Believe it or not, the 2020 MLB season is nearly 20% over with already. Well, at least it is for the teams that haven’t had games postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
In any event, it’s not too soon to start differentiating between teams that are contenders and teams that are pretenders. The San Diego Padres were one of the teams that began the season on the fence like Mr. Feeny. The Padres have felt like they've been in a perpetual rebuild — even after spending big money over the past few winters.
Ahead of the season, it was still a little unclear San Diego would be ready in 2020. However, the early returns have been positive for the Friars. The Padres look like a team that’s ready to contend in 2020, potentially challenging the Los Angeles Dodgers as both the kings of the NL West and the best team in the National League.
The Offense Is Clicking
The biggest reason why the Padres look like contenders early in 2020 is their offense has been hot out of the gate. As of Aug. 4, the Padres lead the majors in runs scored. Granted, not every team has played an equal number of games, but the Padres are still one of the most potent offensive teams through the first 12 games of the season.
Wil Myers has also had a strong start to the season and looks to be coming into his own after a couple of subpar seasons the past two years.
The amazing thing about the Padres leading the majors in runs scored is the San Diego lineup isn’t close to full strength. Eric Hosmer has played in just three games because of a stomach ailment that has put him on the IL. Manny Machado has had an unimpressive start to the campaign and is still not living up to his massive contract. The Padres are also getting next to nothing from their two young catchers or second baseman Jurickson Profar.
If the Padres get Hosmer back in the lineup or get Machado or Profar to heat up at any point, San Diego’s lineup could be even more dangerous than it is now.
Their Surprise Contributors
The biggest reason why the Padres have thrived without Hosmer or Machado contributing as expected is that they are getting significant help from other players. Center fielder Trent Grisham has been arguably the team’s best offensive player this season. He was something of a mystery when the Padres acquired him from Milwaukee over the winter. But Grisham is in the midst of having a breakout campaign, already hitting four home runs and posting an OPS over 1.000.
Meanwhile, infielder Jake Cronenworth has been a pleasant surprise while filling in at first base for Hosmer. Despite not hitting any homers yet, the rookie is batting .357 with an OPS of 1.114 through the first five games of his big league career.
Getting surprise contributions from players like Grisham and Cronenworth has helped the Padres surpass expectations early in the season. If those young players can continue to contribute — especially if Hosmer and Machado eventually come around — it will help the Padres remain legitimate contenders in the NL West.
The speed department is one area where the Padres are blowing away the competition. As of Aug. 4, San Diego had stolen a league-high 17 bases. The next closest team is the Seattle Mariners, who have 10 stolen bases. Perhaps more importantly, the Padres have had just two unsuccessful steal attempts. Tommy Pham, another offseason acquisition, is setting the tone for San Diego by stealing five bases in just 11 games. Seven other players have at least one stolen bases this year, with Tatis swiping three bases.
Speed is often a forgotten metric in today’s game. However, for teams that have it, speed can be a useful way to steal extra runs. It’s undoubtedly been a factor in the Padres leading the majors in runs scored.
Being able to steal bases and tack on an extra run or two late in games can sometimes be the difference between a win and a loss. In a shortened season, every win is far more valuable than it is during a normal 162-game season. That gives the Padres a distinct advantage over other teams if they can continue to use their killer speed.
The Holy Triumvirate
The numbers say that San Diego’s rotation is a little above average, at best. There is still a question or two at the back end of the rotation. However, there’s no denying that the Padres have an outstanding trio leading the way with Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards. Paddack continues to pitch like a certified ace, proving last year’s breakout campaign was no fluke. Through his first three starts, he’s won two games and is rocking a 2.65 ERA. Lamet has looked even better early in the year, blowing hitters away and giving Paddack a run for his money as the team’s top starter. Finally, there is little doubt that Richards is a frontline starter as long as he can stay healthy.
Keep in mind that eight teams from each league will reach the playoffs. The triumvirate of talented pitchers is good enough to make the Padres one of those eight playoff teams in the NL.
More importantly, sending Paddack, Lamet and Richards to the mound in a postseason series will give the Padres a serious chance of advancing, especially if they can continue to score runs at a high rate.
Padres Potential in the Pen
At the moment, the San Diego bullpen has been the team’s biggest weakness this season. Outside of Drew Pomeranz, the Padres haven’t been able to get any semblance of consistency from their relievers. That’s been a surprise based on how the Padres' bullpen looked on paper heading into the season. However, a struggling bullpen has not yet held the Padres back from keeping pace atop the NL West or looking like a serious contender.
It’s reasonable to expect an improved performance from the San Diego bullpen moving forward. Closer Kirby Yates is a lot better than he’s shown this season after leading the National League in saves last year. The same is true for the likes of Emilio Pagan, Matt Strahm and Craig Stammen. Once a couple of those guys hit their stride, the Padres will have a bullpen that isn’t going to give away many leads.
Until then, San Diego’s offense and frontline starters are enough to keep the Padres competitive. However, when the bullpen comes around and the last piece of the puzzle is in place, the Padres are going to start to look like a serious World Series contender. With roughly 80% of the season left to play, it could only be a matter of time until the Padres are considered among the best teams in baseball.
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