Welcome back, Padres, and if you’re one of their weary relievers, please, put your feet up for a bit.
The Padres will christen a seven-game homestand on Thursday, saying “hello” to those business travelers from the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs. It’s the last set of games in which Petco Park’s capacity is limited.
With all those open seats, maybe a reliever or two can sit a spell.
What’s clear is that the Padres aren’t shy about swinging open the bullpen gate. What isn’t so concrete is if it’s a sustainable strategy.
For starters, the Padres’ front-line hurlers need to go deeper in games. Save Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, those throwing the first pitch for the Padres are seldom facing batters after the fifth inning.
Instead, it’s manager Jayce Tingler wearing out the grass between the dugout and the mound, an arm stretched toward the sky to signal for relief. And those relievers have been fantastic, a big reason why the Padres are in the three-team tussle for the National League West lead.
But the starting pitching, at some point, has to quit going south. We get it, that the days of complete games and outings that stretch beyond 100 pitches have gone the way of the $5 tickets at Petco.
A.J. Preller, the team’s general manager and an Encinitas resident, hasn’t gotten his money’s worth on a prized acquisition. Yep, we’re looking at you Blake Snell, and one must be under a shell not to see that.
Snell came at a steep price, with Preller surrendering talent and quantity to wrestle him from the Tampa Bay Rays. In addition to the personnel currency, the Padres assumed the $39 million left on Snell’s contract through 2023.
But the dough isn’t the point. Snell’s lack of length is, as he’s reached the sixth inning in just five of his first 11 starts. His ERA is closer to 6.00 than 5.00 and his shoddy command has contributed to high pitch counts before his games’ halfway points. Entering the week, his 31 walks paced the Padres, ditto his eight home runs allowed.
“This has been one of the roughest patches of my career,” said Snell, a former American League Cy Young Award winner.
Snell has company with an up-and-down Chris Paddock and the tag-team combo of Ryan Weathers and Dinelson Lamet. The latter two are restricted because of experience (Weathers) and health (Lamet).
So add it all up and the Padres have two starters they can rely on, and we tip our cap to Darvish and Musgrove. One baffles hitters with an array of 11 pitches and the other one threw the first no-hitter in franchise history.
With the season one-third over, the starters have among the top ERAs in baseball. But they don’t toe the rubber long enough for the relievers to catch their breath.
When the bullpen phone does ring, it’s the precursor to solid outings.
Despite being taxed, the relievers lead the league in ERA, which is good. But they are No. 1 for the most innings pitched, which isn’t so swell.
The Padres were recently trending to having their bullpen produce 713 innings this season, which would be nearly 100 more than their relievers had ever thrown. With 108 games to go, the starters have amassed 250.2 innings and the bullpen 237.2 innings.
That’s working now, but if the Padres seek the glory that comes with making the postseason, something has to give. Raise a hand if you’re thinking those dependable arms in April and May will be dragging come October.
Then again, Preller might work his magic. Maybe he’ll contact the Minnesota Twins and inquire about lefty Taylor Rodgers, if the Twins continue to falter.
Or Preller can bank on his own lefty, Drew Pomeranz, and that his balky elbow will stop revolting.
Closer Mark Melancon has 19 saves and should be bound for the All-Star Game. Others have been all-in, like Emilio Pagan, Craig Stammen, Tim Hill and Austin Adams.
The Padres’ family knows this approach is risky, especially with this season increasing from 60 to 162 games. The starters need not tap out so early, otherwise a Padres summer filled with sunshine could possess a cloud or two.