Even though San Diego has struggled to be competitive in recent years, its relievers have consistently been a strength. After an array of offseason moves aimed at competing for a championship, the club's bullpen has been a weak link thus far.
The Padres visit the Arizona Diamondbacks in Sunday's series finale, hoping Justin Upton won't have to bail them out from another late collapse.
San Diego has finished at least 16 games out of first place in six of the past seven years, only coming close to reaching the playoffs in 2010. Even in an 85-loss campaign last season, the Padres' bullpen finished second with a 2.73 ERA, and hasn't finished lower than 11th since 2008. The addition of Craig Kimbrel, whose 194 saves are 50 more than any other pitcher since 2011, figured to only further bolster San Diego's relief corps.
This year, though, the relievers rank 25th with a 4.53 ERA, and Kimbrel has looked rather pedestrian at times - posting a 10.80 ERA over his last eight appearances. He blew his first save Saturday, giving up two runs in the ninth inning.
Luckily for the Padres (17-15), Upton hit a solo homer in the 12th inning of a 6-4 victory, scoring the go-ahead run for a second straight night after Friday's 6-5 win. Three of Upton's eight home runs this season have come against his former team, and he has five homers in his last 10 meetings
He downplayed any extra motivation he might have playing against the Diamondbacks, however.
"That's old hat," said Upton, whose 70 homers at Chase Field are tied with Chris Young for the third-most. "I'm just trying to cheer on my teammates and play the game."
Andrew Cashner (1-5, 3.16) could use another power display from Upton after being backed with only one run of support over 20 innings while losing three straight starts. The Padres have committed nine of their 23 errors in his starts and his 10 unearned runs allowed are the most in baseball. Among the four other pitchers tied for the most losses, Cashner is the only one with an ERA below 4.19.
He didn't help himself much in Tuesday's 6-0 defeat at San Francisco, giving up six runs and seven hits in six innings.
"It was a huge disappointment," he said. "I expect to be way better than that."
Despite nine strikeouts, Cashner lost 8-4 to Arizona on April 13 as all four of the runs he allowed over six innings were unearned. He's 0-3 in four matchups since the start of last season despite a 2.25 ERA.
This was set up to be Josh Collmenter's turn in the rotation, but he hasn't had enough rest after pitching in the first leg of Wednesday's doubleheader sweep of Colorado. Instead, Arizona (13-16) will go with a bullpen day, which could be a precarious situation. The team's relievers have thrown 28 innings over the past eight games, and six combined for five innings Saturday.
Paul Goldschmidt, who walked four times and is 22 for 47 with 11 RBIs over his last 11 games, is 5 for 11 with a home run against Cashner.