Ken Caminiti might have company.
It has been nearly a quarter century since any Padre made a serious run at the National League MVP Award. But a 21-year-old shortstop with a sweet swing and endless swagger seems intent to change that.
Fernando Tatis Jr. ’s incredible season continued on Friday night as San Diego rolled to a 7-0 victory at the Oakland Coliseum. Back in the leadoff spot for the first time in three weeks, Tatis went 2-for-5 with a double and a seventh-inning homer -- his 14th of the season to move him into a tie with Mike Trout for the Major League lead.
“Without looking at the entire league, I can’t imagine anyone else being more productive,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler.
The numbers back up Tingler’s assessment. Tatis entered play leading the NL in runs, homers, RBIs and WAR. His performance Friday night served to reinforce the notion that he’s the clear frontrunner for the award with a third of the season left to play.
If Tatis can finish the year as strong as he has started it, he could join Caminiti (1996) as the only players in franchise history to win the sport’s top annual honor.
“The big part of that is just staying consistent and helping my team win,” Tatis said earlier this week. “If I win that trophy, amen for that. But the most important thing is we want to get to the postseason and, hopefully, win a World Series.”
Tatis is doing his part to make that happen. With 20 games to play, the Padres are cruising toward their first postseason berth in 14 years with a 24-16 record. They added multiple impact pieces at the Trade Deadline and have the second-best run differential in the Majors.
“I feel like if we keep playing this way, we’re going for the big cake,” Tatis said, echoing his favorite metaphor.
At this point, Tatis’ biggest challengers for the NL MVP Award are the Giants’ Mike Yastrzemski and the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts. Both Yastrzemski and Betts have had excellent seasons. So has Manny Machado, who followed Tatis’ home run with a solo shot of his own, marking the third time this season the left side of the Padres’ infield has gone back to back.
But it’s hard to argue for any of that trio over Tatis. Offensively, he is bringing as much value as any player in baseball. And he’s doing so while suitably manning one of the sport’s toughest defensive positions.
“It’s incredible to watch,” said right-hander Zach Davies, who lowered his ERA to 2.23 with seven scoreless frames on Friday night. “At any moment, that the superstar that he is comes out, and you can watch something incredible happen.”
Friday night marked the first time Tatis would square off against A’s lefty Jesús Luzardo, a close friend and a fellow rising star. Last week, Tatis received a T-shirt from their agent with Luzardo’s likeness. It read,"Jesús is my homeboy."
Tatis posted a picture of the shirt on his Instagram story, and he tagged Luzardo, saying, "I better be getting only fastball."
Luzardo did not heed Tatis' request, mixing changeups and curves. But when he did groove a fastball, Tatis didn't miss.
With the Padres leading by a run in the fifth, Tatis sent a 113.3 mph rocket to center field -- a foot away from tying Trout for the home run lead right then. Tatis settled for a two-run double and a 3-0 Padres advantage.
“A 3-wood off the center field wall,” Tingler said. “He’s just such a dynamic player, and I think the exciting thing is he’s going to get better.”
After the game, Tatis didn’t seem too fussed with Tingler’s decision to move him up in the order after he’d spent three weeks in the No. 2 spot.
“Wherever they need me, I’m just going to hit the ball,” Tatis said.
Yeah, no kidding. He’s batting .308 with a 1.046 OPS through 40 games. Two innings after Tatis’ laser-beam double, he launched a towering drive off the facing of the seats in right-center-field.
Perhaps the final argument for Tatis’ MVP candidacy is the value he brings to an upstart club. This is the best Padres team in at least a decade, probably longer. Tatis is their best player, and the rest of the pieces fall into place around him. Out of seemingly nowhere, San Diego is a serious contender this year.
“What can I say? It’s just playoff baseball we’re playing right now,” Tatis said.
Might even be good enough for the big cake.