Here's how the Padres can get back in NLCS

October 23rd, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- The Padres have thrived when counted out this postseason. Most people didn’t have them beating the Mets in the National League Wild Card Series. Even fewer had them getting past the NL Division Series and the Dodgers, who dominated San Diego during the regular season.

But now, the Padres are facing their toughest test to date. They’re on the brink of elimination following a 10-6 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.

In all best-of-seven postseason series, teams ahead 3-1 have gone on to win the series 77 of 91 times (85%). In series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams holding a 3-1 lead and playing Game 5 at home have gone on to win 25 of 31 times (81%).

If the Padres want to beat those odds, they’ll have to play their best three games of the season. Let’s take a look at three ways they can get back in this series:

Darvish’s postseason moment
The role of an ace is to perform at a high level when his team needs it most. Well, Yu Darvish is the Padres’ ace, and with their season on the line on Sunday, they’ll need the Japanese right-hander more than ever.

“We have our best going on the mound tomorrow,” said Padres starter Joe Musgrove. “I know they have theirs, too, but we trust our guy.”

Game 5 will be a battle of aces as Darvish will battle Zack Wheeler for the second time this series. Wheeler outdueled Darvish in Game 1, but Darvish held his own, allowing just two runs on three hits and striking out seven over seven innings. Darvish’s only mistakes were solo homers from Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber.

One thing the Padres have come to expect out of Darvish is his ability to pitch deep into games. Including the postseason, He has completed at least six innings in 29 of his last 31 starts. He pitched into the sixth inning in the other two outings.

If Darvish provides length again on Sunday, it likely means he’s pitching well and the Padres have a chance to send the NLCS back to San Diego. It would also help the Padres hand the ball off to high-leverage arms Robert Suarez and Josh Hader, who should be fully rested for the remaining three games of the series.

“We have our best relievers available for multiple innings tomorrow,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “And our focus is to win one game and get it home.”

It will all start with Darvish, who has a 1.42 ERA in four career starts at Citizens Bank Park.

“We wouldn’t want anybody but Yu having the ball,” Musgrove said.

Stars leading the way 
Much like Darvish on the mound, the Padres will rely on their two superstars, Manny Machado and Juan Soto, to come up big at the plate. Soto and Machado each hit go-ahead homers in Game 4, and while the Padres lost, that’s the type of production they’ll need from them moving forward. 

Machado and Soto are a combined 8-for-34 with three homers in four games against the Phillies. In 11 postseason games, the Padres are 2-1 when Soto and Machado each drive in a run. The lone loss came on Saturday, but the Padres don’t expect to give up 10 runs very frequently.

San Diego also doesn’t expect Machado and Soto to homer in every game like they did Saturday. Production from the bottom of the lineup, especially Trent Grisham, who is 0-for-15 in this series after catching fire in the earlier rounds, would also help take pressure off Soto and Machado. 

But October is about stars. And the Padres have two who are more than capable of extending this series. 

“Overall, I think with the team we have, we’re going to keep fighting until the last out is made and whatever happens, happens,” Machado said. “But just keep fighting at this point.”

Get it back home 
After dropping Game 1 and losing home-field advantage, the Padres knew their path to the World Series included winning at least one game in Philadelphia. Ideally, the Padres would’ve answered back in Game 4. 

But a win on Sunday would still help them accomplish what they were looking to do from the start: Get the series back to Petco Park. 

“Anything can happen,” Soto said. “They have to win another game. We aren’t going to give them that win easy. We’re going to go out there and play our best, see what happens.”

If the Padres can find a way to win a game in Philadelphia, their path to a series win looks much more attainable. They would then be in front of their home fans with Blake Snell scheduled to start Game 6. Musgrove -- and every other top arm -- would then be ready for a potential Game 7.

It’s not going to be easy, however. The Phillies are 4-0 at home this postseason, including taking the first two in the series. But San Diego had impressive road wins at Citi Field and Dodger Stadium, two of the toughest places to play in the Majors. 

“It’s a tough situation to be in,” Machado said. “But we’ve been grinding all year, we’ve been fighting all year. We’re going to do that until the last out is made.”