Padres’ losing streak hits 5 games as familiar, disjointed play continues

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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Padres are hitting better with runners in scoring position than they did last season. They are carrying a lower payroll and, with it, less overall talent. They are fielding what some would argue is a more cohesive roster. The day after a fourth consecutive loss dropped the Padres to 14-17 — two games worse than last year’s team was through 31 contests — manager Mike Shildt made a couple of points in support of that case.

“We basically put on a clinic this last series defensively and didn’t win a game, and no one’s gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s great,’” Shildt said Monday afternoon. “All I can say is from a pure, like, ‘How are we playing?’ standpoint, that’s a huge win. Now, let’s figure out how to have a few more shutdown innings, a few more consistent at-bats and innings. I looked at our latest report, and we’re a top-10 offensive team, taking a lot of good at-bats, doing a lot of good things. We just got to continue to put it together and be consistent. When you play good teams, that’s what it comes down to. And that’s what the playoffs are about. And we got to do that consistently so we can go be that playoff team we expect to be.”

A lower payroll indeed does not have to mean significantly lower expectations. The Padres still are carrying five nine-figure contracts and a $226 million luxury tax payroll. Yet, Monday evening, they again demonstrated why talk of the club as a legitimate contender remains premature.

The Padres continued to look listless as they lost a fifth consecutive game, 5-2 to the Cincinnati Reds. They came fairly close to being hitless, too. After Jurickson Profar belted a leadoff home run against Reds left-hander Nick Lodolo, and after consecutive walks to lead off the bottom of the second, San Diego didn’t get on base again until Jake Cronenworth doubled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts followed with consecutive singles before Ha-Seong Kim struck out swinging.

By then, the Padres had grown used to coming up empty at the plate. Lodolo retired the final 18 batters he faced and wound up matching a career high by inducing 22 swings-and-misses among 99 pitches.

“The guy’s pretty good. Got to tip your hat,” Shildt said. “Whether we stuck with our approach consistently enough, that’s something we’re gonna have to look at and explore.”

It was the Padres’ highest whiff total against a single pitcher since July 2, when Cincinnati’s Andrew Abbott got a slightly more star-studded lineup to wave at 25 pitches. Now in 2024, a righty-heavy offense has been worse than last year’s edition in at least one category: San Diego, through 32 games, is batting .184 against lefties. Only the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers have lower averages opposite left-handed pitching.

“We’ve had a pretty good offense all year, I think, and we’ve made a lot of hard contact and had some really good at-bats,” Cronenworth said. “I think the approach we’ve been taking is really good, and tonight it just didn’t work.”

According to Statcast, the Padres entered Monday third in the majors in expected batting average (versus righties and lefties) and seventh in expected slugging percentage. But, similar to last year, the overall product for much of this season has been out of sync. The rotation currently appears to have one reliable pitcher, Dylan Cease, and San Diego starters have combined for a 4.67 ERA after knuckleballer Matt Waldron allowed four runs in six innings against the Reds. Cincinnati scored all four of those runs in the first three innings to prolong a tiresome trend for the home team.

During a three-game sweep over the weekend, the Padres led for only a half-inning and trailed early and often. The Philadelphia Phillies scored twice in the first inning of the first game, twice in the first inning of the second game and twice in the second inning of the finale. Monday, Lodolo took the mound with a 1-0 lead — courtesy of an Elly De La Cruz homer — and immediately surrendered Profar’s tying solo shot. Then, the Reds scored twice in the top of the second and Lodolo took full advantage of another lead.

“He’s a really good pitcher,” Profar said, “but he was pitching comfortable, I think.”

“It’s not entirely a momentum game, but it definitely can be when you’re down early,” Shildt said. “We do punch back, and then the shutdown inning part, that’s been a mystery to this point, where we haven’t been able to do that here consistently and often.”

Another mystery: Despite again drawing near-capacity crowds for most home games, the Padres fell to 1-10 this season in night games at Petco Park. They have been outscored 70-32 in those contests, and their lone evening victory in downtown San Diego required a franchise-record-tying comeback from an 8-0 deficit.

“I mean, you got to see the scoreboard too,” right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. said before Monday’s game. “I feel like pretty much in those games, teams are slugging on us and creating a really big lead all the time. And most of the time also, we’re facing their ace and they have done a really good job, although we still can do a little bit better. But it looks like we’re going through a rough stretch right now.”

Monday night, the Padres made Lodolo, a talented but relatively unaccomplished big leaguer, look like an ace. The rough stretch continued. So did the questions about just how much has gotten better since the overwhelming disappointment of 2023.

“It’s disappointing from everybody’s chair, including mine, when we get the crowds that we get, the support that we get, the excitement we get, the enthusiasm we get at home,” Shildt said. “We clearly have done some things in some day games that have been positive, but we haven’t been good enough in night games. We just haven’t been good enough at home, and I’ll take the brunt of the responsibility if there needs to be any responsibility to be had.”

(Photo of Jake Cronenworth: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

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