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On Tony Gwynn’s birthday, Padres fail to muster any sort of tribute with their scuffling offense


On Monday at Petco Park, the Padres celebrated what would have been Tony Gwynn’s 62nd birthday. They sought to hit all of the right notes, as the late franchise icon did throughout two decades in San Diego. They connected on multiple fronts.

An announced crowd of 41,595 filled the building on a school night, drawn by the occasion and a promotional giveaway. Many in attendance donned a jersey shirt that bore Gwynn’s name and his No. 19. They cheered as his daughter, Anisha, belted out the conclusion of the national anthem. They applauded as his son, Tony Jr., gloved the ceremonial first pitch thrown by his widow, Alicia. They watched with rapt attention as tributes to Gwynn played on the stadium video boards.

Meantime, those in full home uniforms sought to honor his memory with their performance. On this front, they figuratively swung and missed.

The Padres, in the literal sense, did not compile an exorbitant number of strikeouts — seven, to be exact. Their two most veteran hitters each singled amid early approximations of Gwynn’s strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Third baseman Manny Machado is batting .381, not far below Gwynn’s .394 finish that summer. First baseman Eric Hosmer is batting .350. Rookie José Azocar, who started in Gwynn’s position in right field, laid down a bunt single the Hall of Famer would have endorsed. Second baseman Jake Cronenworth worked a walk that helped chase the opposing starter from the game.

In a 6-0 loss to the mediocre Cubs, that was the extent of the Padres’ offense. The opposing starter, Kyle Hendricks, issued that lone walk in the bottom of the ninth and finished one out shy of throwing a complete-game shutout. Reliever Scott Effross took the mound and completed the job. And a troubling, if not unexpected, trend for San Diego continued.

Those familiar with the club could argue it has continued for decades. The Padres, since their inception, have consistently struggled to sustain above-average offense for a full season. Exceptions, like the 60-game 2020 campaign, have been few and far between. Turnover at hitting coach has been plentiful, especially over the past decade. Going back further, Gwynn, the steadiest producer in franchise history, was often surrounded by a glaring lack of firepower.

But he also was not a member of a $200 million team, as the Padres are now. Which makes their current offensive struggles doubly (or triply) conspicuous.

In Sunday’s dramatic win against the Marlins, catcher Jorge Alfaro smashed a pinch-hit, walk-off home run and prevented what would have been the Padres’ first pair of consecutive shutout losses since 2017.

By late Monday, that timely swing stood out even more. Had it not been for Alfaro’s ninth-inning heroics, the Padres might have been blanked in three consecutive games for the first time since 2016. The reality is hardly better: They have scored only once in their past 30 innings on offense.

None of this, however, could be described as shocking. The Padres, despite their payroll, entered the season without star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. in the lineup and with significant questions across the rest of it. With the exception of Hosmer, who was coming off a turbulent 2021 season and yet another attempt to trade him, those questions have only grown.

Besides Machado, Hosmer and infielder Ha-seong Kim, no Padres regular has an OPS above .700. Two key contributors, center fielder Trent Grisham and catcher Austin Nola, are barely hovering above the .500 mark. Two veterans with longer track records, right fielder Wil Myers and designated hitter Luke Voit, were in the same neighborhood before landing on the injured list. The outfield, collectively, owns the lowest OPS of any in the majors.

On Monday, it appeared limited help was on the way. Myers, after taking batting practice on the field, declared he could be ready to return from a thumb contusion as soon as this week. Voit, after a brief respite from a 0-for-18 start to a rehab assignment, was headed back to Triple-A El Paso to continue rehabilitating a wayward swing. The Padres finalized a minor-league contract with outfielder Shogo Akiyama, who was recently released by the Reds, the worst team in the majors. And with outfielder Matt Beaty also going on the IL, San Diego claimed infielder Sergio Alcántara off waivers from Arizona.

Alcántara, who can play shortstop, second base and third, has a career .610 OPS over parts of three seasons.

“Just getting another position player than can play all the infield spots, and it also frees CJ (Abrams) up to do the infield-outfield thing again for us,” president of baseball operations A.J. Preller said. “And then I think we’ll evaluate here in the next week or so with Voit and Myers hopefully getting healthy coming back. I think we’ll have some other conversations, but I think for now it’s a healthy body with Beaty (going on the IL). We always kind of liked the defender, and it’s a versatile player. And like, hey, let’s get some coverage for the next couple days.”

The addition of Alcántara could lead to a return to the minors for Abrams, the Padres’ 21-year-old top prospect. The latter, despite only 76 games of professional experience, made the Opening Day roster in part because the organization lacked infield depth. Yet Alcántara, who has proved relatively little himself, will be evaluated on an ongoing basis. San Diego has another infield option in Triple A in Matt Batten, though the team would have to make a 40-man roster move to promote him.

The Padres are running out of available flexibility for such a transaction; to clear room for Alcántara on the 40-man roster, they placed reliever Pierce Johnson on the 60-day IL. (Johnson, one of the team’s best relievers, has not responded as quickly as hoped from a case of elbow tendinitis. There is no timetable for him to resume throwing.) The Padres have few obvious places left to go if they want to create another spot on the roster.

Monday brought more reminders of their predicament — and of what could have been. Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract in March, lashed an RBI double off rookie MacKenzie Gore in his first at-bat. Before and after the major-league lockout, the Padres had also pursued the Japanese star, only to be outbid by Chicago — a possible example of San Diego’s current lack of financial flexibility. Unlike on Sunday, an early deficit proved insurmountable. Gore pitched solidly for the better part of five innings, but the Padres never stood a chance.

Now, they may have to navigate the immediate future without their manager. Bob Melvin, who did not manage a game last week because of a non-COVID-19 illness, managed Monday’s game while dealing with a gastrointestinal issue. Afterward, the team revealed that bench coach Ryan Christenson had entered COVID-19 protocols, describing it as an unrelated situation. With Melvin not feeling well enough to address the media, third-base coach and former Nationals manager Matt Williams took the podium.

Williams, as Melvin likely would have, spoke optimistically about the scuffling offense. He acknowledged that the Padres hitters might be pressing. He expressed confidence in their abilities. He noted the ebbs and flows of a 162-game season. He credited the strong starting pitching the Padres had faced over the past few games, including Hendricks, a Cy Young finalist in 2016 who began the week with a 5.64 ERA.

Later, in the home clubhouse, Cronenworth echoed his third-base coach on those points. The Padres, at least, lead the majors in walks. On this night, Hendricks limited them to one.

​​”I mean, it’s a testament to him,” Cronenworth said. “He pitched his ass off.”

On the mound, the Padres have often done the same. At the plate, it has been a different story. They have been shut out twice in their past three games. A $200 million team is already trawling the waiver wire.

The record, of course, is 19-11. But San Diego’s place in the standings feels precarious. Tatis’ return, expected sometime next month, can’t come soon enough. The same might be said of the trade deadline.

(Photo of Jake Cronenworth: Denis Poroy / Getty Images)





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