The San Diego Padres are getting to where they want to be little by little, but now they must find ways to step up in the most critical of situations.
San Diego’s team of August 2017 barely resembles last year’s assemblage on opening day. The average age has fallen from 28.1 years to 26.6 years, making the Padres, along with the Philadelphia Phillies, the youngest teams in baseball. Over the course of the season, this young team has come together and taken at least baby steps in the right direction.
At 52 wins, the Padres have four teams (the Giants, Reds, Phillies and White Sox) ahead of them in the race for worst record and highest draft picks. Last year, the team’s best month was June when they went 13 and 13. But this year the Padres actually had a .560 winning percentage in July and even won a series against the Indians, who lead the American League Central.
Rookies Austin Hedges, 24; Manuel Margot, 22; Hunter Renfroe, 25, and Carlos Asuaje, 25, all look like they belong in the big leagues and have shown improvement during the course of the season. The same can be said for rookie pitchers Dinelson Lamet, 25, Phil Maton, 24 and Kyle McGrath, 25. Even Rule-5 draftees Luis Torrens, 21, and Allen Cordoba, 21, have shown they have talent. Pitcher Miguel Diaz, 22, the third Rule-5 pick, has been on the disabled list since June 23 with those dreaded three words-right forearm strain.
The current team has outperformed last year’s roster in home runs as well as triples per game and sacrifice flies. More important they have been shutout five times this year so far, as opposed to 15 times last year.
Assorted pundits and the Padres’ front office expect the team to actually contend in 2020, and the rookies and other young players on the team now would be in their prime at that time. According to baseball writer and historian Bill James, “If you must assign a five-year peak period to all players regardless of description, the best shot would be 25 to 29.”
Although the team has made baby steps, these young players must improve in many offensive categories, (including walks, strikeouts, runners left on base, and working the count) to ever reach .500, let alone complete. With runners in scoring position, they have had varying success: Margot .208, Hedges .257, Renfroe .154, Asuaje .278. Broadcaster Tony Gwynn Jr. has singled out Asuaje and praised his professional approach at the plate, especially not chasing pitches out of the strike zone.
Rookie starting pitcher Lamet is 6 and 4 with a 5.00 ERA, his worst starts occurring at Chase Field and Coors Field, both considered hitters parks. Second-year starter Luis Perdomo (6 -7) has also performed better in venues outside Arizona and Colorado, but he has progressed from a 5.71 ERA and 1.59 WHIP last year to a 4.95 ERA with slightly better 1.52 WHIP. Both, however, need to pitch deeper into ball games.
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The entire team must step up and perform in situations like the one that presented itself in Sunday’s finale with the Dodgers. L.A. led 6-4 in the eighth inning when Manuel Margot led off with a double, and Cory Spangenberg’s groundout got him to third, where he stayed. With one out and a runner on third, the batters absolutely must get the run home. Instead, Jose Pirela struck out and Yangervis Solarte grounded out.
The clubhouse camaraderie has reportedly improved substantially over that of last year. The Padres “Core Four” of Margot, Hedges, Renfroe, and Asuaje, played together for the El Paso team that won the organization’s first Pacific Coast League championship against the Dodgers’ affiliate, Oklahoma City.
As the 26-year-old Spangenberg (a veritable grizzled veteran with four years of experience) told Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union Tribune, “We have a core group of young guys who I think are going to do great things.”