Biggest series in 10 years? Padres open loud

August 29th, 2020

In the race for the second automatic postseason spot in the National League West, the Padres made quite a statement in Colorado on Friday night:

With 26 games to play, it's theirs to lose.

After falling behind by four runs in the first inning, San Diego stormed back for an emphatic 10-4 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field, while across the league, MLB celebrated Jackie Robinson Day.

and recorded four hits apiece. and had three. In total, the offensive outburst added up to a season-high 19 hits for the Padres, who moved three games ahead of the Rockies, their closest competition for second place in the West.

“This whole season has felt like a playoff push,” France said. “It’s not just against the Rockies, but every team we play. We go out there with a playoff vibe and a playoff mentality. It’s putting us in a good spot right now.”

Sure, the season still feels young compared with a traditional 162-game slate. But the importance of this series shouldn’t be understated. In a 60-game season, it’s getting late early. The top two teams from each division reach the postseason, with two extra Wild Card teams in each league. As things stand, San Diego would be the No. 4 seed in the NL.

Considering the postseason implications, one could argue that this is the Padres’ most important series since 2010.

“All the games are important ... but we certainly do view this one as a big series," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said before the game.

His club is off to a nice start. Friday marked the first time since last June 14 in Colorado that the Padres had four batters with at least three hits.

“The whole offense, right now, is feeling good,” France said.

Still, the most impressive performance on Friday night might have come from the mound. Right-hander fell victim to some tough luck in the first inning. He nearly escaped a jam with a double-play ball, but ’s throw squirted through Hosmer’s glove at first base. The Rockies scored four runs in the frame.

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Resolute as ever, Davies wouldn’t allow another run before he was removed with two outs in the sixth.

“Especially in Colorado, those things happen,” Davies said. “Four runs in the first inning -- it definitely sucks. But you’ve got to find a way to get deeper into the ballgame. You’ve got to find a way to give your team a chance to win.”

Davies did exactly that. With all four of those first-inning runs going down as unearned, he lowered his ERA to 2.61 this season. Davies started the year as the team’s No. 5 starter. Thus far, he’s been arguably their No. 1.

It was easy to write off Davies’ 2019 breakout with Milwaukee as something of a fluke. (Most of the baseball world did just that.) Davies’ peripheral numbers weren’t great, and his fastball barely touches 90 mph.

It was no fluke. Davies is proving that much this season. If anything, he’s gotten better, as he’s relied even more on his Bugs Bunny changeup, one of the sport’s trickiest pitches. Davies’ changeup usage has ticked above 40% this season, and he generated 10 swings and misses on Friday night, per Statcast.

“I’m not going to be afraid to throw it,” Davies said. “I know it’s my best pitch. I know it’s a pitch that’s going to get me out of tough situations. … I try and sequence as much as I can, but I’m not afraid to throw a changeup six, seven times in a row.

“I know hitters get frustrated with the fact you’re throwing so many changeups and not throwing fastballs. It’s baseball. I’m going to try and get guys out any way possible. For me, the changeup is the best pitch, so that’s something I’m going to rely on.”

Davies’ outing Friday night was crucial for the Padres in more ways than one. Yes, he now owns five of the team’s 20 pitching wins. But he bounced back from a four-run first to eat 5 2/3 precious innings.

The Padres played a doubleheader on Thursday night, and they could be in line for two bullpen games in Colorado on Saturday and Monday. They couldn’t afford an early exit from their starter on Friday.

“My goal was: limit the damage,” Davies said.

“Huge, the way he settled in,” Tingler said. “He got stronger, more efficient as the game went on. Obviously, to get as deep as he did and leave the game with a lead -- he was outstanding tonight.”

Indeed, Davies performance should pay dividends later this series. It’s arguably the Padres’ biggest series in a decade, after all, and they’ll have a relatively fresh bullpen for the final three.