SAN DIEGO -- Just when the Padres' lineup needed him most, Manny Machado -- the run-producing offensive force, the guy who beats you even when you game-plan to make sure he doesn’t beat you -- has arrived.
The Padres placed a chunk of their offense on the injured list this week because of COVID-19 issues -- five players, including four regulars. Since then, they've insisted that it would take a team effort to make up for that lost production.
But let's be realistic here. If there's one person capable of picking up the majority of that slack, it's Machado.
Sure enough, Machado was the spark behind the Padres' 5-4 victory over St. Louis on Friday night at Petco Park. He drove in the game’s first run with a double in the first inning, then plated another in the sixth with a laser off the left-field wall. He also worked two of the team’s 12 walks -- a Petco Park record for a nine-inning game.
After his monster five-RBI night at Coors Field on Tuesday, Machado, it seems, might finally be breaking out. And not a moment too soon. The Padres are without Fernando Tatis Jr., Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer -- the big boppers who typically surround Machado in the lineup.
“He knows that he’s one of our bigger threats right now with some of our guys gone,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “And he’s kind of answering the bell.”
When the Padres have their full contingent of sluggers on board, there’s perhaps a bit of wiggle room for Machado to work through some struggles -- as he has done over the season’s first six weeks. Machado entered play Friday night hitting just .226 with a .714 OPS.
Without those regulars, the Padres still like their chances. Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth have become certifiable on-base weapons. Austin Nola and Tommy Pham might be slumping, but they’ve both managed to find their way on base at a decent clip, too.
That said, Machado is clearly the one being counted upon to provide the thump in this makeshift lineup. The rest of the Padres’ offense did its job, reaching base with regularity as Cardinals pitchers struggled to find the strike zone. (They finished with more balls than strikes.)
Machado cashed in. Three of the Padres runs scored on outs Friday night. The other two came via Machado lasers.
“He’s ready to hit every pitch,” Tingler said. “I thought he was looking good at the plate, feeling comfortable.”
Padres right-hander Joe Musgrove labored through five innings of one-run ball. He wasn't anywhere near his sharpest and was consistently behind in counts.
“It wasn’t the prettiest tonight,” said Musgrove, who walked four. “But I feel like I did a good job of keeping us in the game.”
That he did. He stranded at least one Cardinals runner in scoring position in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings. The Padres, meanwhile, worked Cardinals righty Johan Oviedo even harder. He lasted only two-plus innings and allowed three runs.
“We had really good at-bats all throughout the night, a lot of three-ball counts,” Tingler said. “A lot of those counts, we won. We had some opportunities to score tonight. We had a lot of traffic on the bases.”
In the past, when Tingler has been asked about Machado’s struggles, he’s always been quick to point out a simple truth regarding Machado: When he gets hot, he tends to stay hot for a long, long time.
Machado started the 2020 season slowly, too. But after three cold weeks, Machado’s bat came to life, and it didn’t cool until the offseason. Machado finished third in National League MVP Award voting.
It has taken Machado a bit longer to get going this season. But Tingler seems convinced that the past few games have offered some proof that Machado is, indeed, getting going.
“You start to see the way the ball’s jumping off his bat, and he’s not missing his pitches, using the entire field,” Tingler said. “So, yeah, I think he’s getting close to finding it.”
The timing couldn’t have worked out any better.