Sturdy starting pitching key to Padres playoff run

In a crucial weekend during the National League wild card race, the Phillies played the Braves, the Brewers played the Yankees, and the Padres played the Diamondbacks.

One of these matchups is not like the other, and it’s why the Padres are now in position of the second wild card slot. San Diego is a half-game ahead of Philadelphia, who are two games above Milwaukee for the third and final playoff spot. Atlanta has an 11-game lead for the top wild card spot and is more concerned with the NL East crown.

The Padres took full advantage and concluded their favorable series against the Diamondbacks with a club record 14 wins. A record that will never be topped due to the new scheduling starting next year that will lower the number of divisional matchups.

A big reason behind San Diego’s success this season, and potentially reaching their second postseason since changing colors in 2020, is their sturdy starting pitching. The Padres’ starting rotation has logged more innings (825.2) than any other team in the NL and only the Braves and Mets have amassed more strikeouts.

Photos by Tony Capobianco

The Padres’ potential playoff rotation was on display this past weekend at Arizona and gave them the series win after the Friars dropped the opener. Starting with Blake Snell, who has posted a 2.70 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 60 innings over 11 starts since the All-Star Game. He went a season-high seven innings with seven strikeouts and allowed only one run on Friday to lower his ERA to 3.85 for the season.

“I’ve been feeling stronger and stronger as the year’s gone on,” Snell said on Friday.

Joe Musgrove earned his first winning decision of the season against Arizona on Saturday, which was his first since his San Diego debut last season. After throwing six shutout innings on Saturday, Musgrove lowered his ERA to a career-low 3.16, a substantial feat given his second half (4.43 ERA) of the season has not been as good as his first half (2.42).

“I’m not going to get too comfortable and say I’ve got it figured out and it’s going to stay here,” Musgrove said on Saturday.

Yu Darvish closed out the series on Sunday and used five different pitches to record eight strikeouts in six shutout innings. His four-seam fastball was his best pitch and led to three punchouts.

“The fastball felt good, so why not use it, right?” Darvish said on Sunday through a translator.

While the rotation has been solid all season, not everyone has been successful. The Sean Manaea acquisition late in spring training didn’t pay off like originally imagined, as he has gone from being the ace in Oakland (3.91 ERA) to being nothing more than a glorified fifth starter in San Diego (5.18 ERA). Even worse so, he has the highest road ERA (6.10) of any qualifying pitcher in the big leagues.

Mike Clevenger, who is slated to start on Tuesday at home against the Cardinals, is also going through the worst season of his career. Unlike Manaea, Clevenger has been dealing with a litany of injuries since being traded to San Diego from Cleveland in 2020. He lost all of last season due to Tommy John Surgery and started this season with a knee sprain and right triceps strain.

It won’t likely mean much in the postseason as the rotation typically shrinks from five to three with the fourth starter making a spot start during the League Championship Series and World Series. The Padres would likely line up Darvish, Musgrove and Snell in the National League Wild Card Series and the National League Divisional Series.

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