Padres make first-inning rally stand up vs. Sox

August 26th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- On Friday night, the Padres endured an 11-run drubbing at the hands of the Red Sox. On Saturday, their lights-out closer surrendered a go-ahead homer with his first pitch in the ninth.

Those two defeats -- each painful in its own right -- dropped the Padres 10 games below .500 for the first time this year. Their season, which had started so promisingly, was spiraling.

With Sunday’s 3-1 win, they offered a response, and it was swift. led off the game with a double, and he stole third. ripped a single that plated Margot. followed by launching his first home run since July.

The Padres had a 3-0 lead before Red Sox starter Brian Johnson had recorded an out, and they made it hold up. They hope it’s the type of game that can serve as a springboard to a strong finish.

“We're going to learn from this, continue to play baseball, grow as a ballclub,” Machado said. “We've just got to take it series by series, win some games and finish off the year how we started it.”

Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s series finale:

Margot is a winning piece

Acquired from the Red Sox in the 2016 deal that sent Craig Kimbrel to Boston, Margot has spent four roller-coaster seasons in the big leagues with the Padres. Given his ups and downs, it's easy to forget Margot is only 24 years old.

He's finally establishing himself as an important cog in the Padres' future plans. On Sunday, Margot opened the game with a double. He doubled again in the fifth -- though it would’ve easily been a triple if he hadn’t tripped out of his shoe while rounding second base.

Still, Margot reached base three times on Sunday. He stole a base and made an excellent leaping grab at the left-center-field warning track. That production aligns with the idea of Margot as an excellent platoon weapon against lefties -- one who brings speed and defense off the bench when he doesn't start.

Margot could still reach his ceiling and become a regular center fielder if he continues to hit like he has in the second half. But at the very least, the former Red Sox farmhand is setting himself up to be an extremely useful fourth outfielder as the Padres push toward contention.

Mejia has forced his way into the everyday lineup

In Margot, Hunter Renfroe and Wil Myers, the Padres have three righty hitting outfielders who almost always start against left-handed pitching. But when Green asked Austin Hedges to catch Lucchesi, he also opted to use Mejia over Myers in left field.

“We just liked that combo,” Green said. “We wanted Franky’s bat in the game with who they started today. ... I think Austin caught a very nice game today.”

Given Mejia’s second-half production, it’s hard to argue with Green’s decision. In the bottom of the first, Mejia smacked a neck-high fastball into left field for an RBI single. He’s now hitting .379/.429/.655 in August.

The Padres insist that Mejia is exclusively a catcher. But their actions tell a different story. The switch-hitting rookie has now played four games in left field this season -- including twice in the past week.

Mejia’s primary focus remains on honing his skills behind the plate, where his defense is still raw. But his bat has simply gotten too good for the Padres to exclude it every time Hedges starts.

Manny really needed that

In his first four months with the Padres, Machado lived up to his record-setting contract. Lately, however, he has fallen into one of the worst slumps of his career. Even with Sunday’s home run, Machado is hitting just .207 this month. He insists he isn’t paying much attention to his individual performance.

“Coming out with the win is what matters,” Machado said. “I don't care what I do, honestly. It's all about W's. At the end of the year, we'll see what the stats are.”

There’s still plenty of time for Machado to turn around his recent struggles. Historically, however, Machado hasn’t been a strong finisher. His .718 September OPS is easily his worst mark of any month.

Then again, Sunday might have offered the first signs of a breakout. Four innings later, Machado worked a walk against Andrew Cashner. This week, the Dodgers come to town, and he already has four home runs and 10 RBIs against his former team this season.

Munoz is the real deal

It’s hard to imagine a bigger moment for a 20-year-old rookie reliever.

Machado booted a potential double-play ball in the eighth, giving the Red Sox two men aboard with nobody out. The fearsome trio of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez was due up.

“I like those situations,” Andres Munoz said. “I like the pressure. Things have been going well for me, and I like to be in tight games, big moments.”

The Padres’ flame-throwing right-hander promptly induced a double-play grounder from Devers. But he walked Bogaerts and found himself locked in a seven-pitch battle with J.D. Martinez. After Martinez fouled off consecutive 101 mph fastballs, Munoz dropped a filthy slider just off the outside corner. The Red Sox slugger couldn’t hold up.

Munoz also worked a scoreless inning Saturday night, capping it with a strikeout of Martinez. He lowered his ERA to 1.56 on Sunday. Munoz has become the dominant setup man (and perhaps the closer-in-waiting, too) that the Padres have been searching for.