San Diego Padres 2021 Off to a Roller Coaster Start

Padres Start

The start of this year’s San Diego Padres season was quite a ride. Even though the first five games were full of ups and downs, the Padres are off to a solid start. 

The Padres snagged three of four games from the Arizona Diamondbacks and dropped the first game of the second series to the San Francisco Giants. Their record so far sits at 3-2. Yes, there are still 157 games left, but here are five takeaways from the first five games of the season. 

Every Padre Has a Role to Play

The biggest storyline from San Diego’s spring training was the versatility of their lineup. Nearly every position player can play multiple positions, fill any spot in the lineup and step up to the plate (literally and figuratively) when necessary. The Padres’ multi-talented roster was on full display during the opening weekend, even without much contributions from their two biggest stars. 

It all started with Opening Day. Three Padres stepped up in clutch moments to lift San Diego over Arizona, 8-7 — Wil Myers, Jake Cronenworth, and Victor Caratini.

Down by one in the first, Myers faced Madison Bumgarner in a nine-pitch battle that resulted in a walk. Caratini laced a two-run single to center with the bases loaded to bring home two. He added another RBI single in the third inning, and Myers crushed a solo home run. Tied 7-7 in the seventh, Cronenworth smacked a triple off the right field wall and scored the winning run off a sac fly from Jurickson Profar. 

Offense-less Stars

Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. combined went 1-for-10 on Opening Day. 

Friday night’s battle looked similar. The middle of the lineup produced four runs to lead the team to a 4-2 victory. Even the young speedster Jorge Mateo contributed to the offense with a pair of hits. 

Heading into Game 3 on Saturday night, Machado and Tatis were a combined 1-for-15. Tatis had a few strikeouts, but Machado had some hard-hit balls that found Diamondbacks gloves rather than open field space. Manny’s bat finally woke up; he went 3-for-4 with a home run. But again it was the 6-7-8 hitters that carried the Padres. Ha-Seong Kim had a pair of hits––his first in the big leagues––and Wil Myers doubled twice to drive in three runs of his own. San Diego dominated with a 7-0 shutout. 

The Padres couldn’t quite clinch the series sweep, and their offense couldn’t quite rally over the D’Backs on Sunday. They lost 3-1, despite Tatis crushing his first home run in the bottom of the ninth. 

All of this goes to show that the Padres have tremendous depth, and they’re not afraid to use it. When the offensive stars aren’t performing, other Friars will find a way to get on base, score runs, and win ball games.

Unfortunately, the bench might see much more action than ever intended this spring. During the third inning of Monday night’s game against the Giants, Tatis took a violent hack at a pitch that dislocated his left shoulder. He dropped to the ground immediately, grimacing in pain as he walked off the field. If he is sidelined with an injury that requires surgery, Kim, Mateo, and maybe even minor leaguers Brian O’Grady or CJ Abrams could fill in at shortstop. 

Last Season’s Plate Approach Carried Over to ‘21

Perhaps the story of the San Diego Padres’ start is how disciplined they are at the plate. 

Through the first three games, they worked each Diamondback starter up to an inadmissible number of pitches. Madison Bumgarner had 73, Merrill Kelly had 67 and Caleb Smith had 79 all before the fourth inning. They are second in the league in walks with 27 and full counts with 36. Their 16 walks following counts with two strikes rank just behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

These stats may seem meticulous, and it may be ridiculous to mention them just five games into the season. 

It’s important to note that the plate adjustments the Padres made last season have carried over. Out is the team who, from 2014-2019, was the worst in the majors offensively. In is the team that can grind down starting pitchers, lay off close pitches in the zone, and battle with two strikes.

Tingler’s Method to Managing Madness

After the 60-game sprint that was 2020, teams are gearing up for the 162-game marathon in 2021. Players will remember fairly quickly how laborious that can be––especially with the Padres start this year with 24 games in the first 25 days of the season. 

As much of a physical challenge this is for the players, it’s a mental maze for managers. When to pull their aces, which arms to use from the bullpen, how far to stretch their closers, where to place their bench players––these are all pieces to the puzzle. Throughout the opening weekend, San Diego’s manager Jayce Tingler showed that there is in fact, a method to the madness. 

In the first two games, he pulled aces Yu Darvish and Blake Snell before each of their fifth innings due to high pitch counts. He used several relievers for the middle innings which set up perfectly for the closer by committee opportunities for Emilio Pagan and Mark Melancon on back-to-back nights. After six scoreless innings in Game 3, he called upon Ryan Weathers to close out the game, which reset the bullpen and allowed a day’s rest for the string of relievers. 

Tingler received some backlash for many of these moves. He responded with some insight into his long-term plan. “Our goal is to be the best team at the end,” Tingler said. “That means using our depth. That means keeping our guys sharp, fresh, as crisp as we can … You want to stay disciplined. You’re trying to think big picture.”

Hosmer Off to a Hot Start

Maybe we should start telling first baseman Eric Hosmer that every day is Opening Day. Last year’s season opener saw Hosmer plate six RBI with three hits. This year, he went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI. 

Hosmer’s hot streak continued Friday night. He hit a two-run home run and drove in another run with a single in the seventh. Of the 12 runs the Padres had scored by the end of Game 2, six of them came from Hosmer’s bat. His 13 total bases through two games were the most in franchise history. 

As one of the older players on the Padres roster, Hosmer is a leader. He knows how to stay disciplined at the plate, stay in his zone and drive base hits with runnings in scoring position. For the second time in his career, he won NL Player of the Week

Starting Rotation Anchored by Hometown Hero

The top two Padre arms, Darvish and Snell, both pitched fairly well during the San Diego Padres’ start to the season. Chris Paddack performed about as well as expected––he’s the Padres’ weakest link in the starting rotation. On Monday, Adrian Morejon made his first start with the Padres. If the night wasn’t overshadowed by Tatis’ injury, we might have been able to relish his outing a bit more, but overall it was a decent start for the 22-year old southpaw. He allowed five hits, two home runs, a walk, and struck out two in four innings. 

Yet the best pitcher on the bump during the Opening weekend was the hometown hero Joe Musgrove. He shut out the Diamondbacks over six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out eight in just 78 pitches. His entire family was in the stands watching him don No. 44 in the Padres’ brown and gold for the first time.

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Players Mentioned

Wil Myers, Jake Cronenworth, Victor Caratini, Jurickson Profar, Madison Bumgarner, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jorge Mateo, Ha-Seong Kim, Brian O’Grady, CJ Abrams, Merrill Kelly, Caleb Smith, Jayce Tingler, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Emilio Pagan, Mark Melancon, Ryan Weathers, Chris Paddack, Joe Musgrove, Eric Hosmer, Adrian Morejon

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