Wild Card math working against Padres

September 25th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- On Friday night, the Padres won a game started by and they lost a game started by Reiss Knehr.

Realistically, they can't afford to be doing any of the latter. The Cardinals aren't losing at all anymore, and the Padres' days of being mathematically alive in the National League Wild Card race appear to be numbered.

The Padres beat the Braves, 6-5, on Friday in the resumption of their suspended game on July 21. Then they lost the originally scheduled game between these two, 4-0, at Petco Park. -- who had homered in the first game -- had two more hits. The rest of the Padres’ offense mustered only one against Braves lefty Max Fried, who tossed a shutout on 98 pitches.

In the meantime, the Cardinals swept a doubleheader against the Cubs, extending their lead in the chase for the second Wild Card spot to seven games over San Diego. The Padres can be eliminated from playoff contention as soon as Saturday with a loss and another St. Louis win. The Cardinals have won 14 straight.

“It’s hard to reflect when you’re going day to day and trying to stay in the grind,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said when asked to assess how his team finds itself on the brink of elimination. “It’s never one thing. There are reasons all across the board.”

One of the primary reasons, Tingler noted, has been injuries to the Padres’ starting rotation. With Blake Snell and Chris Paddack on the injured list, Knehr was called up to start Friday. He had also started for the Padres on July 21, a game they led, 5-4, when it was halted in the fifth inning because of rain. The resumption of that game brought with it all sorts of oddities, including a homer by Braves outfielder Adam Duvall off Padres reliever Daniel Hudson. Neither of those had yet to be traded to their current team when that game began.

“It was kind of cool,” said the rookie Knehr, who allowed three runs on five hits over a career-high four innings. “… Tommy [Pham] came up to me and was like: ‘I wish more people could be like you -- starting two games in one day.’”

Knehr was relieved by right-hander with the Padres trailing, 3-0. Stammen made a bit of Padres history by striking out four Braves in the sixth inning after Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies had reached on a strikeout/wild pitch. Stammen joined Luke Gregerson (Oct. 4, 2009) and Miguel Diaz (July 8, 2018) as the only Padres pitchers to accomplish the feat.

But outside of Tatis, the San Diego offense mustered very little across both games on Friday. Tatis went 3-for-5, counting his decisive homer in the first game. The rest of the Padres batters went just 2-for-31.

Fried, who was drafted by the Padres and dealt to the Braves in the 2014 Justin Upton deal, retired each of the final 18 hitters he faced. Seventeen of the Padres’ outs came via ground balls. Yes, Fried was tough on Friday night, but that’s been an issue for the Padres all season. Their 45.2% ground-ball rate entering Friday ranked 26th in the Majors -- between the Marlins and the Pirates.

“That’s something that we’ve got to find a way to improve on,” Tingler said. “You look at what we do offensively: We do a really good job with the decision-making and swinging at strikes, taking balls. … We’re one of the top in strike-zone judgement. We’re one of the top in exit velo. But we’re at a pretty high rate of pull-side grounders.

“It’s never one thing, and it’s not a cookie-cutter approach. It’ll be individual to some guys. But I think there are some small things we can do to make some small swing adjustments and be able to get the ball a little bit more pull-side in the air.”