Jake Cronenworth powers Padres big win over Mets

Jake Cronenworth powers Padres big win over Mets

SAN DIEGO — About a month ago, the Padres wrapped up a series against the Cubs with eight games over .500 and looking quite the candidate they claimed were all offseason.

Well, their skeptics were quick to notice that they hadn’t played much. Over the next four weeks, that was about to change. The Padres would face a slew of contenders – the Brewers twice, the Braves, Phillies, Giants and Cardinals. And to top it all off, they would face the scorching Mets, the National League’s best record holders, in a three-game series at Petco Park.

So, now that we’ve come to the rear, are these 2022 Padres real? Of course, it looks like it.

On Wednesday night, San Diego delivered a second straight complete beatdown of first-place New York, this time a 13-2 victory in front of a packed Petco Park. Sean Manaea pitched a dominant seven innings, Jake Cronenworth homered and five RBIs in a three-hitter game, and Jurickson Profar continued to thrive at No. 1, tallying two hits and three RBIs.

It was a definite end to what looks to be one of the toughest stretches on San Diego’s schedule this season. In that 25-game stretch — which also included a three-game series against the Pirates — the Padres went 15-10. They capped it off with series wins over division leaders in the NL Central (Brewers) and NL East (Mets).

Of course, as Profar said, “We have a good team too.”

As usual, the Padres brought up their starting pitcher on Wednesday. Manaea allowed only one hit through the first six innings, which was Jeff McNeil’s bunt single in the second. The southpaw finished after allowing two runs (one earned) in seven frames, continuing a remarkable run for San Diego’s starting rotation.

“I thought he was awesome,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “He set the tone early in the game, got zeros in six innings. He was really, really, really consistent.

Manaea has pitched at least six innings in 10 of his 11 starts this season, joining teammate Joe Musgrove as the only NL pitchers to do so multiple times. (San Diego starter Yu Darvish has nine, tied for third.)

No baseball team has had more seven-inning starts, either. And, as Melvin was quick to put it, “the difference between six and seven is huge.”

With back-to-back seven-inning starts from Darvish and Manaea, the Padres have used just four pitchers in their last two games combined. After a dayless Thursday, they’ll be fully prepared for four games in three days this weekend against the Rockies.

Clearly, the Padres’ starters are doing their part. But they hadn’t received much support until recently. San Diego’s 13 runs on Wednesday marked a season high, and every member of the starting lineup recorded a hit.

“We’re starting to spread it a bit offensively,” Melvin said. “Although the first two guys in the lineup did a lot of damage.”

Indeed, the main reason for the offensive resurgence was the emergence of Profar and Cronenworth at the top. Cronenworth, in particular, struggled for much of the start of the season. He finished a cycle-shy triple on Wednesday and had a career-high five runs via a two-run brace in fourth and a three-run homer from the right-field line in fifth.

Just like that, Cronenworth’s wRC+ is 98. For the uninitiated: Weighted runs created plus is an overall hitting metric for which 100 is the league average. So Cronenworth has essentially returned to league average this year, despite all that early-season struggle. (And he did it with his usual outstanding defense at second base.)

“I’ve felt comfortable the last three or four weeks,” Cronenworth said. “I just tried to find something to put me in the right place. To see it bear fruit is great.

Cronenworth’s resilience can be extrapolated to that of his team. The Padres were swept last week in St. Louis and followed back-to-back series against the Brewers and Mets. They took three of four in Milwaukee. Then, after losing to New York on Monday, they responded with a vengeance, beating the Mets 20-2 in the final two games.

“It was important for our confidence,” Melvin said. “Because we beat some really good teams, and we did it in different ways.”

At the end of it all, the Padres didn’t just survive their brutal month: they thrived. Now they will have three straight weeks of games against teams currently below .500. If they can take care of business against these opponents, they could find themselves in pretty good shape for the next time they face a team with a winning record.

That would be June 30 to July 3 – a four-game series at Dodger Stadium.

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