When the San Diego Padres signed Manny Machado to a 10 year contract this off-season, they surprised many people and even many of their own fans(myself included). The last time the Padres had a player in the top 10 of annual earnings was Tony Gwynn in 1984, and the general consensus for the Padres is that the starting pitching isn’t ready to compete in 2019.
After all, the rotation to start the season was Eric Lauer(23, 23 GS in his career, all last season), Joey Lucchesi(25, 26 GS in career, all last season), Nick Margevicius(22, 5 starts in A ball…), Chris Paddack(23, 7 starts in AA last season), and Matt Strahm the veteran of the group at 27 who has appeared in 86 games over the last three seasons and made 8 starts. So Padres fans expectations were low entering Opening Weekend against the Giants. Though Paddack came with some hype – it was almost an experiment to start two pitchers who had never even pitched in AAA before.
It is early. It is April 1st but this is no April Fools Joke. Maybe, just maybe, these young Padres can surprise some people. All of a sudden this is an offense working from a position of excess. Manny Machado is playing third base, and he isn’t even the lone source of offense. Wil Myers has stepped it up so far the first four games. Eric Hosmer is looking to show that 2018 was an aberration, not the beginning of the decline. Fernando Tatis, Jr is looking like a polished veteran. With an offense that can perform, pitching gains confidence, and when pitchers gain confidence, wins squeak out the other end of the baseball machine.
Eric Lauer pitched 6 shutout innings on Opening Day, allowing just 4 hits and got the win. Joey Luchessi followed that up with 5 1/3 IP, striking out 7 and allowing 0 runs as well. Margevicius went 5 the next day and allowed a run, but it was the bullpen that surrendered the go ahead runs in that game for the Padres only loss of the opening homestand. Sunday was Chris Paddack time, and he did not disappoint. He allowed no hits through 4, struck out the side in the second, and allowed just one run. In the end, he pitched 5, struck out 7 overall, and though left trailing 1-0 the Padres tied it and later won the game.
Way too early to proclaim 2019 the year of the Padres? Definitely. Off to a solid start that if not 2019, the Padres have talent that is close to breaking through and forming a solid rotation? Absolutely. The Padres last had a pitcher who won the Cy Young Award in 2007 in Jake Peavy, with Trevor Hoffman finishing 2nd in 2006. No one since then has even sniffed the award. At first glance – it seems like Paddack can at least be under consideration in the next couple of years.
Baseball is a long season, and even these 5 remaining together is unlikely. Last season the Padres used 12 different starting pitchers. The leader in that category – Clayton Richard with 27 – is no longer with the team. With youth comes innings limits, and mixing and matching with other young arms to avoid injuries as the season rolls on. Margevicius is an interesting experiment all his own, as he is a soft tosser but with impeccable control. Will it work? Will the Padres try a pitching version of platoons where he only starts in pitcher friendly parks which might give him some leniency without the velocity that is expected in today’s game.
The Padres sit at 3-1. After winning the opener it was their first opening day win since 2010. It was the first time they were above .500 AT ALL since late 2015. Now they have a series win and share of first place with the Dodgers. Still 158 games to go, but good starts are unequivocally better than bad starts. No matter if you are starting Cy Young Award winners or a couple of guys who never even bothered to pitch in AAA.