The Padres fancy themselves World Series contenders, and they've certainly looked the part against the team they're trying to dethrone. In seven thrilling games against the Dodgers this month, the Padres have been the best version of themselves. Even in the losses. They've been clean defensively, they've pitched well, they've come up with hits in big moments. In those seven games, against perhaps the sport’s toughest competition, the Padres were 4-3.
But the calendar isn’t filled with 162 games against the Dodgers. (Though wouldn’t that be fun?) Against the other teams on their schedule, the Padres are merely a .500 ballclub -- a team prone to defensive miscues and listless nights on offense.
Tuesday night revealed both. In a 5-1 loss to the D-backs at Chase Field, the Padres fell behind in the second inning on an error by center fielder Trent Grisham that allowed two runs to score. Offensively, they never really threatened after that. Arizona right-hander Merrill Kelly, who has mostly struggled this season, cruised through six innings of one-run ball.
“We’ve got to get it going,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “We’re just not able to string enough quality at-bats together. They were somewhat scattered.”
Still, Tingler was quick to refute the notion of any post-Dodgers hangover. After the team’s first off-day in 17 days on Monday, Tingler said his team showed up Tuesday refreshed and rejuvenated before the game. It simply didn’t translate.
“I thought our work was as good as it’s been all year, from the pregame work, to BP, to the defense,” Tingler said. “I just thought, on all cylinders, it was our best day’s work. And we went out there, and you see a couple of the miscues.”
One big miscue in particular. Arizona’s Nick Heath lifted a fly ball into the left-center-field gap, where Padres left fielder Jurickson Profar appeared to have a fairly routine play. He was called off by Grisham, ranging far to his right. Grisham’s call came a bit too late, and Profar’s presence may have thrown him off, as Grisham simply dropped the ball. Two runs scored on the play.
“Those two, we’ve got a lot of trust in,” Tingler said. “They’ve played together. Just had a little bit of a communication breakdown.”
Padres starter Chris Paddack turned in his best start of the season, even if his line doesn’t necessarily show it. He was crisp and effective over his first five innings, allowing only those two unearned runs. But Paddack came undone in the sixth and was removed after Carson Kelly’s two-run homer made it 5-1.
Still, for most of the night, Paddack’s fastball had excellent life and his changeup was sharp, too. Until, quite suddenly, those pitches deserted him with one out in the fifth. He grooved a middle-middle fastball that David Peralta swatted for an RBI single. Then, two pitches later, he hung a changeup that Kelly deposited about 20 rows deep in the left-field seats.
“Definitely a start I’m going to continue to build on, even though the results weren’t there,” Paddack said. “It’s a tough one to swallow, especially: A 2-1 ballgame, we’d just got a run, I’ve got to be able to go out there in the sixth inning and get a shutdown for the boys.”
Paddack, who currently sits at the back end of the Padres rotation, has yet to face the Dodgers this season, and perhaps that’s part of the equation, too. The Padres lined up their aces to face L.A. -- and Tingler managed his bullpen fairly aggressively in those games, too.
Still, beating Los Angeles will only take the Padres so far. On their remaining schedule, they play 12 games against the Dodgers. They play 125 more games against teams who are not the Dodgers. That’s quite a large percentage.
The reality is this: Those Padres-Dodgers games were undeniably fun. But the National League West won’t be decided on head-to-head results. If, indeed, it’s those two heavyweights battling it out down the stretch, they’ll be playing far more games against the rest of the league than each other. That’s where the division title will be won. The Padres can ill afford too many nights like Tuesday.