August 11, 2022

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What to watch for as Padres hit the road

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SAN DIEGO — Successful homestand for the Padres, all things considered, even if the ending left a particularly bitter taste.

San Diego dropped two of three against the rival Dodgers over the weekend, including a 10-2 defeat on Sunday afternoon in the series finale at Petco Park as Sean Manaea had his first hiccup since joining the Padres. Here are four major storylines from a 6-4 opening homestand:

1. The defense is good; the Padres need it to be
It took 17 games for the Padres to commit their first error of the season — a modern-era record (since 1901). It’s probably not a coincidence that when they finally faltered defensively, they endured their worst defeat of the homestand.

“We haven’t played a sloppy game like that across the board this year,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It doesn’t feel good. But you move on.”

Ha-Seong Kim dropped a Manny Machado flip for a potential double play in the first inning, leading to an unearned run. Jake Cronenworth kicked a grounder in the sixth, which led to another. While their offense struggles, the Padres have little room for blunders like those.

Again, those mistakes have been exceedingly rare this season. For the most part, the Padres have won games because of their steady defense, helping take the burden off their pitching staff in the process.

2. This lineup has a few too many holes
Machado has been his usual productive self at the plate. But consider this: Outside of Machado, the Padres’ two most impactful offensive players have been Eric Hosmer and Jurickson Profar, perhaps the lineup’s two biggest question marks entering the season.

And yet, the offense remains mired in a season-long funk. The Padres scored just six runs in 28 innings against the Dodgers over the weekend. They also placed designated hitter Luke Voit on the injured list with a biceps issue.

“I try to look at it from a positive angle that we’re still winning some games without the offense,” Melvin said. “I really believe it’s going to come.”

3. Gore’s emergence creates a rotation puzzle
Late last season, the Padres often didn’t know who would be starting for them, because, frankly, they didn’t have enough pitchers.

Now, the Padres are again unsure who will be starting for them in the near future. But this time, they have too many.

“I look at it as a good problem to have,” Melvin said. “And typically, things work their way out along the way.”

But Mike Clevinger has been sharp in two Minor League starts and could return to the rotation after what’s slated to be his final rehab outing on Tuesday with El Paso. Blake Snell will begin a rehab stint this week, too.

So where does that leave Gore, if the Padres have all of their rotation weapons healthy and at their disposal? That’s a question for another day — one they’d love to have to answer.

4 The Abrams question
C.J. Abrams, the Padres’ top prospect, opened the homestand in style, with his first career home run in his first at-bat at Petco Park. But he finished it batting just .143 on the season.

The Padres have every reason to believe in Abrams, long term. His upside remains sky high, and he has carried himself like he belongs in the big leagues. His defense has been steady, and his speed elite. But Abrams has often looked overmatched at the plate.

“He’s working hard,” Melvin said. “It’s [up and down]. That’s what you expect from a younger player. At some point in time, he’ll get on a hot streak, and you’ll really see what he’s all about.”

Really, what other choice does Melvin have than to throw his full support behind Abrams? Kim is struggling too, hitting just .182, and there are no obvious replacements in the Minors.

Still, Abrams played only 76 professional games prior to this year. He sat twice against the Dodgers this weekend, and it’s reasonable to wonder whether his development is being altered without regular Minor League at-bats.

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