SAN DIEGO — Despite the injury concerns in their starting rotation, despite the early season struggles on offense, despite the Major League-leading error total — it’s May 1, and the Padres are inching their way toward the top of the National League West standings.
Manny Machado hit a three-run home run in the first inning, and the Padres’ pitching staff spent nine innings making that hold up in a 6-2 victory over the Giants on Saturday night. Blake Snell allowed two runs (one earned) over five innings, and the lights-out San Diego bullpen did the rest.
The win moved the Padres within half a game of the Giants in what’s become an early-season NL West slugfest. Just as notably, the Padres moved even with the Dodgers at 16-12 — a mere 10 days after they entered a four-game set in Los Angeles sitting five games back.
“It’s the best division in baseball,” Machado said. “It’s a great division. Everybody’s playing very good baseball, and it’s going to be tough. But overall, as a group, we’re just taking it day-by-day. … Just worry about ourselves. You’re not going to win a championship in April or May.”
Indeed, there’s little value in scoreboard watching on May 1. But the Padres know the value in wins against NL West opposition. On Sunday, they’ll end a stretch of nine consecutive games against their division rivals, and so far they’re 6-2.
“It’s getting there,” Machado said. “… We’re one click away from getting this going, and once we do, this train’s going to be going for the long haul. So we’ve just got to keep grinding.”
As Machado alluded to, the Padres haven’t found that top gear consistently enough this season. Lately, they’re winning games anyway.
Perhaps nobody exemplifies that better than Snell. It’s been a slog for the former American League Cy Young Award winner. But although Snell hasn’t completed six innings in any of his starts, he’s allowed two runs or fewer in every start but one.
“I’m doing OK, but there’s always better,” Snell said. “I’ve just got to go deeper into the games, which is [about] consistency in the strike zone. … Lot of work to do. But we’ll do it, and we’ll get there. I’ll continue to grow and get better.”
Snell spoke with a hint of frustration that he hasn’t quite put it together this year — and that should speak volumes. The left-hander owns a completely respectable 3.51 ERA through six starts in San Diego. He says that’s not good enough.
On Saturday night, it was. Snell exited with a one-run lead after five, and the Padres bullpen was as dominant as ever. Austin Adams and Emilio Pagán struck out the side consecutively in the seventh and eighth innings.
The Padres tacked on some useful insurance in the eighth. Jurickson Profar launched a pinch-hit home run, and Jake Cronenworth followed with a two-run single later in the frame. Those runs allowed the Padres to avoid using closer Mark Melancon for a second night in a row, as Pierce Johnson slammed the door instead.
In truth, the Padres haven’t had many victories like this one this season — where the offense and the pitching staff were equal parts responsible. At times, they’ve been too reliant on a starter to carry them. Other times, that burden has fallen too heavily on the bullpen.
And yet, here they are, winners of three straight, tied with the Dodgers, half a game out of first place — and with another level still to reach.
“As of April, the bullpen and the pitching staff have carried us,” Machado said. “I think it’s about time that the offense starts chipping in, starts doing what we need to do. Last couple games … everyone is chipping away and starting to get into sync offensively. Whenever we get in sync as a whole, it’s going to be dangerous.”