Suddenly, offense abounds for Padres

June 9th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- A day before the Padres slugged three homers and mauled the Diamondbacks, 13-1, on a rowdy Saturday night at Petco Park, manager Mike Shildt sat at the podium for his postgame press conference and reflected on his team’s sudden power surge.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Shildt said. “The homer is still a good friend of ours. But we can do it all. That is the point. … We want to be able to compete offensively in every different area.”

Lo and behold, a night later, the Padres did it all offensively. They got three-run homers from Ha-Seong Kim and Jake Cronenworth and a solo blast from Kyle Higashioka on Saturday. They pounded out 14 hits, consistently worked deep counts and kept Arizona’s pitchers on the ropes. They drew six walks. They ran the bases well. They went 5-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

Shildt wanted the Padres to thrive “in every different area” on offense. They did precisely that on Saturday, scoring a season-high-tying 13 runs at Petco Park.

“We’re back to that spot where we’re doing damage and still getting our hits, using the whole field,” Shildt said. “Clearly, it’s a good brand of baseball.”

Naturally, the home runs will garner the biggest headlines -- mostly because the Padres have done almost everything else well at the plate this season. They entered play Saturday leading the Majors with a .261 batting average while ranking fifth with a .325 on-base percentage. But San Diego’s 63 homers were tied for 17th.

That led to the obvious question: Were the Padres sacrificing power for average? And was it costing them? During their recent five-game losing streak, they out-hit their opponent in all five games and had nothing to show for it.

Shildt insisted there was a balance to be struck. The Padres identify as a team that grinds through at-bats and works its way on base. Shildt is adamant that’s a winning identity. But, yes, it needs to be supplemented with some power.

“There’s always a little bit of give and take in that, right?” Shildt said before the game. “You’re trying to find that sweet spot. … Outside of that little stretch recently where we haven’t had as much slug, we’ve had a nice blend of average and slug. The real sweet spot. And I also believe that’s a real sweet spot for playoff baseball.”

Needless to say, the Padres are back to that sweet spot. They’ve struggled to score at home all year, but they now have scored at least 10 runs in consecutive games at Petco Park for the second time since the ballpark opened in 2004. (They also did so June 1-2, 2016.)

In both games, the Padres slugged three home runs. In neither game did they sacrifice anything about their identity in doing so.

“There’s never a perfect balance,” Cronenworth said. “You can’t really nail it down. But tonight, the bottom of our lineup, those were the guys that got us going. And they got on base for the guys at the top to have an opportunity to drive them in.”

The victory brought the Padres back to .500 at 34-34. Right-hander Matt Waldron was outstanding over six innings of one-run ball. He was perfect through four, then escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam with just one run in the fifth.

It was the latest in a dazzling run of starts for Waldron -- dating back to his outing in Arizona last month. The D-backs rocked Waldron for eight runs in three-plus innings that day. Since then, Waldron has posted a 1.78 ERA

“I’m trying to grab something from each outing and take it into the next one and just keep it rolling, give our guys a chance to win,” Waldron said. “It’s easier to pitch when you’re up by seven.”

Indeed, Kim’s three-run homer gave the Padres a 4-0 lead in the second inning. Cronenworth’s three-run blast made it 7-0 in the fourth. The Padres put up four-spots in the second, fourth and fifth innings.

Afterward, Shildt amended his pregame thoughts ever so slightly. In some ways, he said, there’s a balance between average and slugging. And in some ways, the two play in concert with each other -- one tough at-bat, blending into the next, until it’s finally time for that big swing.

“It just wears guys down,” Shildt said of his team’s approach. “You’re likely to get more mistakes. And the more mistakes you get, the more damage you do. It’s definitely all part of the offensive machine.”