Monday, July 6, 2015

Next Up: The San Diego Padres

The Pirates host three games against the San Diego Padres before winding up play before the All-Star break with four games against the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals. If it seems as if the Pirates just played the Padres yet haven't played their intra-division rival Cardinals since the start of the season, well, that's correct. The Pirates split four games in San Diego on May 28-31 and haven't seen the Cards since going 2-4 against St. Louis in two series spread over the first ten days of May.

How Are They Doing Lately? I'm going to repeat what I said in my preview for the May series, since almost nothing's changed: The Padres led the offseason in headlines, as new general manager A.J. Preller overhauled the club. He traded for an entirely new outfield (Justin Upton from the Braves, Wil Myers from the Rays, and Matt Kemp from the Dodgers), a new catcher (Derek Norris from the A's), a new third baseman (Will Middlebrooks from the Red Sox), and a new closer (Craig Kimbrel from the Braves) and signed the third-best starting pitcher on the free agent market, James Shields (to a reasonable-by-contemporary-standards four year, $75 million deal with a club option to make it five years and $89 million). They were seen as a strong candidate for the postseason, with some picking them to topple the Dodgers atop the division. I envisioned a wild-card entry.

It hasn't worked out that way, at least not yet. They're currently 39-45, in fourth place, 7.5 games behind the Dodgers, 3.5 behind the Giants, and 2 behind the Diamondbacks. They trail the Pirates, Cubs, Giants, Mets, Braves, and Diamondbacks in the wild card standings. Over the past 30 days they're 11-17, the third-worst record in the league. They've scored 3.3 runs per game, fourth fewest in the league over the 30 days, and given up 4.8 per game, the third most.

Since the clubs met in May, the Padres let their manager, Bud Black, go. Pat Murphy holds the title of interim manager.

What's Going Right? Um...well...their offense is sixth in the league in walks and home runs. It's pretty hard to find things to say positive about the pitching staff: They've allowed 34% of baserunners to score, the most in the league, and that's such a high percentage that it's bound to come down.

What's Going Wrong? The offense has been pretty nonexistent over the last 30 days. They're last in the league in batting at .219 and on-base percentage at .278, and they're third to last in slugging at .357. The starters have an ERA of 4.33 and the relievers 3.45 over the last 30 days, each fifth worst in the league

Who's Hot? Only two Padres starters have ERAs below 5 over the past 30 days; the Pirates will face one, Tyson Ross (3.38), who hasn't allowed a home run since April. Closer Kimbrel's recovered from a shaky start and has a 0.82 ERA, 9-for-9 in saves, with 15 strikeouts over 11 innings of late. The team's other three primary relievers--Joaquin Benoit, Shawn Kelly, and Brandon Maurer--have been almost as good, with a combined 1.60 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP over the past 30 days. As for the offense, put it this way: Clint Barmes is the only Padres batter over the last 30 days with a batting average over .285 and a slugging percentage above .500--both OK but not great numbers--is Clint Barmes. Yes, Pirates fans, Clint Barmes, the no-hit, good-glove shortstop who lost his job last year to Jordy Mercer. When your best hitter's a 36 year old middle infielder with a .247 career batting average, that's a team in a slump. 

Who's Not? Well, let's go through that list of big acquisitions. Over the past 30 days, Upton's batting .186 with two homers and a .278 slugging percentage. Myers is on the disabled list. Kemp is batting .231. Norris is batting .163. Middlebrooks is batting .159. Shields has a 5.59 ERA. I could go on.

What's the Outlook? The Pirates are a better team than the Padres, but the Padres aren't as bad as they've been lately. At some point, the hitters will start hitting again and the starters will pitch to form. For now, San Diego's top relievers make jumping to the first lead imperative.

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