Lunch Break with Mark Whelan: Padres’ End of Days


Yasmani Grandal does slide sometimes. Just not on Sunday. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Things are coming to a crux. These are the days that will define the Padres for the rest of the season, perhaps longer. Decisions will be made. Changes will come. And it will happen sooner rather than later.

When the big bosses say they are unhappy, and that changes are “imminent” if things don’t turn around quickly, the employees quickly begin to show their character. The people who step up are likely to stick around; the ones who fold under the pressure are more likely to be shown the door.

In case you were away from your favorite Padres news source the last few days, you’re aware the Padres CEO and President Mike Dee said in an interview Friday that he was unhappy with the Padres play this season, and that changes would be coming if things didn’t change soon. Also on Friday, Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler was reported as writing in an email that waiting for the team to turn around was becoming “less appealing as the ugly losses continue.”

The series against the Mets turned into a testing ground for the team to prove its worthiness of employment. Unfortunately, they lost two of three, and Sunday’s loss was particularly ugly. There were several key plays in the series that are likely to be scrutinized by the front office.

In Friday’s first inning, Will Venable and Everth Cabrera reached base. With Carlos Quentin at the plate, we saw Venable and Cabrera attempt a double steal, a rarity for the Padres this year. Good aggressive baserunning – that’s good, right? It’s hard to say, because Quentin swung at the pitch, lofting an easy fly ball for an out. Venable slid headfirst into third base, indicating that this wasn’t a hit-and-run; he was simply not expecting Quentin to swing at that pitch. The baserunners managed to return to their bases safely, but if I were Mike Dee, I would want to know what happened on that play. Was it a straight double steal, and should Quentin have taken the pitch? Was it a hit-and-run and Venable made a mental mistake by sliding? Did Glenn Hoffman not relay to Venable that the ball had been hit? Did someone miss their assignment? The answers to those questions will let us know if it was a communication error by the coaches, performance error(s) by the players, or some combination of the two.

Venable was involved in another baserunning incident Sunday. After leading off the game with a walk, he tried to go from first to third on a sacrifice bunt, and was thrown out by a good five feet. This appeared to be a very aggressive baserunning play that, if successful, could have lit a fire under the team. It turned out to be overly aggressive, and left the team with nobody on base instead of a man on second with one out. But we are generally much more forgiving of players trying too hard than we are of those not trying hard enough. Venable showed he’s willing to put himself out on a limb to help get the team going. That’s the kind of leadership that has been lacking on this team.

Late in Sunday’s game, we saw the other extreme. Alexi Amarista first made a mental blunder. He hit a line shot to the left side, and broke quickly out of the batter’s box. He looked up and saw that the shortstop had made the play, and stopped with the look that many players have on their faces when they’ve just smoked a ball that’s been caught. The problem was, the ball wasn’t caught. The shortstop dropped it, and Amarista’s failure to run hard all the way to first probably cost him a base hit and the Padres a much-needed baserunner in a game they trailed 3-1.

While this wasn’t the kind of play that players are proud of, it was somewhat understandable. And Amarista’s effort has never really been called into question. Bud Black did give him an earful after the play, though. But Amarista’s blunder is mentioned primarily to set the scene for what came next.

Yasmani Grandal came to the plate as a pinch-hitter. Grandal has already lost his job as the starting catcher to Rene Rivera, as a result of Rivera’s superiority behind the plate, Rivera’s surprisingly good hitting, and Grandal’s lack of any kind of success at the plate this year. Grandal dropped a soft liner into right center field for a single, and was on first when Venable hit a custom-made double play grounder to second. Inexplicably, Grandal, rather than sliding into second to break up the double play, turned to his left about 15 feet from second base and started trotting back toward the dugout. The shortstop bobbled the throw, and dropped the ball. He retrieved it, picked it up, and stepped on second base. Grandal never made it to second base. And this happened right after Amarista’s baserunning mistake. So instead of Grandal saying “I’m going to try even harder to help pick up my teammate,” he apparently thought “What’s the point, we’re not going to win any way.” And that’s the difference between a good clubhouse guy and one that puts himself before the team.

In the post-game interview, Black gave reasons for both Amarista’s and Grandal’s plays, saying that neither was due to a lack of effort. Black has never thrown a player under the bus, and that’s one reason he will be in high demand after the Padres fire him. But ironically, Grandal’s play might just be the play that ends up getting him fired.