Kevin Acee: There is plenty the Padres must fix — and enough time to do so

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — Memorial Day weekend has passed, and the Padres are dreadful.

What is this, 2018?

No, it’s not that bad.

The Padres are 24-29. So the $246 million team is two games better than the $102 million team was 53 games in.

Let that sink in. The Padres finished 66-96 in 2018.

But this season has not reached the point where the standings tell the whole story. As poorly as the Padres have played, there can be little debate a team with Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. atop the lineup has a better outlook over the next four months than one with Travis Jankowski, Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer and Hunter Renfroe batting 1, 2, 3, 4 most games.

It is ludicrous to think the Padres, who at present are closer to the bottom of the National League standings than they are to a wild-card playoff spot, can’t get right and get in the playoffs.

Their current record is identical to that of the Phillies in 2022, is one game worse than the 2021 Braves, two games better than the 2019 Nationals and one game worse than the 2018 Dodgers when those teams were 53 games in. All of those teams made the World Series. The Braves and Nationals won. The Braves were under .500 on Aug. 4, 109 games into the ’21 season.

At least one team that had a losing record 53 games into a season has made the playoffs every year since 2012. Bob Melvin’s 2012 A’s were 23-30. The 2013 Dodgers were also 23-30. Four teams that were below .500 at the 53-game mark made the postseason in 2014.

The reality, too, is that the National League is full of mediocre teams. There are six playoff spots available and just six teams presently with winning records. The Padres are one of five teams within 3½ games of the final playoff berth.

One-third of the season having been played means two-thirds of the season remain.

The whole lot of this so-far-sorry bunch of Padres players has not forgotten how to play baseball at the level they previously played the game.

But things have to change.

There will be a time for questions. Many of them will start with, “A.J., why did you …” Several will be directed at the guys pocketing so much of Peter Seidler’s (and fans’) money. Some can be asked of Melvin and his staff. (Well, not actually asked of the coaching staff, because Seidler and Preller don’t let them speak publicly about baseball matters.)

But because there is still time for this team to be better, let’s talk about what has to be better.


The Padres have not won more than three games in a row and have done that just three times.

They only recently have begun hitting more consistently. And only a little more.

They had nine hits on Thursday and again Friday and then totaled eight in their past two games. Major league teams are averaging eight hits per game this season The Padres have had more than seven hits in at three consecutive games just one time, and two of those games were in Mexico City. (The 27-27 Mets have done it four times. The 28-26 Giants have done it six times. The 10-45 A’s have done it three times and once did it — gasp! — five games in a row.)

When it counts

The Padres’ .324 on-base percentage with the bases empty is sixth highest in the major leagues.

Their .303 OBP with runners on is second lowest. Their .205 batting average with runners on base is lowest in MLB by 22 points.

Any analysis should just end here. A team can’t win this way.

Make it happen

This is closely related to the above category, but it deserves its own special place in the documenting of the Padres’ hell.

The Padres are batting an MLB-low (by a lot) .178 with a runner at third base and less than two outs. They have 97 such plate appearances and have done something even somewhat productive just 37 times (13 hits, 12 sacrifice flies, nine walks, two sacrifice bunts and one hit by pitch).

This failure might be more destructive than their MLB-low (by a lot) .185 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Combined with their paltry home run totals (1.04 per game, 12th lowest in MLB) until the past eight games (two per game, highest in MLB), being unable to string together hits is the main culprit in this team’s struggles.

Black holes

A supposedly vaunted lineup has instead been vacuous.

Plenty of blame — arguably the bulk of it — rests on the shoulders of Machado and Bogaerts. When a ridiculous amount of money is put in a man’s hands, ridiculous expectations are put on his shoulders.

But a winning team has to get contributions from throughout the lineup far more often than what Trent Grisham (.188 average, .667 OPS), the two primary catchers (.144, .451) and the two primary designated hitters (.161, .661).

Gary Sánchez was claimed off waivers Monday, the first of what might be multiple machinations made by President of Baseball Operations A.J. Preller over the next several weeks. Sanchez has more power potential than Nola or Sullivan, but he has since the start of the 2020 season batted .195 with a .679 OPS.

Among the players getting the bulk of at-bats in the bottom five spots in the order – so more than half of the batters in a given game — only Ha-Seong Kim (.242) is hitting batter than .215.

Man oh Manny

It hasn’t helped the Padres that Machado has missed the past 11⅔ games with a fractured bone in his left hand. But it arguably has not hurt all that much, given that he is batting .231 with a .654 OPS and five home runs. The Padres are 5-7 and are scoring nearly a half-run more per game without him.

This just can’t be true. But it is.

The man has essentially carried the Padres for large parts of both of their playoff seasons since he arrived. He entered 2023 with an .837 OPS over the previous 10 seasons. He has hit at least 32 home runs in six of the past seven full seasons.

From the start of this season through the end of 2033, Machado will make $350 million. He was guaranteed that money with the Padres’ knowing the final few years of the contract could provide a dismal return. He needs to perform now.

Not X-actly right

Bogaerts has been playing hurt for at least the past three weeks and is batting .194 with a .549 OPS in that time.

He had, however, cooled considerably in the two weeks before that. (In fact, he was worse.)

Much like Machdo, the Padres need Bogaerts to make a contract that pays him $25 million a year through his age-40 season worth it in the next few years.

Soto has a .422 on-base percentage. Soto has batted .344 with a 1.167 OPS over the past 27 games but was certainly not himself the first month of the season. But even just his consistent ability to get on base might be viewed differently were Bogaerts batting better than .138 (8-for-58) when Soto has been on base.

Jake, time to rake

There is a lot Cronenworth brings to the Padres.

He has played a solid first base and a generally magnificent second base. He ranks third on the team in RBIs, runs and total bases.

He has to bring a little more.

He is batting .215 with a .732 OPS and is on track to be merely a 2.4 WAR player. That’s barely above average and projects to be the worst of his career (aside from the 1.6 WAR he had in the 60-game 2020 season).

Relatively mild El Niño

Tatis has hit nine home runs in 142 at-bats since his return on April 20. That is better than one every 16 at-bats and is 22nd best in the majors in that span.

But he is batting just .246 with a .294 on-base percentage. Those are well off his career numbers of .293 and .369 entering the season.

He did not play in 2022. So it might actually be remarkable that he is doing this well already. But the Padres need better.

Where it starts

The Padres have nine fewer quality starts than they did at this point last season.

But does that really matter? The Padres are just 12-10 in games in which their starter went at least six innings and allowed no more than three earned runs. Worse, they are 2-3 in games in which a starting pitcher has gone at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer runs.

However, the starting rotation has appeared vulnerable at times. That includes recently.

In 11 starts since May 13, starters not named Michael Wacha have a 7.21 ERA. Wacha has allowed two runs in 20 innings in his three starts in that span, while the only other quality starts in that time were one apiece by Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove.

Just win

Multiple people inside the organization and others close to some players began saying in late April that fissures were forming in the clubhouse.

Here’s the thing: Even if everyone isn’t getting along all the time, it just shouldn’t matter.

To think that all winning teams (or any winning teams) don’t have disagreements or some clashing personalities is grossly naive.

Countless teammates on championship teams have been less than friendly. What needs to happen is that there is enough leadership and enough selflessness to become a team that does the little things in addition to the big things.

To be clear, the severity of any current issues should not be exaggerated. There were similar whispers last summer. Yet the Padres hovered around .500 and then started winning regularly.

Losing creates cracks. Winning fixes everything.