Machado extends MVP bid: 'Still not done'

September 19th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- This season, the Padres have loaded the top of their lineup with not one, but two MVP candidates.

It’s a sound strategy. When one superstar infielder struggles, there’s another superstar infielder to pick up the slack.

Lately, has done the heavy lifting, with  mired in his worst slump of the season. On Friday, Machado went deep twice in the Padres’ 6-1 victory over the Mariners at Petco Park, the first game of a three-game set that was moved from Seattle to San Diego due to concerns over air quality.

With the two home runs, Machado moved past Tatis into the team lead with 16, and he’s tied with the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts for the most in the National League. That was plenty of support for a dominant , as the Padres moved to the verge of their first postseason berth in 14 years. They can secure their place on Saturday with a win and a Reds loss.

“We set a goal during the COVID Summer Camp, and we're about to reach that goal -- and we're still not done with it,” Machado said. “Our mindset in here is we're going to keep grinding. Keep playing baseball until we reach that goal. This is definitely going to be something fun, to clinch a postseason spot -- to head to the postseason [for the first time] in a very long time for the organization.

“But our mindset is still further on in the road. This is a moment we're going to enjoy. ... But after that day’s done, move forward and continue going because our goal isn't reached yet.”

The franchise might snap another longstanding drought this year, too. It’s been 24 seasons since any Padre has garnered serious consideration for the National League MVP Award. Ken Caminiti won it unanimously in 1996 -- and no San Diego player has received a first-place vote since.

Suddenly, the Padres have two legitimate candidates for the award. Tatis entered Friday leading the Majors in Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs, despite his recent funk. Machado sat fifth -- then he took Yusei Kikuchi deep in the fourth and Walker Lockett deep in the ninth, bringing his slash line to .318/.382/.621. He joins Betts as the only players with three multi-homer games this season.

“It’s nice because we don’t have to rely necessarily on one hot stick,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “It’s not just with those two. We feel like we’re rolling really well when we’re one through nine, just passing the baton and moving it forward.”

The Padres are at their best when both Machado and Tatis are playing like MVPs. For a few weeks in late August and early September, they did. Not coincidentally, that’s when San Diego began to blossom into a legitimate World Series contender.

Machado has continued that torrid pace. Tatis has not. He’s reached base just three times in his past eight games, and he struck out in his first three at-bats on Friday.

“I keep telling him: 'Keep playing,'” Machado said. “Just keep playing the game. It's about winning ballgames and it's about the team. You keep doing that, you're going to break out of it soon. Better him going through it now.”

All along, the Padres have maintained that Tatis is on the verge of a breakout. These kinds of lulls happen to every hitter, Tingler has said -- even MVP frontrunners.

Perhaps the best example is Machado. In early August, the roles were reversed. Tatis was the talk of the baseball world. Machado was sputtering out of the gate, sitting below the Mendoza line at the season’s quarter mark.

And then Machado became Machado. He’s hitting .366 since Aug. 8 with 14 home runs, the most in the NL in that span. He has steadily climbed the MVP ladder, too -- from longshot to outsider to legitimate contender. That last group probably features only four players right now: Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, Betts, Tatis and Machado.

Not that Machado wants any part of that debate.

“My mindset is just going out there and winning that ballgame today,” Machado said. “We have a great team here. We have 28 MVPs on our ballclub, if it’s up to me.”

Paddack makes a statement
If, indeed, Paddack is pitching for his place on the postseason roster, he made a strong case Friday.

Paddack’s start was pushed back after he sprained his right ankle his last time out on Sept. 10. Maybe the time off did him good. In six innings, he allowed only an infield single and two walks, striking out three and making quick work of the Mariners.

“Man, it felt good to get six innings, no runs under my belt,” Paddack said.

The Padres won’t make a deep run in October without contributions from Paddack. Earlier this week, they moved Garrett Richards to the bullpen, essentially declaring Paddack the fourth starter in their playoff rotation.

“We’re eight games away from making history here again in San Diego,” Paddack said of the Padres’ postseason push. “I want to be a part of that group, so I had to prove to myself what I’m capable of tonight.”

Even with Friday’s performance, it’s entirely possible that Paddack is left off the roster for a Wild Card Series round consisting of only three games. Mike Clevinger, Dinelson Lamet and Zach Davies are currently lined up for those games on normal rest. Richards is a viable long man.

But if the Padres advance to a five-game NL Division Series, Paddack would almost certainly get one of those starts. And he sure doesn’t have any doubts about his place on the postseason roster.

“Oh, I’m in there,” he said. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind.”