Mets vs. Padres 2022 MLB playoffs: Insiders break off series

The Padres have transformed into one of the most aggressive organizations in the majors. Under AJ Preller, they have become a star-driven team with a high paycheck and unafraid to spend prospects to acquire what they want at a time when most franchises hoard their best farmhands as if they were all winning lottery tickets.

That philosophy didn’t even lead to a .500 record, let alone a playoff spot in 2021, when San Diego was arguably the most disappointing team of the majors. This year, the Padres never received an at bat from Fernando Tatis Jr., the third-placed NL MVP last season. He suffered a fracture to his right wrist, believed to have been sustained in an off-season motorcycle accident and – about to return – was suspended in August when he tested positive for an anabolic steroid.

By then, however, this version of the Padres had made one of the largest trades in history, virtually draining the best of their system to obtain Juan Soto — and Josh Bell — a day after acquiring Josh Hader. This time, the star power led San Diego to its first playoff berth in a 162 game season since 2006. And this kind of star power makes them especially dangerous in a short run. With the help of a scout, coach, and executive with deep experience studying the Padres, let’s dig deeper into the challenge the Mets face this weekend at Citi Field:

The 1-2 punch

Are we sure Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom give the Mets the best starting combo in this series? We are not talking historically. But right now. The Mets were 10-10 in games started by their duo since deGrom came off the injured list on Aug. 2, and neither took the challenge in Atlanta this past weekend.

Meanwhile, Game 1 starter Yu Darvish and Blake Snell excel. Darvish has pitched no less than six innings since May 13. As of June 7, when Darvish retired the Mets in seven innings, the title holder has a 2.68 ERA, .197 batting average and 149 to 22 strikeout ratio over 20 starts. That piece includes another seven-inning outing, in which he gave up one run, against the Mets. The scout described Darvish as “the most talented nibbler in the world.”

This has long been Darvish’s criticism – that he mostly has an elite fastball (even at 36, he averaged 95mph this year, equated for 11th place among qualifiers), but throws like he never wants the bat to hit the ball . So he uses his wide range of pitches to try and deceive.

“It’s not a comfortable at bat,” said the coach. “The batters know he’s got great stuff. Because he won’t stray from working the edges, the key is to get his pitch count up and maybe take him out of the game an inning or two early. But he is not wild [eighth-lowest walk percentage at 4.8 percent]. He has become very dependent on the cutter [35.3 percent] and it’s a good pitch. But I will never stop believing that he should use his four-seamer again.”

Padres righthander Yu Darvish will pitch against the Rockies on September 24, 2022.
Padres righthander Yu Darvish will pitch against the Rockies on September 24, 2022.
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Snell ruled out the Mets in five innings on July 23. That began with a 14-start, season-ending spree in which he had a 2.19 ERA, a .209 batting average and a 105 to 20 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 78 innings. Snell as a Ray was famously taken out of World Series Game 6 in 2020, though he dominated the Dodgers, as Tampa Bay stuck to his conviction not to expose him to a lineup for a third time. Los Angeles immediately rallied after Snell’s departure to take the title.

San Diego was more open-minded with Snell, who twice won seven innings in his last four starts, a period in which he gave up a 0.72 ERA and 0.411 OPS. “They let Snell go and I can see why – he keeps his stuff into the sixth and seventh innings,” said the scout. “The speed is still there, the command, the confidence, he’s still landing that breaking ball.”

The director said, “He’s 96 on average” [mph] with his fastball and 90 with his slider. When that slider is on, he’s one of the hardest pitchers to hit in the majors.”

Throw it hard…and over the board

The scout said this about the Padres’ offensive approach: “The theme of the team, it feels like to me, is that they try to run. When we play them, it feels like all their big innings are built on walks. ”

The numbers don’t lie. No team has walked five more times in a game than San Diego’s 55, and they were 40-15 in those games — the 0.733 win rate, fifth best at drawing that much in a game.

Mets pitcher Max Scherzer during a game against the Phillies on August 12, 2022.
Mets pitcher Max Scherzer during a game against the Phillies on August 12, 2022.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

This was their style, even with Luke Voit. It is especially so because Voit was part of the trade that brought Bell and Soto. The Major League Walk rate is 8.2 percent. The Padres have nine regular batters up there. Soto led the majors 20.4, 19.3 since joining the Padres.

One of the keys to the series is to keep leadoff man Jurickson Profar off base in front of Soto and Manny Machado. That doesn’t mean walking with him. Profar hit .243, but ran 11.1 percent of the time (19th best among qualifiers).

In general, as a team, the Padres are good at not chasing fields out of the attack zone. The coach said in a text message with multiple exclamation marks: “Attack the zone!!!!”

One way to do this is by being able to throw hard. The Padres’ .636 OPS against pitches from 95 mph and harder was 28th in the majors. So the main trinity of the Mets, Scherzer, deGrom and Edwin Diaz, clearly fits into this. But can hard throwing relievers like Trevor May and Drew Smith have any value in this series?

The offensive big two

They never got the big three from Machado, Soto and Tatis. But a lineup with Soto second behind Profar, followed by Machado, has a No. 2-3 powerhouse in the lineup.

Since the scavenger vs. the Mets right rotation is likely to be Jake Cronenworth or maybe Bell, it’s critical to force the rest of a lineup that’s just meh to beat them. But our panel of three was unanimous on whether it was Machado vs. Soto arrives, with the coach who synthesized for the group, “Don’t let Machado beat you.”

Manny Machado points to Padres' dugout during a game against the Giants on October 5, 2022.
Manny Machado points to Padres’ dugout during a game against the Giants on October 5, 2022.
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That’s because this Soto hasn’t been the 2019-21 Soto with the Nationals, especially since he was traded to the Padres on Aug. 2. He hit .236 with a .778 OPS for San Diego, but still walked 44 and struckout 34 – he just doesn’t chase much. Did he get bad habits from playing with a horrible Nationals club? Did he feel pressure to justify turning down a 15-year, $440 million extension, which led to Washington exchanging him for San Diego?

It’s a dangerous game to assume he won’t rise until the moment. In the 2019 postseason, Soto hit five home runs with a .927 OPS in 17 games to help the Nationals win the championship. He won the Home Run Derby in July and everyone knew he was just days away from a trade.

There may be no rule change that Buck Showalter hates more than the mandatory three batter rule for relievers. He has often said that, among other points, you can’t just let a lefty reliever play against a lefty batter, that lefty relievers must at the very least be competent against right-handers.

Unless Mets starters can hand over directly to Diaz, this series will force Showalter to think about the situation he loathes. Soto has a .942 OPS vs. right-handers, but .701 vs. left-handers. So you’ll want to get a lefty reliever to take on him, and the Mets duo of David Peterson and Joely Rodriguez have kept Soto (small sample warning) at 1-for-9, albeit with four walks. The coach liked left-to-left substitutions against Soto if you can keep it low (can Rodriguez?) and the kind of two-strike slider Peterson can offer. But Soto even forces left-on-left pitchers to make attacks, and Rodriguez and Peterson can command.

Padres outfielder Juan Soto will strike against the Dodgers on September 10, 2022.
Padres outfielder Juan Soto will strike against the Dodgers on September 10, 2022.
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But the problem is if you have to leave in the lefty by the rules. Machado has a .855 OPS vs. southpaws and his 12 home runs put him in fifth place in the majors (with teammate Brandon Drury). If Machado starts a late inning, you can imagine Showalter going to Adam Ottavino, who this year was entitled to batting averages of .161 and .479 OPS and has kept Machado hitless in eight at bats with three strikeouts. But can Ottavino be trusted against Soto, whom he has never met? Left-handers beat the right by an average of .301 and .838 OPS this year.

Seth Lugo is the right hand Showalter trusts most against left-handers in the setup (Soto is 3-for-10 with a homer and four walks vs. Lugo, however). You can expect Diaz in the eighth, especially if Soto and Machado go head to head (Soto is 2-for-8 against Diaz, both hits are home runs).

The speed (not) factor

Brandon Nimmo’s inability to grow into a skilled base stealer and especially the likely absence of Starling Marte from this series is a killer for the Mets, as the Padres are terrible at stopping the running game. They threw out just 16 percent of baserunners this season — 6 percent worse than any team.

Throwing is not a strong point for San Diego catchers Jorge Alfaro, Luis Campusano and Austin Nola. Runners were 32 of 38 steals against the Padres that three starters had scheduled for this series – Darvish, Snell and Joe Musgrove (12 of 14 vs. Darvish).

Francisco Lindor has to get to the base and use his legs and Terrance Gore becomes even more of a weapon in the late games.

Conversely, San Diego hardly uses the steal (49 successes were the second least in NL). Shortstop Ha-Seong Kim is the biggest threat (12 steals), but Machado will take a sack if opponents aren’t paying attention (9 out of 10 on steals).

Which Hader?

Hader opened this season looking like he would have the season that Diaz ended up doing. The lefty didn’t concede a run in his first 19 appearances, and through June, Hader had a 1.09 ERA, a .119 batting average, and had retired 41 of the 91 batters he saw as the Brewers got closer.

However, Hader then faltered for Milwaukee, was traded to the Padres on August 1, and immediately collapsed, giving up 12 runs in his first seven appearances with seven walks and eight strikeouts. He temporarily lost his closing role. But he regained the position over his last 12 appearances with a 0.79 ERA and .128 batting average against, but not quite the strikeout dominance of his height (14 of 41 batters).

The scout said Hader’s speed and command returned late in the season – most notably his fastball at the top of the zone and ability to get his slider to the back foot of right hitters. During that period when Hader got his act together, he faced 15 lefty hitters, going 1-for-13 (a single), with two walks and seven strikeouts. You want as many good hitters as possible against him.

This was supposed to be Darin Ruf’s late-inning pinch-hit role. He faced Hader only twice, but walked and homered. Do the Mets rely on Francisco Alvarez to take this kind of at bat?

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