SAN DIEGO -- The final week of the Padres' season is equal parts postseason audition and postseason tuneup. It's a luxury they earned by racing out to the best 54-game start in franchise history and clinching a playoff spot with a week to spare.
Probably a good thing the Padres bought themselves that luxury, too. Because they still have some kinks to work out. In their first game since securing their place in the postseason, the Friars dropped their series opener against the Angels on Tuesday night at Petco Park, 4-2.
The Padres’ magic number to secure home-field advantage in the National League Wild Card Series is two. They can clinch as soon as Wednesday with a win and a Cardinals loss. Right now, that’s their first priority. (They can no longer win the division after the Dodgers wrapped up the National League West crown on Tuesday night.)
But the most important thing the Padres can achieve over the season’s final week is to get their offense buzzing again.
“Before tonight, for sure, I could definitely feel the group pressing, maybe just wanting it a little bit too much,” manager Jayce Tingler said. “I was hoping tonight we would relax a little bit and settle in to some more at-bats.”
Collectively, the Padres are hitting just .194 over the past six games. On the season, they’re still near the top of almost every offensive category. But the timing of this rut seems noteworthy -- ahead of the franchise’s first trip to the postseason in 14 years.
“We’re hoping to build some momentum beginning Wednesday,” Tingler said. “Ultimately, our goal is to be playing our best baseball of the year going forward.”
The biggest key is getting Eric Hosmer and Tommy Pham swinging like Eric Hosmer and Tommy Pham. Two staples in the middle of the Padres’ offense, Hosmer and Pham both missed significant time with injuries recently. Hosmer fractured his left index finger and missed two weeks. Pham broke his left hamate bone and was out a month.
They returned over the weekend but have yet to look like their All-Star-caliber selves. Hosmer and Pham combined to go 0-for-6 with five strikeouts and a walk on Tuesday.
“It’s going to come with the consistent at-bats and getting back into the flow,” Tingler said. “... Nothing can really replicate the speed of the game -- the breaking balls, the sliders that you see at this level. Tommy with his hand and Hoz with the finger, we know it’s going to take a couple games to get in the real flow of it. That’s why these at-bats are so valuable right now.”
Tingler spent the final three innings auditioning a quartet of relievers he might use in October.
“He’s got real weapons,” Tingler said. “The more we can get him out there, the quicker he’s going to be progressing.”
Sure enough, Johnson emerged and struck out Mike Trout with runners on second and third. Message sent.
Right-hander Garrett Richards followed with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, his second straight scoreless outing after he allowed a solo home run in his bullpen debut.
“Tonight was his best one so far,” Tingler said. “He came in, threw strikes and worked his slider into the first batter and had a really good feel for that. Obviously the fastball was playing well, too. Every time he’s done it so far, I think each time he’s gotten a little more comfortable.”
Davies does it again
Like clockwork. Zach Davies pitches every fifth game, works at least five innings and doesn't allow more than three earned runs.
That's been the story every start this season.
Davies wasn't at his best Tuesday night, but the right-hander worked another quality start, allowing three runs over six innings.
“He’s certainly been trustworthy and consistent,” Tingler said. “Honestly, when you’re managing and coaching, that’s really all you could ask for. You feel like you know what you’re going to get. We’ve got a lot of confidence with him on the mound.”
Probably enough confidence to tab Davies for one of three games in next week’s Wild Card Series. Barring something unforeseen, Davies would likely follow Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet in the rotation. He pitched an inning of postseason relief for Milwaukee in 2018, but it would be Davies’ first career playoff start should the series go three games.