LOS ANGELES — Earlier this week, after the Padres played their first game with an overhauled roster, manager Bob Melvin was asked whether the recent Trade Deadline bonanza had changed his team’s expectations.
Melvin chuckled. It was obvious, wasn’t it? Another manager might’ve been blustering around the fact. But Melvin is a straight shooter, and of course expectations have changed in San Diego.
“Yeah,” Melvin conceded with a laugh. “I mean, we had high expectations, regardless. But when you bring in players like that, certainly.”
Those expectations were never going to be realized in one night. As such, they won’t be derailed in one night either.
But on Friday in Los Angeles, the Padres were offered a stark reminder of the task at hand. The Dodgers have been the class of the National League for the past decade. It’ll take some doing to dethrone them.
In the first game of the litmus-test series the Padres had so earnestly anticipated, they were thumped by the Dodgers, 8-1 — a game that was, for all intents and purposes, over by the third inning.
“It didn’t feel very good,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We wanted to come out and put together some good at-bats early on, put the pressure on them. It just happened in reverse. You just have to put it away.”
To be fair, this was, on paper, a bit of a pitching mismatch. The Dodgers turned to Tony Gonsolin, who has been their best starter this season. The Padres turned to Sean Manaea, at this point their No. 5.
Manaea was hit hard, allowing eight runs in four innings. He allowed four runs in the first and four more in the third. The Padres — playing their ninth game in eight days — asked Manaea to wear it. Their beleaguered bullpen needed the innings.
“Just calming everything down — I didn’t really do that,” Manaea said. “I think I made it bigger than it needed to be. Things got out of hand quickly.”
This marked the second time in three starts that Manaea has surrendered at least eight runs. A useful offseason acquisition, Manaea’s presence helped bolster the Padres’ deep rotation. He had a 3.92 ERA through June. That number has since jumped to 4.74.
“Nobody feels worse about it than he does,” Melvin said. “He wants to be there for his team. This is the first game of a big series, and he doesn’t have his best stuff and certainly not his best location. I think he’s at the point in time in his career where he’s going to be able to put this one away and work towards his next start.”
Despite Manaea’s recent struggles, the Padres did not look to alter their rotation ahead of this weekend’s series against the rival Dodgers. As if to further the point that this was merely one game in early August, Manny Machado started the night as the designated hitter. Now that the Padres have bolstered the versatility of their roster, they’d like to get Machado a few nights like this one as a reprieve for his balky left ankle.
There are downsides to such a big-picture strategy, however. The Padres acquired Brandon Drury for his bat and for his positional versatility. But defensively he is, well, not Manny Machado. On a pair of first-inning grounders, Drury threw one away and misplayed another. It’s safe to guess that Machado, a two-time Gold Glover and one of the best defensive players of his generation, might have helped limit the damage.
Instead, the Padres found themselves facing an early four-run deficit, a hole they didn’t climb out of. All in all, it was a decidedly poor showing in their first game against the Dodgers since the Deadline. San Diego feels as though it has narrowed the gap substantially with the acquisitions of Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Josh Hader and Drury. For one night, at least, it didn’t show.
In his first at-bat, Soto — who was celebrated here three weeks ago at the All-Star Game and again two weeks ago when the Nationals came to town — was booed lustily by the same fans who once cheered in hopes that he ‘d land in LA Soto responded by lining a 108.5 mph rocket up the middle. The Padres threatened in the first inning, forcing Gonsolin to throw 30 pitches. But they came up empty, and the Dodgers opened the floodgates straight away.
With that, Los Angeles grew its lead in the NL West to 13 1/2 games. That race is virtually over. But the Padres didn’t go all-in at the Deadline because they thought they’d win the West in 2022. They have bigger expectations than that, expectations that won’t be derailed by one ugly night at Dodger Stadium.
“We’ll come back tomorrow, and we’ll play better baseball,” said left fielder Jurickson Profar. “We have a good team.”