Dodgers May Have NL West Challenger In Padres

Dodgers May Have NL West Challenger In Padres
Publish date:

Roughly 10 games into the 2020 MLB season (except for those clubs that have been affected by COVID-19 outbreaks among the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals), is it too early to walk back early-season predictions?

Upon submitting those 2020 predictions, there were a couple that I already had the feeling I'd be walking back. I underestimated how good the Cleveland Indians' pitching would be, for instance. (Though the Tribe's hitting might still make a wild card prediction look astute.) I probably overestimated the productivity of the Washington Nationals' lineup.

But the prediction that already looks wrong -- and feels more so each day the season progresses -- was leaving the San Diego Padres out of the postseason mix in the National League. I picked the Arizona Diamondbacks to finish second in the NL West and didn't see the Padres finishing as one of the league's Wild Card teams either.

OK, it's still early in the season. But not as early as it would be in a normal 162-game campaign. With this 60-game sprint, one-sixth of the season has already been played.

Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson used to say, "You can't tell anything about a baseball team until 40 games have been played." That's roughly 25 percent of the 162-game schedule. Under the 60-game format, we're not far off from that now. Sparky's wisdom applies to 15 games this season. The Padres and Dodgers have played 11, both compiling 7-4 records, going into Tuesday night's matchup.

[Follow Sports Illustrated’s Inside the Dodgers on Twitter.]

So is it really too early to say now that the Padres should be considered a serious NL contender? The Dodgers should still win the division, especially when it feels like the team isn't yet playing at its best.

But in Monday's series opener, San Diego showed why it's a formidable challenger. Starter Chris Paddack wasn't at his best, allowing three runs and five hits in six innings. But the Padres' lineup flexed its muscle early with home runs from Trent Grisham, Wil Myers and Fernando Tatis Jr., while the bullpen provided three frames of scoreless, one-hit baseball for a 5-4 victory.

Tatis was already viewed as one of baseball's brightest young stars and Paddack one of its top young pitchers, which had the Padres on several prognosticators radar. But Grisham (.293 average, 1.079 OPS) compiling a breakout season thus far along with Myers is the sort of development that nudges this team up a level.

As Cliff pointed out in his series preview, the Padres lead MLB with 64 runs scored and rank among the NL's top five in hits, extra-base hits, home runs, slugging, and OPS. The offense looks legit.

If San Diego falls short of the postseason (which might be impressive in itself, considering eight teams will now qualify), pitching will be the culprit. Relief pitching (5.93 ERA), to be more specific.

Other than Drew Pomeranz, Padres relievers have struggled. Closer Kirby Yates has been especially problematic, allowing five runs and six hits in 3.1 innings. So the starters will likely have to carry the load. So far, Paddack, Garrett Richards, and Dinelson Lamet look like a strong top-three.

Regardless, the Padres will be a fun team to watch. Well, maybe not for Dodgers fans who want to see their team run away with the division. But going into this shortened season, the hope was that a surprise contender would emerge. The upstart club returning to its brown-and-mustard uniform roots might be the one.

Ian Casselberry watchdogs sports media for Awful Announcing. He's covered baseball for SB Nation, Yahoo Sports and MLive, and was one of Bleacher Report's first lead MLB writers. Please follow Ian on Twitter @iancass and give him a listen at The Podcass.