Here at BallNine we love to tell baseball stories. It can be about America’s Illustrator Norman Rockwell using baseball to make so many human connections in his work, or it could be about a team not living up to expectations.
Which brings us to the Padres.
If they don’t make the postseason, they will be the most disappointing team in baseball after GM A.J. Preller was anointed winner of the winter once again for his acquisitions, including pitchers Blake Snell and Yu Darvish.
Winter victories must translate into a summer win.
To dig deep into what went wrong with the Padres, it is time to speak to former Padre Kurt Bevacqua, a longtime San Diego favorite. Bevacqua played 15 years in the majors – beginning in 1971 with the Indians – knows the game inside and out, knows the Padres inside and out and just as importantly knows San Diego inside and out after playing six years there, and is not hesitant to state his beliefs.
Dirty Kurt has always been a breath of fresh air when it comes to baseball. He calls ‘em as he sees ‘em and it is wonderful to have that kind of honesty in America’s Finest City. He got the name Dirty Kurt as a young player because his uniform was always the dirtiest on the field.
What happened to the Padres? How in the world have they lost 15 of their last 21 games to allow the Reds to move half a game ahead in the second wild card race?
“When I heard that the Dodgers were going to get Scherzer and Turner I went, that’s bullshit,’’ Bevacqua said. “I truly believe that because of what didn’t happen, the ballclub got stuck with Frazier and Marisnick.”
The Padres have never won a World Series. They only have won only one World Series game and that came on October 10, 1984, a 5-3 victory over the Tigers at Jack Murphy Stadium. In that game, Bevacqua blasted a three-run home run in the fifth inning off Dan Petry into the left field seats – so Bevacqua is the only Padre to hit a home run in a World Series game that the Padres won.
Jack Murphy Stadium is no more, but Bevacqua owns the two seats where his home run landed. He also owns many strong opinions. Again, what the hell is going on with the Padres?
“It’s funny you asked,’’ Bevacqua told BallNine with a laugh.
At the trade deadline the Padres added infielder Adam Frazier, outfielder Jake Marisnick and reliever Daniel Hudson while it was the arch-rival Dodgers who wound up stealing the day by landing future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer and run-scoring machine Trea Turner.
The Giants and Dodgers are fighting it out for first place in the mighty NL West, with the Padres far back in the race and who now can only hope to make it as the second wild card.
That Dodger deal set the Padres franchise back in several ways and was a blow to Preller’s ego because the Padres thought they were going to land the two stars from the Nationals. It didn’t work out that way.
The Padres rarely put out the same lineup twice and that is part of the problem, Bevacqua said. Players love stability, of course, and they are not getting it with Jayce Tingler’s lineups.
“But I don’t even know if Tingler is making out the lineup,’’ Bevacqua said.
Steve Garvey (right) performs a little moustache maintenance on Kurt Bevacqua.
These days, who knows what manager actually makes out the lineup. It’s usually an analytics-inspired lineup from the people upstairs with the GM’s blessing. The Padres lineups have been a bit crazy. Too many lineups and too much of of Fernando Tatis, Jr. batting fourth instead of leadoff or No. 2.
In the loss to the Astros on Friday, Tatis batted leadoff and Manny Machado batted second. No surprise there, that is how it should be nearly every game. That makes sense. But here is the amazing part. That was only the second time this season Tatis hit leadoff and Machado was in the two hole, the other time being April 13th.
Tatis – who has had to deal with a shoulder injury – has the power and over the 103 games he has played, he has hit 36 home runs with a .280 batting average, a .633 slugging percentage and a .998 OPS, the last two figures leading the NL. He needs to get more at-bats near the top of the lineup with his combination of speed and power.
Everything seems to come back to the trade deadline deals. By not trading for a frontline pitcher Preller let the clubhouse down.
“(Jurickson) Profar has done pretty well in his role with the ballclub,’’ Bevacqua said. “Then all these trade rumors were swirling around and it was pointed at pitching. The next thing you know, they get Adam Frazier from the Pirates. To this day that is still a head scratcher to everybody around.
“Then they go out a couple days later and get Jake Marisnick. So the conclusion that I have come to, I think Frazier was acquired because another deal was in the works. It probably involved (Eric) Hosmer and maybe Ha-Seong Kim and one of the outfielders. It almost makes me think there might have been a package deal for Hosmer and (Wil) Myers. Preller got bushwhacked at the end, and there was a rumor that (Scott) Boras used the Padres interest as leverage in the trade with the Dodgers for Scherzer- and then the next thing you know Turner is involved in the deal.’’
The acquisition of Adam Frazier by San Diego was a ``head scratcher`` to some around the team. (Photo: K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
With Tatis’ struggles at short defensively, Turner would have been a good fit for the Padres. The Dodgers came out way ahead at the deadline. The Padres were stunned – and it showed.
“When I heard that the Dodgers were going to get Scherzer and Turner I went, that’s bullshit,’’ Bevacqua said. “I truly believe that because of what didn’t happen, the ballclub got stuck with Frazier and Marisnick.
“I was kind of wondering how unified the clubhouse was anyway, and I’m sure there were a few guys on the club who were not real happy with the acquiring of Frazier,’’ added Bevacqua. “Right at the beginning the conversation was that he could play left field.’’
The Padres have not been able to make all the pieces fit, and their pitching has struggled at times. They also have had some strange happenings this year, like the collision between Tommy Pham and Kim in early June at Wrigley Field in a loss where Pham was visibly upset and had to be stopped in the dugout by bench coach Bobby Dickerson.
That outburst did not help matters.
Bevacqua added Frazier is an excellent player but is in a much different role and he is often batting eighth with the Padres. That’s a tough place to hit. You don’t see as many fastballs as when he batted leadoff for the Pirates. Frazier hit .302 with Pittsburgh and only .221 with the Padres.
Bevacqua weighs in on everything MLB and just dropped a reboot of his Apple Podcast Dirty Kurt’s Dugout and for fans it’s a must listen. Bevacqua, 74, is as energized as he was when I first met him in the 1980s when I covered the Padres.
The Padres have their pitching woes too, and Darvish – who has hip and back issues – owns a 7.57 ERA since the end of June. The Padres should have found more rest and even a brief shutdown for Darvish to re-gather himself. Snell, who struggled early, has pitched much better lately. Larry Rothschild was fired as pitching coach so that was Scapegoat No. 1 for Preller and Tingler; Scapegoat No. 2 could be Tingler.
If Jayce Tingler can't turn things around and get the Padres into the postseason, will he be the next one out the door? (Photo: Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)
Joe Musgrove threw that no-hitter early and is now 9-8 with a 3.38 ERA. He is throwing the ball well and Chris Paddack broke through with a good start the other night after spending time on the IL.
“I have not been a big fan of his,’’ Bevacqua said of Paddack, “but he showed me something the other night. He came off the IL and threw a hell of a game when he needed to. Blake Snell has been lights out recently.’’
Bevacqua did not like the move of firing Rothschild, but said he noticed that Padres pitchers appear to be pitching inside more recently, saying “Snell is using his fastball more and I think that is why he has been more successful.’’
It is stunning to me how many pitchers don’t use their fastball enough in the majors. I see it all the time. They blow fastballs right past hitters and then get beat with a changeup or breaking ball. Perhaps it is the influence of analytics and sequencing, but the fastball, I believe, is an under-utilized weapon and Bevacqua agrees.
Snell was pitching a no-hitter when pulled after seven innings against the D-Backs last time out, but that’s baseball today in 2021. There is more concern about what might happen instead of what is happening on the field. The Pitch Count Monster got Snell and as Tingler said, “It’s not what you want to do, but I felt it was the right thing to do, tonight and for going forward as well.’’
That’s just great. Perhaps a no-hitter would be such a lift to Snell’s confidence and he would learn how to keep his pitch count down a bit along the way by having to get quicker outs in such a situation, but none of that matters in today’s game. Fans love to see their starter throw a no-hitter too but again, none of that matters, who cares about what the fans think?
Blake Snell. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
“Snell is using his fastball now and he is beating guys with it, And especially in. I’m not talking about hitting people, I’m talking about getting the ball in. Guys like Musgrove and (Mark) Melancon have enough control where they can throw the ball inside and that’s where they need to throw it. Nobody is swinging at the 0-2 breaking ball a foot outside or the high and away fastball 0-2. If you can throw it in off the plate a little bit where all the hitter is going to do is jam himself, that works.’’
That is fantastic advice for pitchers. It’s not about tricking the hitters all the time, it’s about dialing in. “And that makes your breaking balls that much more effective,’’ Bevacqua said.
Melancon was a great signing by Preller and owns 36 saves and a 1.95 ERA. He’s what the Padres needed as a closer and the Braves letting him get away was a big mistake.
I asked Bevacqua if he thinks the Padres will make the playoffs.
“I think they have a tough road,’’ Bevacqua said. “They have a brutal schedule. What I feel is the road trip of the season is against the Dodgers, the Giants and against St. Louis. There’s no off days in between. After the Sunday game in St Louis, they have the Giants coming in to San Diego.’’
Then the Braves and they finish with three on the road against the Dodgers.
That road trip begins Friday at Dodger Stadium and then the Giants. The Reds end the season with 10 of 13 games against the lowly Pirates and Nationals. The Pirates are pathetic and the Nationals are an embarrassment – and might be the worst team in baseball. The Reds also will have to find a way to overcome their dreadful bullpen that sports a 5.24 ERA. That is some organizational failure right there In personnel and performance as it is the worst bullpen ERA in the NL and 29th in baseball. Only the Orioles are worse at 5.39.
The Padres bullpen ERA is 3.25. The Giants are even better, tops in the NL at 3.11. The Dodgers have the best overall ERA in baseball at 2.99. It is a pitching division.
The Cardinals are also in the race for the second wild card. They have a difficult schedule the rest of the way, and have to play the Padres three games in San Diego and four in LA against the Dodgers.
Bevacqua has always been a fan favorite and his podcast is built for the fans. On his last show he interviewed umpire Joe West and they discussed The Cowboy’s record-breaking career. No one has umpired more major league games than West. He broke Bill Klem’s mark with his 5,376th game earlier this year. After setting the record, West noted he received congratulations from everyone from former President George Bush to Field of Dreams star Kevin Costner.
Bevacqua believes the Mets will make a serious run at the NL East title.
Talking baseball to baseball people is somewhat of a lost art these days because many podcasts focus too much on statistics. “We are there to talk baseball,’’ Bevacqua said. “You don’t hear a lot of it anymore.’’
He then made a point that I totally agree with saying that he is impressed by the work of Yonder Alonso and Billy Ripken on the MLB Network as analysts. Bevacqua was a 12th-round pick out of Miami Dade College in 1967 by the Reds while Alonso was a first round pick out of Coral Gables High School in 2008 by the Reds.
“Those two guys are baseball guys, and they make everything simple,’’ Bevacqua said.
The same could be said for Bevacqua. He keeps it simple and entertaining and the fans love when he does his show from the El Cajon restaurant Hacienda Casa Blanca, and they all get to talk about 1984.
Baseball is in a dire situation now going forward with how the game is being taught.
“I think the youth coaches watching these shows and watching the game really need to take it in and start doing something,’’ Bevacqua said. “If we don’t start coaching these younger kids soon, the entire game is going to change and it is never going to go back… and that’s too bad.’’
Situational hitting has to come back to the game or else baseball is just a showcase event.
Ever since the 1984 World Series when Bevacqua hit two home runs, two doubles and batted .412 for the Padres over five games, he has remained a fan favorite in San Diego. And of course, the late Tommy Lasorda added to that fame with his classic tirade about “Bevacqua, who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a (bleeping) boat.’’
Decades later Kurt Bevacqua is still happily sailing his baseball boat.