SAN DIEGO — Three hours before the first pitch on Monday, Fernando Tatis Jr. walked out of the clubhouse at Petco Park. He joined his teammates for stretching. He practiced batting and threw a few baseballs into the seats. Then, with three games left on his PED suspension, Tatis retreated to the clubhouse stairs and was gone.
It was a reminder of what the San Diego roster lacked at the start of this season. Then again, the Padres’ slow offensive start wasn’t necessarily driven by the missing superstar bat.
Juan Soto and Manny Machado – two other superstar bats who were relied on to anchor the roster during Tatis’ absence – failed to reach their usual high standards in the first three weeks of the season. The Padres were shut out for a second straight game on Monday night – a 2-0 loss to Atlanta to mark the first time they’ve been shut out twice in a row at Petco Park since April 2016. This duo combined to go 0-for -7 with a step. Soto’s batting average has dropped to .164. Machado’s OPS dropped to 0.600.
There are other flaws to be found in the Padres’ 8-10 start. But they are two of the generation’s most feared hitters who hit back-to-back in the lineup. Look no further for a bigger reason behind the team’s early struggles.
The counter, of course, is that they’re Juan Soto and Manny Machado — future Hall of Famers, perhaps. They have long offensive histories, spanning several full All-Star Games and Silver Sluggers seasons.
“Things are going to change,” Machado said, speaking broadly about the Padres’ offense. “Things are not going our way at the moment, but we are in a good position. Just keep doing what we’re doing. That’s 18 games in a 162 game season. There’s still a lot of baseball left.
And for anyone who reads too deeply into a sample of 18 games?
“Honestly, for me,” Machado said, “it’s just don’t jump on the bandwagon later when we start raking (exhaustively) and doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Point taken. They haven’t lived up to the billing yet. But their track records indicate that Soto and Machado will strike soon enough. Tatis will join them in the lineup on Thursday. Xander Bogaerts, meanwhile, is off to a great start to the Padres tenure, having reached base in all 18 games after his 2-for-4 performance on Monday.
When those four pieces click at the top of the range, suddenly the offensive fringe issues aren’t so important. That doesn’t mean the Padres are happy with the early results. It just means that they can reasonably expect things to change.
“It’s not frustration,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s just bad timing at the start of the season. Lots of expectations, and we didn’t get off to as good a start as we would have liked. Offensively, we always think we have a chance with the guys we have in the lineup. It just wasn’t like this at the start of the season. »
Soto and Machado weren’t too far behind on Monday night. Soto hit a deep drive to the warning lane in the sixth inning, then worked a spirited walk with one out in the eighth that set the stage for Machado in the game’s defining moment.
With the tie runs on board, Machado hit a 106 mph laser down the middle … where second baseman Ozzie Albies gloved him on a jump and started a double play.
Even for Machado — whose entire philosophy of baseball is built around his level-headed personality and confidence in the process — it must have been frustrating, right?
Machado was more insistent than ever.
“I’m not frustrated,” he said, later explaining why:
“Sometimes things go well,” Machado said. “Sometimes things don’t go as well as we expected, like they are now. But we just follow the process. Keep doing what we need to do every day, and things will change.
Like all hitters, Machado has gone down before. During each of these crises, he insisted that things would turn around soon enough. And guess what? He is usually right.
Soto’s struggles can be seen as a bit more confusing. They date from before he arrived in San Diego. Since last summer’s blockbuster trade, Soto has failed to live up to the (incredibly high) precedent he set for himself. Entering play on Monday, he was hitting just .221 — albeit with a .379 on-base percentage — as a Padre.
“Even if I don’t get the results right now, I know I’m going to get it,” Soto said. “I’m doing well.”
In the meantime, he will continue to work those steps – Soto leads the Majors with 17 despite struggling.
“At the moment it’s not happening,” Soto said. “I will find a way. … Even if I don’t knock, I won’t give up. I will do my best to help the team. He can run the basics. It can take flying bullets. It can be walks. But I will find a way to help the team.
In 18 games, it hasn’t been the 2023 Padres offense as promised.
But, as Machado was quick to warn, jumping off this bandwagon in April would certainly not be wise.