Padres searching to make adjustment -- and 'make it quick'

May 14th, 2023

LOS ANGELES -- At the end of the Padres' frenetic offseason came revamped expectations -- and nowhere were those expectations more evident than in the scope of the National League West.

The Dodgers, division winners in nine of the last 10 seasons, were no longer considered favorites, at least by most prognostications. That mantle suddenly belonged to the upstart Padres. At the very least, the division was up for grabs. San Diego had beaten L.A. in the NLDS last October and had closed the talent gap significantly.

And yet, nearing the season's quarter mark, the Padres find themselves in jeopardy of digging an unseemly hole in the NL West standings. No, the division won't be settled in May. But it might be getting late early.

The Padres dropped their fourth consecutive game on Saturday, a 4-2 loss at Dodger Stadium, growing the gap between the two Southern California rivals to a whopping six games. That number is by no means insurmountable, but Sunday’s series finale suddenly feels awfully significant for the Padres to remain within striking distance.

“I have complete faith in this group that at some point in the season we’re going to make that turn and start getting it going,” said Padres right-hander . “Obviously, we don’t want to wait around ‘til the last minute and find ourselves in a situation where we’re fighting for a playoff spot, a Wild Card spot, like we did last year.

“So we’ve got to find out what that adjustment that needs to be made is -- and make it quick.”

In case you needed a reminder of how quickly things can change: It was only eight days ago that the Padres beat the Dodgers at Petco Park in their first meeting this season. That closed the gap to a single game.

Since then, the Padres have dropped all four of their meetings with L.A. and six of seven overall. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have won six of seven. Saturday’s victory clinched an 11th straight regular-season series victory for Los Angeles over San Diego -- with “regular season,” of course, as an important qualifier.

“I’m tired of hearing that [stuff], to be honest, man,” Musgrove said. “It’s baseball. These guys are a good team. … But I think we, as a group in here, gotta stop talking about these guys like they’re that unbeatable force. We beat these guys in the playoffs. We beat them in big situations. We’re just not playing very well right now.”

The bottom of the first inning was a prime example of that. Staked to a 1-0 lead on ’s solo homer, Musgrove appeared to have escaped trouble when Max Muncy popped up to shallow center. But got a poor read and couldn’t make the play. A batter later, Musgrove hung an 0-2 slider that J.D. Martinez wallopped to the left field seats for a three-run homer.

responded with a solo homer off Dodgers starter Julio Urías in the second. But the Padres wouldn’t score after that. The obvious culprit behind their struggles this season has been their inability to hit with runners in scoring position. On Saturday, however, they didn’t give themselves many opportunities.

The Padres threatened in the sixth and the ninth. bounced into an inning-ending double play in the sixth. struck out with the tying runs aboard in the ninth. It brought their collective average with runners in scoring this season to a miniscule .203.

Not only is that the lowest mark in the Majors by a wide margin, it’s the lowest by any team since the 1969 Padres batted .200 with RISP in the franchise’s inaugural season. There are, of course, three-quarters of the year to turn that number around. But, to date, nothing the Padres have tried has worked.

“We’ve just got to go out there and keep playing, keep grinding,” Soto said. “I really don’t know what can help to fix this stuff. But right now, for me, it’s just every day, go out there and give you 100 percent.”

Whatever the fix, those RISP struggles need to be righted. And the sooner the better, considering the growing gap in the NL West.

“Every game is urgent,” manager Bob Melvin said. “To try to get ourselves right offensively. More than anything, it’s that. I don’t think we’re focused too much right now on the standings. I think our focus should be on just getting better at-bats.”