Fernando Tatis, Jr.

@USA Today, Orlando Ramirez

Oddly, The Padres Should Be Better

At Least That's What Vegas Is Saying; Now San Diego Must Back It Up

Chris Ello
January 16, 2020 - 11:24 pm

The odds are that the Padres will be much better in 2020 than they were last season. No, really. The odds say that.

Depending on whose Vegas odds you wish to go with, the over/under win total on the Padres for the upcoming season is somewhere in the low 80's. That's a pretty nice-sounding number. Especially when you consider the Padres -- improved last season -- won only 70 games, four more than they had won the season before.

An improvement of between 12 and 17 wins is what those in the know are projecting this year. That's a lot. In fact, it's such a big increase, you would almost think the Padres went out this past off-season and signed a free agent the likes of a Manny Machado. (That, of course, was last off-season...and ultimately, a four-game improvement was the result).

So why are the Padres odds-on favorites to make a bigger leap in 2020? Let's check the everyday lineup first of all.

Catcher is still the same with Francisco Mejia and Austin Hedges. One can't field and the other can't hit. First base hasn't changed, either. Eric Hosmer, a $144-million signing two off-seasons ago, was much better last season than his first with the Pads, but his .263 batting average was still 13 points below his career mark. He hit 22 homers, three fewer than his career best, and drove in 99 runs, five off his personal record. Can he be even better in 2020? The number suggest perhaps a slight improvement is possible, but not a large jump.

Second base has gone from over-the-hill Ian Kinsler and not-ready-yet Luis Urias to -- at least for now -- Jurickson Profar, an off-season acquistion from the Oakland Athletics. Profar is not a stellar fielder nor has be been magnificent with the bat. He slugged 17 homers batting left-handed a year ago, but hit only .192. He batted .305 as a righty, but hit only three homers. In other words, he didn't put it together from either side of the plate. An upgrade is possible, but not something you can count on.

The left side of the infield is where the Padres may, indeed, improve the most. Sounds unlikely at first when you consider that shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. and third baseman Manny Machado played there last year, and will again man those posts this season. But Machado potentially has a huge upside. Last season's performance left him 22 RBI's short of his career-best and 23 points below his lifetime batting average. He didn't even make ESPN's list of the Top 10 third basemen in baseball. You can argue that omission if you wish, but you can't argure that Machado was a disapointment at the plate. The fielding was nearly worth the $30-million a year, the hitting was not. He can do way better.

Tatis, too, can improve -- simply by staying healthy. In just half-a-season last year, he put up 22 HR's and 53 RBI's -- with 16 stolen bases and a .317 average. Those are sensational marks and if duplicated over a full season this year would place him among the best at his position in the National League. In order for the Padres to win more games than they did in 2019, a healthy Tatis is a must. So is an improved Machado.

In the outfield, you've gone from Wil Myers, Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe to Wil Myers, Tommy Pham and Trent Grisham. Pham we know is an upgrade, but Grisham, picked up from Milwaukee, is a question mark. He's young with tons of potential. How much of it will be realized? Myers, meanwhile, if ever he returned to his early-career Rookie of the Year-type performance, could be a Comeback Player of the Year candidate in the N.L. He has that much room to improve. Stranger things have happened in baseball.

Pitching is another spot where the names are familiar, but the results need to be better. Chris Paddack almost certainly would figure to improve on his nine wins of a year, if for no other reason, he won't be pitching with an innings limit in 2020. Dinelson Lamet is now a full year removed from his Tommy John surgery. He needs to be more consistently good. Garret Richards is healthy, and Joey Lucchesi is perhaps on the brink of -- what? -- hopefully a breakthrough. Zach Davies, picked up from the Brewers along with Grisham, is the only new name in the rotation. If he winds up as the No. 4 guy, that will be good news for San Diego.

Kirby Yates returning to close is also good news. Baseball's best late-inning reliever probably can't do better than he did a year ago, but a repeat performance, or close to it, will suffice. Craig Stammen, newly-signed Drew Pomeranz, Matt Strahm and young flamethrower Andres Munoz give the Friars a solid shot at having a solid bullpen.

Is all of it, with new Manager Jayce Tingler calling the shots, enough for the Padres to improve as much as the odds say they will? To be honest, at the moment, it looks like a real possibility. But, then again, every team probably feels that way in mid-January.