SAN DIEGO — The Padres have played well enough at times this season. They’re in the playoff picture, after all, 14 games above .500, having suddenly built a four-game cushion in the National League Wild Card race.
But they’re quick to tell you that, no, they don’t think they’ve played their best baseball yet. At no point this season have the Padres reeled off a series of victories. At no point have they truly clicked like the well-balanced machine they think they can be.
“There’s no time like the present,” manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday afternoon before his team’s series finale against the D-backs. “… You’d still like to think we have one of these winning-streak runs in us.”
Maybe there is no time like the present. Maybe, just maybe, the Padres’ best baseball is ahead of them.
“This would be as great a time as any for all of us to get going,” said Wil Myers, whose 150th career homer broke a 3-3 tie in the fourth inning.
Before the Padres took the field on Wednesday, they’d gained another half-game on Milwaukee. The Brewers’ loss to Colorado meant San Diego would gain another game in the standings.
Rest assured, they’re aware of the situation in the home dugout at Petco Park.
“It’s on the right-field scoreboard every night, so when you look out there, you see it,” said Jake Cronenworth, who went 3-for-4 with his second homer in as many nights. “Guys are aware of it. But it’s one of those things: We’ve got to win each night, keep ourselves in it and continue to put ourselves in the best position at the end of the season.”
Milwaukee plays a doubleheader vs. the Giants during the Padres’ off-day Thursday — a chance to make up a full game in the standings. But the Padres also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Put it this way: If the Padres were to play .500 ball the rest of the way, the Brewers would need to go 18-8 down the stretch to overtake them for a playoff spot.
Then again, the Padres don’t want to play merely .500 ball the rest of the way. The Padres want more than that. It’s September, and they’d like to (finally) step on the gas.
“Hopefully down the stretch, we start clicking as a group and come together and win these games,” Cronenworth said.
The last couple of days feel like a good start. Manny Machado and Juan Soto went hitless in the series. (Soto exited Wednesday’s game after a hit-by-pitch with a bruised shoulder, but the team expects him to be fine moving forward.)
Without much production from their two superstars, the Padres still scored six runs on consecutive nights. They launched three homers in both games as well.
“These guys have been doing it all year,” Myers said. “It’s a team game. … We’ve got to have it one through nine. Not just the third baseman. So I think that was really good for us tonight — take some pressure off those guys.”
Meantime, Darvish just kept plugging along. If it feels like he throws at least six innings every time he pitches, that’s because, well, he practically does.
Darvish is a throwback. In an era of quick hooks and bullpen optimization, Darvish consistently breaks the mold. He’s now pitched at least six innings in 19 consecutive outings — tied for the fourth-longest streak in Padres history and the longest since Andy Ashby in 1997.
The bullpen locked it down from there, with Robert Suarez, Nick Martinez and Josh Hader throwing a scoreless inning apiece. Hader, who struggled mightily upon his arrival from Milwaukee, picked up his first save as a Padre at Petco Park and has now looked sharp in three straight outings.
“Just better command,” Melvin said. “He’s throwing the ball over the plate, not getting behind. … It looks like his mechanics are better, and he’s throwing it more where he wants to.”
Hader pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning, aided by another night of ninth-inning heroics from unheralded rookie José Azocar.
Azocar, whose nine-pitch walk set the stage for Jorge Alfaro’s walk-off on Tuesday, started the game in center but moved to right after Soto’s injury. Daulton Varsho — who homered twice against Darvish — sent a deep drive to the right-center-field gap. The rangy Azocar covered 111 feet of ground in 5.6 seconds, making a running catch. Statcast had the play pegged at just a 30 percent catch probability. But Azocar had gone 0-for-4, and …
“[If] I don’t get a hit, nobody gets a hit,” he quipped. “In my mind it was: Get to that ball, no matter what you do.”
He got there, all right, making a catch that felt emblematic of a complete team victory. The Padres insist there’s more where that came from.