SAN DIEGO — “Three Little Birds” Bob Marley was playing at Petco Park when he finally opened up to the media following Wednesday’s 4-3 defeat to the Royals. The players on the $250 million team had just held a closed meeting in the wake of a losing streak to a rebuilding club with one of the lowest payrolls in the league (and one of its worst records). The Padres have been tough to watch for weeks, and the best-paid employees in the organization are beginning to feel it for themselves long before the boos that can be heard throughout an agonizing afternoon.
“You can get the angst from the fans, and we do,” Matt Carpenter said. “It’s just a very unhappy time for the club and anyone who follows the team. You know, we haven’t been able to execute as well as we hoped at this point. So something has to get done.”
What Can Done outside the walls surrounding Carpenter and his teammates isn’t entirely clear. Despite the Padres’ record—20-24, good for fourth in the National League West—sweeping personnel changes don’t seem imminent. The franchise is in its fifth full-time manager since general manager AJ Preller took over in 2014. With the exception of consultants and other support staff, the Padres have employed nearly three dozen coaches since Priller’s first full season overseeing the franchise in 2015. Several other prospects have been traded out. Farm system now offers limited help at higher levels. (The organization’s already questionable depth weakened a bit more Wednesday when catcher Pedro Severino opted out of his minor league contract.)
So, even as flaws appear on an expensive and star-studded roster, people across the sport can agree on at least one thing: A quarter of a billion dollars should buy you a much better 4th-place finisher. The people who occupy the Petco Park indoor campus feel it sharper than anyone else. The boos that rained down from the stands on Wednesday were just another reminder.
“It’s not like we play better to deserve better. It wasn’t. It will continue until we start playing better,” said Xander Bogaerts. “So we have to clean it up in all aspects of the game. Everyone.”
San Diego’s ninth loss in 11 games brought another set of indictments. The Padres had eight hits, nine walks, and left 12 runners on base. They went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position Improves their season average at those positions. They scored a home run as the Young Royals tried, for the third day in a row, to give them the win. Time and time again they have squandered such generosity while still putting excessive pressure on their staff.
The Padres have already played 23 games in which they have scored three runs or fewer. They lost 21 of them. By comparison, the Royals have played 22 such games.
Fernando Tatis Jr. said, “The way we finish the game, I would have whistled ourselves too.”
In the aftermath of yet another embarrassing loss, players on the team with the third-highest salary of the majors sought responsibility with their words. Several veterans have described a disconnect between the club’s pre-game preparations — “that was on the point,” Bogaerts said — and their in-game results. They also agreed that it was time to just keep talking about doing better.
“You swing in the middle of a fastball, you can’t control whether you hit it or you pop it,” said Bogaerts. “But there are a lot of other things that you can really control in this game, and those are the things we need to focus on.”
“I think you’re just starting to see committed better players all the way up and down the lineup,” said Carpenter. “We’re not executing well enough. That’s the reality. And there’s an element to baseball and to this job—good teams, they’re executing. So we have to find a way to do that.”
“I think the expectations for the team were in the wrong place if that makes any sense,” said Joe Musgrove. “I think the expectation has to be on the quality of work and the expectation of what you give to the team every day. You know, make sure you show up and do all those things right to be your best on the field. The expectation shouldn’t be that we’re going to beat everyone every night and that we’re going to win by 115 match. We expect to show up and do the work we need to do and then let it all translate on the field.”
Musgrove, captain of the stadium staff and the entire clubhouse, suggested a way to the Padres to relieve some of the pressure that was clearly beginning to stifle the team.
“We talked about just getting out of here for a little bit maybe, and getting together as a group off the field,” said Musgrove. “You want to have fun as a group and we haven’t had a lot of fun here lately.”
Thursday night may bring some opportunities. Almost the entire roster is expected to attend the Padres’ second annual dinner at the Diamond Fundraising event at Petco Park. Musgrove noted that with players spread out at separate tables, it’s probably not the best chance. “We’ll take some time out on the road,” said Musgrove. “We have some days coming up. We’ll try to get together and have a little fun.”
Meanwhile, the pressure won’t go away, especially because the Padres may have to navigate the coming days or weeks without their other key captain. After Wednesday’s loss, manager Bob Melvin said additional imaging on Manny Machado’s left hand — an X-ray was negative after the third baseman was hit by a hit on Tuesday — revealed a small fracture in a metatarsal bone.
“We don’t think it’s a (casualty list) case, but we’ll probably run Thursday off today, see how it feels and see where we are at the weekend,” Melvin said.
Machado, for his part, has said he intends to return as soon as his body allows, “if it’s two days, or a week or two or six weeks or whatever.” He indicated that he had never broken a bone before. When asked about the boos that rained down from the stands, he gave an answer similar to what he said over the weekend, after the Dodgers sweep.
I don’t blame them. “We are not playing well now,” said Machado. “There’s an expectation that we go into the season, and they expect us to go out and win every game. I think we as a group have to go out and be better as a group. We have to have faith in the process. Things really aren’t going our way now, at all.”
Machado himself was a spectator on Wednesday, his left hand in a brace. And although he’s been one of the Padres’ most disappointing players this season, he’s watched their shortcomings grow more glaring, particularly in the bottom of the heavy lineup. Trent Gresham slugged all four batters, seeing a total of only 15 runs. Austin Nola went 0-for-4 with two hits, dropping his average to . 151, the third-lowest among major league hitters with at least 100 plate appearances.
Meanwhile, the Royals held San Diego to three runs during a bullpen. The Kansas City relievers entered the afternoon with the fourth highest earned run average of the majors. As Bob Marley’s voice drifted across the club, reassuring his listeners that things were going to be okay, the Padres found themselves answering again with questions about their underperformance. And again, just talking about what they can do to be better.
“We just got the win,” said Nola, who got an uncharacteristic start from Yu Darvish in another loss. “There are no excuses. We had to go out and play harder, play harder, and we can’t beat the other team when it comes to effort and what we give every day.
“As you can see today, they’ve outdone us and it’s definitely a wake-up call.”
(Photo by Fernando Tatis Jr.: Orlando Ramirez/USA Today)
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