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MX News Update 2024

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A stabilizing rotation, a shaky bullpen, a searching Xander Bogaerts: 3 Padres takeaways

Attendance records fell this weekend as the San Diego Padres made other forms of pseudohistory. Sunday’s 4-0 win was their first shutout against the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2018. It gave a fourth straight series victory for the Padres (22-21), who had not won four straight series since 2021. San Diego improved to 5-3 against Los Angeles and announced a combined attendance of 133,970 – including a single-game record of 46,701 on Saturday – setting a new benchmark for a three-game series at Petco Park.

Here are three takeaways from these three games.

The starting pitching could be stabilizing

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, San Diego is the first team since at least 1893 to record four consecutive starts of at least five innings and have two or fewer hits allowed. The streak started Wednesday at Wrigley Field with seven dominant innings from Dylan Cease; continued Friday with Michael King’s most impressive start as a Padre; continued Saturday as Matt Waldron worked around minimal walking support; and culminated in a very encouraging performance on Sunday.

Yu Darvish, 37, struckout seven batters over seven two-hit innings. He made his third start back on the injured list and extended his individual scoreless streak to a career-high 18 innings. He retired the first 14 batters he faced, reached a season high of 96.4 mph and reached 95 mph 19 times. (He had entered the game having made just 19 such pitches in his first seven starts.) After striking out Will Smith to end the top of the sixth, the typically stoic Darvish showed as much emotion as you’d expect. will see him.

It was an afternoon worth celebrating. And it was the kind of pitching from a starter that explained how the Padres won two of three games despite allowing a six-run total.

The final matches those three starts: 19 1/3 IP, six hits, two earned runs, six walks, 24 strikeouts. In the Padres’ past six meetings with the premier offense in baseball, Los Angeles was held to an average of 3.5 runs per match. (The Dodgers still lead the majors with an overall average of 5.2 runs per game.)

Just over a week ago, there was a lot of uncertainty hanging over San Diego’s rotation after Joe Musgrove went on the injured list with right elbow inflammation. Some uncertainty remains, and a series of sub-par outings could cloud the outlook – and increase the potential need for external reinforcements. As a group, the Padres starting pitchers still rank in the middle of the pack in ERA and adjusted ERA. Much remains dependent on the health of Darvish and Musgrove.

A continued return to the form Darvish showed in 2022 (3.10 ERA, 194 2/3 innings) would provide a welcome margin of error. Crunchier offense and all, the Padres will only go as far as their starting pitching takes them.

The bullpen has become a more pressing issue

Padres closer and fastball machine Robert Suarez pitched twice in the series. Both times he climbed the hill in a less than safe situation. More than a quarter of the way through the season, the rest of the bullpen remains largely unreliable.

For example, in the top of the sixth inning on Saturday, manager Mike Shildt brought in Adrian Morejon for what felt like a well-deserved opportunity. The Padres were down 1-0, and it was one on and one out. According to some statistics, Morejon had even thrown better than Suarez this season.

Then, after inducing a flyout, Morejon made a balk, walked a batter, threw a wild pitch and walked again. Shildt pulled Morejon there, after the minimum three batters, and watched right-hander Enyel De Los Santos serve a grand slam. It was the third homerun off De Los Santos in three appearances.

“The biggest worry is the walks,” Shildt said later. “Listen, the home runs are going to happen; we don’t like them. But…you put yourself in danger with the walks.”

Overall, free passes haven’t been a crippling problem; the Padres bullpen has the ninth-lowest walk rate in the majors. But a half-inning Saturday reinforced the staff’s lack of reliable weapons to set up Suarez. Shildt’s other high-leverage options appear to consist of pitchers with good stats but limited track records at these spots (Morejon, for example); more experienced relievers who may be better suited to middle relief (e.g. De Los Santos, Wandy Peralta); and young players with little big league experience (for example, Jeremiah Estrada).

Shildt may not have much choice but to test Estrada in later innings. The right-hander has not shown great command at any level, but his raw qualities are arguably among the best in the game. At the higher levels of their farm system, the Padres may see utility in relievers like Jayvien Sandridge, Alek Jacob and Matt Festa. Still, it seems unlikely that either of these weapons will emerge as a high-leverage weapon in the near future, and Tom Cosgrove has fallen down the depth chart after a surprising 2023. San Diego, which has already pulled the trigger on two trades before June, could use more proven help for its bullpen.

Xander Bogaerts is still searching

In the bottom of the fifth inning on Sunday, Bogaerts got a hanging slider and did what a five-time Silver Slugger should do: deposit the ball over the left field wall. The result was still a reminder of what Bogaerts failed to do.

The home run was only his third of the season and his first since April 21. A single in the bottom of the eighth inning raised his average to .211 and his OPS to .565. Bogaerts got both hits with an axe-bat that he has started using as part of his latest attempt to escape a long-term malaise.

“Just do something, you know?” Bogaerts said Saturday after going 0-for-4 with a lineout and a deep catch. “I didn’t hit any balls in the ground. So maybe something I can keep for a while. I used it at some points in the season last year, so I really like the feeling. I think, ‘Why not right now.’”


On Sunday, Xander Bogaerts rode his first run since April 25. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Popularized by Dodgers star Mookie Betts, the Ax bat is a favorite of Padres players like Jake Cronenworth, Luis Campusano and Ha-Seong Kim. Some hitters believe it improves their bat speed and power. Bogaerts seems to be lagging behind in both departments this season. Sunday’s solo shot brought his first exit speed of at least 107 miles per hour since April 12. He started his 41st game of the season among the bottom 6 percent of the majors in average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage.

With teammates like Cronenworth, Campusano and Jurickson producing Profar, the Padres have been able to hide some of Bogaerts’ ineffectiveness by batting him sixth. But the offense will remain limited until Bogaerts and other highly paid stars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado are starting to get much closer to their career standards. Tatis, who hit his eighth homerun on Sunday, and Machado certainly made hard contact. (Machado’s OPS is down to .653, but his average exit velocity is noticeably higher this month.)

Bogaerts, meanwhile, is still looking for more consistency than isolated bursts of energy production. The Padres need him to find it quickly, in part because their healthy depth could have taken a slight hit; Kim, who has also struggled in attack, is day in and day out after taking a 90mph throw off his left wrist.

(Top photo by Yu Darvish: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)