February 2, 2023

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Padres’ levels of concern for 3 key areas

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This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Padres enter the weekend having lost two straight, and, well, it’s been a while since they’ve had to endure an actual losing streak. Feels a bit strange, doesn’t it?

Before their consecutive losses to the Brewers this week, the Padres hadn’t lost two straight since April 15-16 and have done so only three times all year. They’ve yet to lose three straight.

I thought catcher Austin Nola had a pretty succinct summary of why these Padres have been so good at bouncing back and preventing their struggles from spiraling.

“I mean, you look at the guys we’ve got on the mound for us, and the defense we’ve got behind them, it’s like we’ve got a chance to win every night,” Nola said. “You know you’ve got a good pitcher going, you’ve got a good defense. It’s like, ‘All right, let’s get back out there and play.'”

The Pirates (18-25) come to town for three games over the weekend, giving the Padres plenty of potential for a bounce-back. But their two losses to the Brewers this week did expose a few flaws. Here’s a look at the three biggest issues facing the Padres right now, and the level of concern for each:

The offense isn’t slugging: Only three teams have hit fewer homers than the Padres this season — the A’s, Nationals and Tigers. The Padres’ offense has been mostly solid when it comes to drawing walks and reaching base. But they’re not getting the big hit — which has led to an overabundance of close, low-scoring games. Sure, the Padres are winning a lot of those games. But right now, they’re asking an awful lot of their pitching staff. Luke Voit, Wil Myers, Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham have all posted slugging numbers well below their career averages. Meanwhile, the Padres never did find that outfield upgrade they were looking for during the offseason, and they’re paying for it.

The bullpen has been leaky: At the back end, Taylor Rogers has been untouchable. But the middle innings feel like a tossup these days. As of yet, the Padres haven’t had a reliever emerge as a reliable bridge to Rogers. At various points this season, Luis García, Robert Suarez, Steven Wilson and Craig Stammen have all looked capable. But they haven’t done so consistently enough. The Padres’ 3.57 bullpen ERA and 3.78 FIP both fall in the middle of the pack — but that’s a bit deceiving. Those numbers should be better, considering how well the rotation has done to pitch deep into games and limit the bullpen’s burden. Then again, there will be help on the way, with Pierce Johnson, Drew Pomeranz, Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez on the mend (and José Castillo dominating in the Minor Leagues).

Level of concern: Medium — if the Padres can get healthy, they should be fine

Fernando Tatis Jr. still isn’t swinging: He underwent imaging on Monday and tests revealed that his broken left wrist still hadn’t quite healed enough for him to resume swinging. The Padres have always said they wouldn’t have a clear timetable for Tatis’ return until he starts swinging. So for now, this is speculation, but it seems very unlikely that Tatis will return when he’s eligible to come off the injured list in early June. Then again, manager Bob Melvin seems optimistic that Tatis isn’t too far away from clearing that hurdle to picking up a bat. He’s doing pretty much all other baseball activities.

Level of concern: Low — he’ll be back soon enough, and the Padres are winning games without him, but if they want to win the NL West, they’d better find some slugging elsewhere in order to keep pace with the Dodgers

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