PHILADELPHIA -- Just how valuable might the first six games of this Padres road trip be come September? Well, look at it this way: Both the Braves and Phillies fancy themselves as contenders in the National League. The Padres -- with their best player injured, with their manager away from the team, with their offense struggling -- just won two road series against two teams they expect to be competing with for a spot in the postseason.
Yeah, that might end up being quite useful. For all their flaws, the Padres just keep winning games -- the latest a 2-0 victory over the Phillies on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
“Pitching and defense and a couple timely hits is obviously a great recipe,” acting manager Ryan Christenson said. “Always has been.”
Here are three takeaways from the series finale in Philly:
1. Is this the deepest rotation in baseball?
Hard to argue otherwise. There are plenty of teams around the league who would love to take MacKenzie Gore and Nick Martinez and slot them somewhere near the top of the rotation. The Padres don't have room for either right now. So instead, Gore and Martinez combined to pitch seven shutout innings in relief on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
The reason there's no room for those guys? Well, it's a pretty electric top of the rotation, too. And that starts with Darvish, who was brilliant across seven frames on Thursday. He struck out five Phillies without surrendering a walk, and he allowed only one runner to reach scoring position.
In a way, the veteran right-hander has reinvented himself this season. He’s not so reliant on the strikeout anymore, and he’s leaned less on his breaking pitches. Instead, Darvish is putting his fastball where he wants it -- and it’s induced plenty of weak contact as a result.
“Obviously if you can get a strikeout, that’s great,” Darvish said through a team interpreter. “But if you can get weak contact, you keep the [defense] in rhythm, so to speak, so I think it works just fine.”
With Darvish, Sean Manaea and Joe Musgrove atop the rotation and Mike Clevinger and Blake Snell back in action, the Padres’ rotation is overflowing with capable starters. They are quick to remind you: That’s a good thing, especially considering their recent performance.
“The bond between us starters is phenomenal,” Darvish said. “We have a really good bond. When that’s there, you’re really cheering for each other, you’re really rooting for each other, and that might be the key to how everybody is performing well.”
2. Everybody hits
Manny Machado had two hits Thursday afternoon, raising his National League-leading batting average to .357. This time he got some help.
All nine starters recorded a hit on Thursday, the first time this season they've done so. The Padres scored both of their runs during a two-run rally in the fourth inning, in which they strung together three consecutive hits -- including an RBI single from Robinson Canó that nearly took off Wil Myers’ head between first and second base.
“The offense is going to come around,” Myers said afterward. “I still believe that. It went a little slow. But the thing I really like is: We get the timely hitting, and our pitching staff has the ability to shut guys down.”
Eventually, of course, the Padres will welcome their all-world shortstop, Fernando Tatis Jr., back into the fold. That could give the offense the boost it needs.
“If we can continue to play good baseball and put a bunch of wins up, then you get into the summer,” Christenson said. “As guys start feeling the grind of the season, all of a sudden Tatis comes back. That’s a little injection of adrenaline -- almost like a midseason trade.”
3. A steady hand at the helm
“That’s the true mark of a leader,” right-hander Craig Stammen said. “When you’re gone, nothing changes. Because you’ve got more leadership right behind you.”
Stammen was referring to manager Bob Melvin and the job Christenson has done in his absence. Melvin, who underwent prostate surgery last week, has missed nine games. The Padres are 6-3 in those contests under Christenson.
It’s possible Melvin could return for Friday’s series opener in San Francisco -- another huge road series against a playoff contender. But that hasn’t been determined yet. If Melvin doesn’t return this weekend, he’s expected back on Monday for the start of the Padres’ next homestand.
In the meantime, Christenson has drawn rave reviews in the Padres clubhouse -- a credit to both himself and to Melvin, for whom Christenson has served as bench coach over the past five seasons.
“Bob’s obviously put together a great coaching staff,” Myers said. “We’ve got a guy in here who can just step in, no problem. Ryno’s been great. He’s very informed. The game doesn’t speed up on him. … To be able to come in and do that, it’s been pretty impressive.”