that in a full season you run through lulls like this. As disappointing as it is, I’ve still got a ton of belief and also a ton of encouragement that when we get this going. … we can be a really good team. That’s what I’m excited about. But we’ve got some work to do.”

No, you couldn't call them fully healthy, but the Padres were probably as healthy as they've been all season, trotting out a lineup chock full of regulars on Monday night. They were coming off an offensive outburst in New York, one they hoped could springboard their offense back to the heights of last season. They were at Coors Field on a warm night with the wind blowing out.

And they were shut down by Austin Gomber for eight innings, reaching base only three times against the Rockies left-hander. The tantalizing nature of the offense was again on display in the ninth, as Tommy Pham lined a missile off the top of the wall, then Trent Grisham launched one over it, cutting the deficit to 1. To no avail.

“Last year we had a great offensive season,” said Wil Myers, who has slumped to a .705 OPS this year. “That talent and that ability is still in that clubhouse. I can't stress this enough: Every team goes through something like this.

“It just happens that the San Diego Padres are going through it right now. But these are the things that can make you better down the long stretch. We're going through a tough time right now offensively. But this is one of the things that you learn from.”

They’ll need to learn quickly; the early season National League West race has been cutthroat, and the Dodgers and Giants haven’t ceded ground very often. Soon enough, the Padres will ask themselves whether their current group of hitters is truly enough to challenge for that crown -- or whether they’d be better served adding a middle-of-the-order bat to that mix before the July 30 Trade Deadline. Recent results skew toward the latter.

On Monday night, only one Padres hitter reached scoring position against Gomber, and that led to the most frustrating sequence of the night for the Padres. Trailing by a run in the sixth, Victor Caratini led off the frame by launching a 420-foot double off the very top of the center-field wall -- somehow missing out on a home run.

Lefty reliever Ryan Weathers was due up next, and he attempted to bunt Caratini to third base. But just as Weathers dropped a perfect bunt up the third-base line, Caratini took a false step back to the second-base bag. He was stuck and retreated to second base.

“Ryan put a good bunt down,” Tingler said. “We’re an aggressive group. I’d like to roll the dice and be a little bit more aggressive there.”

Caratini’s moment of hesitation cost the Padres. Pham’s ensuing groundout almost certainly would’ve plated Caratini. Instead, it merely advanced him to third base, where he would be stranded. More what-ifs and what-could’ve-beens for this Padres offense.

“We’re definitely a frustrated group,” Tingler said. “But we’re going to get back at it tomorrow. … We’re going to come out, swing the bats, be aggressive and see if we can get something going offensively and slowly get this thing turned.”