July 1, 2022

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Voit's first 2 HRs cap winning homestand, but puzzles remain for Padres

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SAN DIEGO — Strange. The Padres are 20-12, coming off a winning homestand and having posted precisely the early-season results they’d been hoping for when Fernando Tatis Jr. landed on the injured list. And, yet, there’s an undeniable sense that the team isn’t quite playing to the levels it’s capable of.

Following the Padres’ 7-5 loss to the Cubs in Wednesday’s series finale at Petco Park, here are three key takeaways from a 4-3 homestand:

1. If Voit produces, it’s a different offense
On Monday night, with the Padres’ offense scuffling, team decision-makers mulled sending Luke Voit back to Triple-A El Paso for more rehab at-bats. He’d struggled during an initial rehab stint, going hitless in 18 at-bats with 12 strikeouts. But the Padres needed Voit’s power potential in their lineup. So they decided to activate him instead.

Seems like the right call.

Voit hit his first home run as a Padre in the second inning Wednesday — and he added a second that tied the game in the seventh. The hulking slugger finished his second game back from the injured list 3-for-5 with a pair of dingers.

“As a power hitter, you just want to get one on the board,” Voit said. “It’s nice to get that out of the way. Now I can just go back to not having to worry about trying to hit the ball 450 feet. I can just go back to taking my hits, putting myself in good counts.”

Over the first month of the season, the Padres’ offense has mostly struggled. They’ve worked their share of walks and put runners on base. But they’ve done so with hardly any slugging threat outside of Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer.

Enter Voit, who led the Majors in home runs during the 2020 season and, when healthy, brings the type of power this Padres offense has been lacking.

“The way Luke swung the bat today — it definitely deepens the lineup,” said Hosmer, who contributed his fourth homer of the season. “Everybody knows he’s got that in him. He’s a big power guy that can hit. That’s the guy we know he can be.”

2. The Padres still need more production from their outfield bats
Eight months ago, when their 2021 season came to a bitter, early end, the Padres knew they needed to find some outfield help. They spent much of the offseason searching for it.

But the offseason came and went, and no meaningful outfield upgrade ever arrived. Right now, the offense is paying dearly for it. Take a look at where the Padres’ outfield ranked entering play Wednesday in a handful of important offensive categories:

Batting average: .166 (last)
On-base percentage: .269 (27th)
Slugging percentage: .270 (last)
Total bases: 88 (last)
Home runs: 6 (T-24th)

The return of Wil Myers should help boost those numbers. Myers nearly tied the game in the ninth, falling a few feet shy of a homer. He also robbed Cubs center fielder Jason Heyward of a potential home run. Clearly, Myers’ presence in the lineup is an important one.

But come trade season, that shouldn’t stop the Padres from being active in their pursuit of outfield help. (And, in that regard, it should be noted that while the Trade Deadline is slated for Aug. 2, there’s nothing that prohibits teams from making moves in May.)

3. It’s finally decision time in the rotation
For weeks, the Padres have called it a “good problem to have.” But just to be clear: It’s very much still a “problem.” You know, the type that needs an actual resolution, preferably very soon.

There are, simply put, too many starting pitchers on San Diego’s roster. And another is on his way back. Blake Snell was sharp in his final rehab start Tuesday for Triple-A El Paso and is expected to return to the big league mound next week. In the meantime, the Padres are employing a six-man rotation, which is one more than their stated preference anyway.

MacKenzie Gore and Nick Martinez are the likeliest candidates to give way. It is presently unclear whether that’s an either/or proposition. The Padres might simply pare their rotation back down to five, considering they have off-days forthcoming before and after their series in Atlanta. That would presumably mean a demotion to Triple-A for Gore (a relatively harsh one, considering his 2.42 ERA) and a trip to the bullpen for Martinez.

Martinez endured perhaps his worst start as a Padre on Wednesday, allowing five runs over four innings. But he struck out eight and looked sharp early. If he were to serve as something of a swingman, well, there aren’t many better options, league-wide, for that role.

“We’ll see,” Martinez said of the team’s forthcoming decision. “I mean, that’s not really up to me. I’ll be ready to go.”

“It’s a good conversation for us to have,” added acting manager Ryan Christenson. “We’re in a good place. We’ve got a lot of depth. We’ve got a tough decision to make.”

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