Padres unleash the beast with star-studded lineup

March 19th, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- To be perfectly clear: Yes, it was just a Spring Training game. No, the Padres' come-from-behind, 11-6 victory on Saturday afternoon doesn’t count for anything in the standings.

But if there was a more exhilarating Cactus League game in franchise history, it's hard to remember it.

For the first time all spring, manager Bob Melvin had a full array of offensive weapons at his disposal. He opted to deploy them, too, sending out a fully loaded lineup against the Brewers.

If what ensued was a sign of things to come, it’s time to put the rest of the Majors on notice. The Padres believe they’ve built one of the best offenses in baseball. The early returns indicate that they’re probably right.

In that 11-run outburst, , and all went deep. A suddenly red-hot  had two hits. The Padres fell behind, 5-0, in the second inning. By the time several of their regulars departed after the fifth, they already held a lead, scoring seven quick runs with a barrage of extra-base hits.

"We definitely have the length of the lineup one through nine to be able to do some damage," Machado said. "No lead is too much."

Sound advice for opposing teams this year.

"We’re going to put pressure on pitchers regardless, even when you’re making some outs," Melvin said. "Some of our guys are going to be aggressive at the plate. Some of them can make you work. … Once we got a little momentum, swinging the bats, it was good to see."

Prior to the game, Melvin acknowledged that he’d spent his offseason scribbling out different lineup possibilities. He opted for this starting nine on Saturday:

No, that won't be the Opening Day lineup. Tatis still has 20 games to serve on his PED suspension before he's eligible to return.

No, it's also not the team’s preferred lineup, with set to serve as the starting catcher and Campusano his backup.

But it is -- without question -- among the best collections of nine hitters the Padres have ever been able to put on a baseball field.

"One through nine," Machado said. "I think we all just pass the baton. If they don't give us something to hit or they don't give us something good, pass it on to the next guy. The next guy could do that damage behind us. That's the beauty of this lineup. One through nine could do really good damage. We could also get on base, as well."

Machado, Soto and Cruz were playing their first game with the Padres since their disappointing early exit at the World Baseball Classic with Team Dominican Republic. Bogaerts (Netherlands) and Kim (Korea) rejoined the team earlier this week.

That group spent a short time together early in camp. But they hadn’t yet played with Tatis, who was eased along slowly, coming off surgeries to his left shoulder and wrist.

As such, Saturday offered the first glimpse of the entirety of what the Padres have built offensively. It sure looks formidable.

"There's not a ton of breaks," Melvin said. "Especially in that first five or six, you're just going to have to pitch to guys, regardless. Pick your poison."

Last season, the Padres ranked 13th in the Majors with a 102 wRC+ (an all-encompassing hitting metric for which 100 is league average). They finished 13th in runs and 15th in OPS. In short, the 2022 team had an offense that qualified as slightly above average.

Since then, they've added Bogaerts. They'll welcome Tatis back into the fold on April 20. They'll get an entire season of Soto. Plus, they've added an array of very useful depth pieces, like Cruz, and .

"We like the depth of it," Melvin said. "We've got guys that can hit for power, got guys that can walk, get on base, make pitchers work. There are a lot of different things we can do offensively -- it's not just slug and hit homers."

All that’s left for Melvin to do is line up those hitters in some order. Soto seems bound for the No. 2 spot with Machado 3. Tatis and Bogaerts can be flipped in the Nos. 1 and 4 spots. Cronenworth, Melvin said, slots nicely at five, appropriately spaced out from Soto, a fellow lefty.

But Melvin also acknowledged this reality:

“Can you really go too wrong with all this?” he said. “I mean, maybe you try to space the lefties out a little bit, so you don't get a left-handed reliever in the same spot all the time. Other than that, it's not much of a problem, really.”

Indeed, the Padres have a lineup that’s the envy of baseball. On a sunny March afternoon in Peoria, they showed why.