3 Padres concerns while peeking toward October

October 1st, 2022

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell's Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

They're not quite there. The champagne isn't on ice just yet. The clubhouse walls are not covered in plastic, awaiting a clinch celebration.

The Padres still have work to do. San Diego’s lead in the National League Wild Card race is comfortable -- but not safe.

Still, given the ultimate goal, the front office has undoubtedly turned its attention to the postseason and some of the questions that might come along with October baseball. Right now, here are three of the biggest areas of concern in San Diego:

1. What to do in center field?
The Padres have three options, none of them ideal. is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, but his September numbers at the plate are abysmal. José Azocar has been a bit better offensively, but he’s come back down to earth lately. Plus, his splits are generally skewed; he’s a decent option against left-handed pitching, but against righties he doesn’t offer much.

The last option is , whom the Padres would prefer to avoid using in center. He’s been solid defensively at first base and serviceable in the outfield corners, but Myers is not an ideal defensive option in center field. Then again, Myers has easily the most extensive track record at the plate.

All of those options are flawed. Padres center fielders had combined for a .215/.296/.368 second-half slash line entering play on Thursday. (And here’s where it’s probably worth mentioning that the Padres had planned to give  reps in center field, prior to his suspension. His absence is felt in a big way here.)

Ideally, Grisham could snap out of his funk. If he’s the type of hitter he was in August -- around the Mendoza line but liable to pop one out of the ballpark or work a walk -- he’d be useful in the No. 9 spot. But Grisham is running out of time to find his form.

“We need to get him going,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “Our best team has Grish in there. … He’s had to sit and watch for a little bit. Hopefully, that makes him a little bit more hungry. A couple of big games in a row is what we need from him. Because our best team has him in it.”

2. How do the pieces fit in the bullpen?
If the center-field problem is one with no good answers, the Padres’ bullpen conundrum might actually have too many good answers. In terms of righty setup men, San Diego is suddenly loaded, now that  is back and appears to be thriving (albeit before a rocky outing on Thursday night).

Johnson, Luis García, and Nick Martinez have all been relied upon at times to serve as the bridge to the closer. And they all bring something different to the table. Johnson’s curveball is his specialty. With Garcia, it’s high-octane -- an upper-90s sinker and a tight slider. Suarez has similar velocity, but his go-to out pitch is his changeup. Martinez, meanwhile, is a longtime starter and the only hurler of that group with multiple out pitches.

“All four of these guys, we have complete confidence in,” Melvin said. “They all do things a little bit differently. We try to determine who’s coming up and what might be the strengths and weaknesses of the first three guys. And then, you go about your business on who you pick. A lot of times it’s: ‘Who’s available on a particular day.’ But all those guys, we really feel good about at this point in time in the season.”

3. How to make the most of this bench?
What does a potential postseason bench look like for the Padres? Here’s one guess (presuming Grisham starts in center and Josh Bell starts at DH):

There are some decent pieces there. Myers is a nice right-handed bat to have available for a lefty. Same for Campusano. And Alfaro has proven himself more than capable of handling big moments.

But there’s not exactly a lot of balance in that group. Most notably, the Padres don’t have a left-handed-hitting option off their bench. Ideally, Nomar Mazara, Matt Beaty or Robinson Canó would’ve seized that role, but all three struggled and have long since been designated for assignment.

Facing a tough righty reliever, the Padres don’t have an obvious option to pinch-hit for, say,  or Azocar. Maybe proves himself viable as a bench bat over the next week (yes, he’s eligible for the playoff roster). But he’s a righty, too. Right now, the lack of lefty-hitting bench options feels like a glaring weakness that could be exposed come October.