Padres sweep Nationals to boost playoff chances

SAN DIEGO – Here are the Padres.

The first half of the 2024 season has been marked by its share of ups and downs in San Diego. There were times when the Padres looked ready to take off – and never quite did. There were times when the Padres seemed destined to collapse – and never quite did.

Through it all, the crowded, wide-open nature of the National League playoff picture has given them some breathing room. The Padres were a .500 team entering their series against Washington this week. It was hardly disqualifying. More than half the league found itself in a similar position – fighting for one of the final two Wild Card spots without seriously making a claim.

Against this backdrop, the Nationals traveled to Petco Park for a three-game series, trailing the Padres by a half-game for the final NL playoff spot. Three days later – after a wild comeback on Monday, a benches-clearing incident on Tuesday (followed by Jurickson Profar’s grand slam declaration) and an emphatic 8-5 victory in San Diego on Wednesday – the Padres staked their claim.

Yes, it’s June. Yes, there are still three months of baseball to play. Yes, the Padres have already wowed and disappointed. But if there are two spots available in the NL Wild Card race, one of them might just be the Padres’ to lose.

San Diego capped its sweep of the Nationals with a complete display of dominance Wednesday afternoon. Catcher Kyle Higashioka hit two home runs, including a grand slam in the eighth inning. His teammate, Dylan Cease, was borderline unhittable, working seven scoreless innings, striking out nine and allowing one hit.

“It was awesome,” Cease said of the Padres’ 6-1 home game. “We were successful in every game. Even if we fell, the offense came back. Two very nice series.

“Best stretch of games we’ve had all year,” added second baseman Jake Cronenworth.

Make no mistake, the Padres’ position is still precarious. They don’t have the luxury of the Phillies, Dodgers and Brewers, each of whom has built sizable division leads. Even the Braves, at the top of the Wild Card table, have some wiggle room. The Padres, meanwhile, have already proven that their season can swing the other way — and quickly.

The list also has some question marks, most related to injuries. Yu Darvish, who was scheduled to start Tuesday, had his return from the injured list pushed back due to inflammation in his right elbow. Joe Musgrove has been dealing with the same problem for most of the season. Neither has pitched since May. Rotation help might be needed before the trade deadline.

On Monday, the Padres announced that Fernando Tatis Jr. suffered a stress reaction to the femur in his right leg. The timetable for his return is not yet known, but it will not take place until after the All-Star break. He joined Xander Bogaerts (fractured left shoulder) on the injured list.

All of this makes the Padres’ path much more difficult. But San Diego isn’t the only playoff contender with injury issues. None of these players have been ruled out for the season. It is possible that the entire contingent of superstars will be available for the home stretch. The Padres simply need to steady the ship until then.

“We’ll figure it out,” manager Mike Shildt said. “I talk about it quite often: winners find solutions. It’s something we’ve been able to do most of the year. We had adversity. You’re going to have adversity in this game. … Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. You have to step up, play the games.

So far, so good. Tatis landed on the IL the same day Darvish was scratched from his scheduled Tuesday start. The Padres’ response couldn’t have been better: They won the next three games they played, against a team that was chasing them in the Wild Card race.

“It’s a testament to the guys’ character,” Higashioka said. “No matter what adversity we face, I think we showed in the first half that we are up for the challenge.”

Profar, always at the center of everything, has established himself as a stabilizing force, even though he suffers from patellar tendinitis in his left knee. Manny Machado, dealing with a right hip flexor strain, homered after Profar was hit Tuesday and had two more hits Wednesday. Higashioka, meanwhile, has been nothing but mush since starting catcher Luis Campusano landed on the IL with a bruised left thumb.

Maybe these Padres prove they can endure.

News Source :
Gn sports

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