If the Padres played seven-inning games, they’d be doing great. They just need to eliminate the second and third innings:
Eliminating the fourth and fifth wouldn’t hurt either, but those aren’t killing the Padres the way the second and third are. Through the team’s first 46 games, San Diego is being outscored by 37 runs in those innings.
No big deal, it’s just two innings, right? Well, not exactly:
|2 & 3||Others|
Yes, it’s just two innings. Without them, though, the Padres have outscored the opposition by 15 runs.
The knee-jerk reaction is to blame the starting pitching. We knew coming into the season that the rotation would be a problem, and it has not disappointed in disappointing: Only the Brewers’ starters have a higher ERA in the National League.
Part of the problem is that Padres starters have been awful the first time through a lineup. Here’s how they compare to MLB starters in each of their first three plate appearances against a batter (we’re using OPS for simplicity’s sake):
These numbers were even more extreme when I started tracking this last week (+162 vs MLB in the first PA and +12 in the third PA, so the starters have redistributed their suckitude), but you get the idea.
Still, all the bad pitching in the world doesn’t explain the Padres’ offensive futility in the third. No team has scored fewer runs in that inning, and after the Mets’ Marlon Byrd launched a three-run home run off Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto on Monday night, the Padres remain the only team without a homer in the third this year. The numbers are surreal: .182/.254/.214 in 180 plate appearances.
There aren’t many teams without a home run in any inning this far into the season. The Mariners haven’t homered in the second, the Padres in the third, the Marlins in the fifth, the Giants and Phillies in the seventh, four teams in the ninth (which is a little different because teams don’t always bat). It’s an exclusive list.
Why is this happening, and how do the Padres fix it? Bud Black has control over who he chooses as his starting pitcher–confined to the talent he was given, of course–but it’s hard to know who will bat in the third inning. And it’s hard to know how those players will perform in a given inning. Chase Headley is a great hitter, but his .250/.333/.250 line in the third is brutal.
Headley’s performance also constitutes 18 plate appearances, which raises an important point. The best way for the Padres to fix this problem is probably by playing more games. This lineup can hit, it just hasn’t in the third for whatever reason. This isn’t Miami.
The Marlins have scored the second fewest runs in the third inning this year. They also average 2.66 runs per game, worst in baseball by a lot.
The Marlins typically bat Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, and Greg Dobbs in three of the first four slots. Each of those guys owns a sub-600 OPS, so Miami’s scoring problems doesn’t constitute news beyond the fact that Jeffrey Loria is an ass for failing to stock his team with big-league talent.
If you’re scoring runs like the Marlins in a given inning, you’re doing it wrong. You’re also likely to stop doing that because your hitters don’t excel at making outs like theirs do.
Still, it’s tough to give away two innings each game. Larger sample sizes should help the third-inning offensive drought, but second-inning run prevention is a different story. There’s only so much this rotation is capable of doing.
So we wait. We give thanks that Pierre, Polanco, and Dobbs don’t grace the lineup each night. And that nobody in the rotation is named Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Suppan, or Kip Wells. And that none of them is being paid like Dan Haren or Edwin Jackson.
It’s just two innings. Go make a sandwich or something.
* * *