Manny Machado says Padres aren’t ‘playing at our highest level’ as San Diego

This past weekend, the San Diego Padres secured maybe their best series win of the young season, taking two of three from the NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park. Luis Arraez provided the walk-off single Friday nightin is first home game as a Padre, then Yu Darvish & Co. shut out Los Angeles on Sunday Night Baseball to clinch the series win.

And because the Padres always seem to take a step back each time they take a step forward, they followed up the series win over the Dodgers with two straight losses to the lowly Colorado Rockies. A four-run sixth inning put Tuesday’s game out of reach (COL 6, SD 3). The Padres are 22-23 and have not been more than two games over .500 all season.

“Our big guys, we’re not swinging it too well. Let’s be honest,” Manny Machado said after Tuesday’s loss (via MLB.com). “We’re not playing at our highest level, and we’re at .500. We’re still playing some good baseball. We’re winning games, we’re beating tough teams, we’re doing what we need to be doing, and we’re not even going yet. Speaks volumes of this team.”

Machado went 1 for 4 during Tuesday’s game and is sitting on a .228/.282/.354 batting line through 45 games. He is coming off elbow surgery — Machado was limited to DH duty the first four weeks of the season — though he has refused to use that an excuse for his poor showing. Ultimately, he’s healthy enough to be in the lineup, so he’s healthy enough to be expected to produce.

“There’s no excuse. It’s not my elbow. Obviously we all know I got the surgery on it. I’m not making the excuse that my swing’s not where it needs to be because of my elbow. Because there’s days where I feel great,” Machado said (via MLB.com). “It’s just a matter of making the adjustment and finding things that click. Right now things aren’t clicking. You’ve just got to keep swinging through it, keep grinding through it until it does. Because when it does, it’s going to be fun.”

Machado is hardly the only underperforming big name Padre. Xander Bogaerts is hitting a punchless .213/.263/.316 with his highest strikeout rate since his rookie season. Joe Musgrove had a 6.37 ERA in eight starts before landing on the injured list. Ha-Seong Kim has been weirdly error prone at shortstop after he and Bogaerts swapped positions to improve the infield defense.

Even with all the underperformers, the Padres are 11th in runs scored per game, so it’s not like they’re struggling to scratch out three runs each night. The larger issue is a) they’re allowing the 13th most runs per game, and b) their pitchers are having a real hard time getting outs in high leverage situations. In those important game-defining moments, the pitching staff is wilting.

Clutch is a useful little stat that compares a player’s or team’s performance in high-leverage situations to their performance in all other situations. It compares a player or team to himself, not the rest of the league. San Diego’s pitching is near the bottom of the Clutch leaderboard, meaning their pitching staff performs worse in high leverage situations than at all other times:

30. Miami Marlins: -3.22
29. Los Angeles Angels: -2.93
28. San Diego Padres: -1.66
27. Colorado Rockies: -1.63

1. Oakland Athletics: +2.48 (!)

The Angels, Marlins, and Rockies are not the company you want to keep when it comes your pitchers getting big outs in important situations. Closer Robert Suarez has been great. The rest of San Diego’s bullpen has been hit or miss and has posted among the worst win probability numbers in the game. Which, of course, means they’re lowering the team’s win probability, which ain’t good.

Bogaerts and Machado make the big bucks and aren’t performing as expected. The 22-23 start is on them more than anyone. They aren’t the only culprits though. GM A.J. Preller has built a weak bench, the middle of the bullpen is iffy, and there’s a general lack of depth that is obvious when you watch what amounts to a stars and scrubs roster each night.

A year ago, the Padres fell two games short of a postseason berth largely because they went 9-23 in one-run games and 2-12 in extra-innings games. They’re doing better in those games this year but only slightly: 4-6 in one-run games and 1-0 in extra-innings games. That’s a return to normalcy after an outlier 2023 more than legitimate improvement.

Bottom line, the Padres need to be better at everything. Offense, defense, pitching, baserunning, decision-making, you name it. Bogaerts and Machado producing like the high-end performers they are paid to be would mask a lot of flaws, but the Padres have more problems than those two. They’re played .500 baseball for close to 14 months now.

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