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Padres stumble into break eager to push reset

July 15, 2018

SAN DIEGO -- A month ago, the Padres rode a streak of five straight series victories to pull within four games of .500. They weren't serious contenders in the NL West, but they weren't too far off. At the time, their play on the field -- solid in every facet

SAN DIEGO -- A month ago, the Padres rode a streak of five straight series victories to pull within four games of .500. They weren't serious contenders in the NL West, but they weren't too far off. At the time, their play on the field -- solid in every facet -- sparked all sorts of optimism.
In the span of a few weeks, that's changed in a big way. Following a 7-4 loss to the Cubs on Sunday at Petco Park, the Padres enter the All-Star break 40-59. And, boy, could they use the break. They've dropped 21 of 27, including each of their last five.
"Frustrating," said Padres skipper Andy Green when asked to sum up his team's first half. "It's not where I thought we'd be, not where I want to be. I'll take ownership of that, it's my team. We expect to play better than we've played."
On Sunday afternoon, the Padres committed three errors in the field -- and at least as many on the bases. Starter Eric Lauer lasted two innings, and despite homers from Christian Villanueva and Hunter Renfroe, the offense fell just as flat.

"It's a tough stretch, without question," Green said. "It hasn't knocked us off the rails from where we're ultimately heading, what we've set as an organizational plan."
Lauer's short start was, in a way, planned. He threw a career high 8 2/3 innings and 115 pitches on Tuesday against the Dodgers. Green acknowledged he'd have a short leash on Sunday. When Lauer allowed three runs in a 37-pitch first inning, it got shorter.
After he coughed up two more in the second, Lauer finished having allowed five runs on five hits and a walk. It was his worst start since Memorial Day.

Things went from bad to sloppy in the bottom of the inning. Jose Pirela hit a popup with a man on first base and didn't run hard out of the box. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo let the ball drop, and he nearly doubled up Pirela. Two batters later, Pirela was picked off at second.
San Diego committed three errors in the fourth, as the Cubs plated their sixth run. Two came on the same play, when Kristopher Bryant reached third base on a 10-foot chopper after errant throws from catcher Austin Hedges and right fielder Hunter Renfroe.
An inning later, William Myers failed to run out a grounder up the third-base line. He believed it was going foul. Third baseman David Bote got there in time to keep it fair, and Myers was out by a step.
"I've hit that ball 100 times, and it's rolled foul, and that one right there, stayed fair," Myers said. "Anytime any hitter sniffs a hit, they're going to run. That's one that stayed fair. Hindsight, you get out of the box. … I cost myself a hit." The Padres scored three late runs, but they'll still enter the break with a bitter taste in their mouths -- and a lot left to prove over the season's final 2 1/2 months.
"We've got to find a way to come back for the second half and find a way to play good baseball," Myers said. "We just need to regroup, and I feel like this break is good timing for us. When we get back, we'll be ready to finish strong."
Villanueva's 19th home run was an especially sweet one. He spent parts of five seasons in the Chicago system but had his path to the big leagues blocked by Bryant before he signed a Minors deal with the Padres in the 2016-17 offseason.
In the bottom of the fourth, Villanueva unloaded on a 3-2 cutter from Cubs starter Jonathan Lester. He sent it off the facing of the Western Metal Supply building's first level. Villanueva's 19 home runs and 43 RBIs before the All-Star break are the most for a rookie in franchise history.

Hedges and Willson Contreras are two of the game's best defensive backstops, and both showed off their elite arms on Sunday afternoon. In the bottom of the third, Contreras uncorked a perfect throw to second base to catch Pirela, who strayed too far from the bag.

In the next half inning, Hedges returned the favor. Contreras was hit by a pitch with two outs in the third. Moments later Hedges, threw behind him at first base, and Contreras was out by several feet.

Padres shortstop Freddy Galvis exited the game early after he was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning. Galvis was plunked on the right elbow by a Lester fastball, bringing home the Padres' second run with the bases loaded.
On Monday, Galvis became the Majors' active ironman, having played in 262 consecutive games. The Padres expect that streak to continue Friday after some well-timed rest. Green said he doesn't expect Galvis to miss any time. He was removed because he was struck in the nerve area, and he wasn't confident enough in being able to grip the baseball and throw it across the diamond.

"Jose Pirela hustles more than any person I've been around in my life. He pops up in the infield, he doesn't run down the line today, that's something I've never seen out of him. … Sometimes you take guys out of games if you think it warrants it. In my mind, with the way Jose Pirela's been playing his entire life, he deserves a little bit of understanding. A guy makes a mistake on the field that is atypical for him. We talked, I have no expectation I'll ever see that out of him again." -- Green, on Pirela's baserunning miscue
Closer Brad Hand is the Padres' lone All-Star. He'll head to D.C. for his second consecutive Midsummer Classic. Following the break, the Padres will open their second half in Philadelphia with a three-game set against the Phillies. Clayton Richard gets the ball in the opener at 4:05 p.m. PT on Friday.

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