PITTSBURGH — The Padres’ offense, for most of the season’s first month, did just enough to get by.
No, it wasn’t a particularly balanced attack. It wasn’t particularly explosive either. But Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar did just enough at the plate to complement the team’s outstanding pitching and defense. That’s all it took for the Padres to hang around the top of the National League West, despite an underperforming offense.
So, what happens when the rest of those bats get going? Looks like the Padres are starting to find out.
San Diego reeled off its fourth straight win on Friday night, a convincing 7-3 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park. Hosmer, Machado and Profar are still doing their part. But the bulk of the contributions came from elsewhere on Friday.
“It was probably a matter of time before a lot of these guys got going at the same time,” said manager Bob Melvin. “And then, if you time it right, you’re getting three or four guys in the lineup swinging the bat well, and that’s just enough to win games.”
Lately, it’s been more than three or four.
Jake Cronenworth started slowly. But he homered on Friday and has reached base at a .355 clip over his last seven games.
Ha-Seong Kim also started slowly. He homered Friday, too, and has raised his OPS by 300 points on this road trip alone.
“Seemingly if somebody doesn’t drive that guy in with nobody out, then the next guy does,” Cronenworth said. “Bob says it all the time. It’s about finding ways to win games right now. It’s up and down the order, guys are contributing from one to nine.”
On Friday, it was the eighth and ninth spots in the lineup that got things started. Pirates right-hander Zach Thompson breezed through the Padres’ first seven hitters, before Trayce Thompson, making his first start since he’d signed as a Minor League free agent in March, grinded out an eight-pitch walk.
A few moments later, Kim got a middle-middle fastball from Thompson and sent it into the left-field seats, his third homer in six games. There might not be a single breakout more welcome than Kim’s, considering how badly the Padres need production at shortstop. He’s suddenly thriving with more regular playing time.
“As a hitter, knowing you’ve got the trust from your coaching staff, your manager, that [comforts me], lets me do my own thing [during the] at-bat, instead of thinking I might get pulled the next inning if I don’t get good results,” Kim said. “Just knowing that Bob Melvin trusts me helped me a lot and led to more comfortable, good at-bats.”
Kim’s homer erased an early two-run deficit, after the Pirates had gotten to starter Yu Darvish for two runs in the first. The veteran right-hander settled in for six innings of three-run ball, faltering only in the fifth inning after he was drilled by a comebacker — 105.9 mph off the bat of Ke’Bryan Hayes.
Darvish said he was fine (and in the moment even tried to wave away trainers who wanted to check on him). But he would allow a run in the inning, as Pittsburgh cut the deficit to one. The Padres’ suddenly deep offense had an answer. Nola doubled, putting two men in scoring position for Thompson, who was all over a 3-2 slider from Pirates reliever Heath Hembree.
“It just feels good to help the team win, that’s it,” said Thompson, who was called up Thursday with a serious chance for some playing time while Wil Myers and Luke Voit are on the IL. “That mentality has helped me succeed in the past. So I’ll just take that in here, try to help these guys win as many games as possible.”
It was a month and a half ago that president of baseball operations A.J. Preller placed a three-month timetable on the return of superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who had fractured a bone in his left wrist. That very day, Melvin delivered a message to his team.
“It should motivate us to hold down the fort until he gets back,” Melvin said at the time.
The Padres are holding down that fort. It was always going to take a collective effort to do so. And lately, that’s exactly what they’ve gotten.