SAN DIEGO — August 2 blockbuster addition Juan Soto may be dominating the headlines, but it’s Manny Machado who has finally kick-started the Padres’ new-look lineup. On Tuesday night, Machado’s walk-off home run against the Giants’ Tyler Rogers helped offset Josh Hader’s ninth-inning meltdown and put an end to the Padres’ five-game losing streak. On Wednesday afternoon, the third baseman’s two-run double off of Jakob Junis spurred a six-run rally that helped the Padres overcome a 4-0 deficit. Machado added two more hits, a double and a two-out sixth-inning single that sparked a seven-run rally after the Padres had surrendered the lead, one that turned the game into a 13-7 laugher. Only a spectacular catch of his 97-mph drive by Luis González prevented him from collecting a third extra-base hit.
“You don’t see too many six spots and seven spots in the same game,” marveled manager Bob Melvin afterwards.
After acquiring Hader, Soto, Josh Bell, and Brandon Drury ahead of the deadline, the Padres beat the Rockies 9-1 on August 3, then proceeded to lose five straight while scoring just seven runs. After dropping their series finale to the Rockies, they were then swept by the Dodgers in Los Angeles, where they were outscored by a combined score of 20-4. They were shut out for 26 consecutive innings, from the sixth inning of Saturday’s loss through back-to back shutouts against the Dodgers on Sunday and the Giants on Monday, not scoring again until the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game via Soto’s first homer as a Padre.
In that one, they added two in a sixth-inning rally sparked by a Soto double and a Machado single, and carried a 4-1 lead into the ninth. Hader gave it away, however, retiring just two of the seven batters he faced while walking three (two of which forced in runs). The damage would have been worse if not for a gift called strike three on a sinker several inches off the plate against J.D. Davis and then a sliding catch by left fielder Jurickson Profar that held Evan Longoria to a game-tying sacrifice fly instead of a two- or three-run hit.
Machado bailed Hader out with a monster three-run shot off Tyler Rogers, whose twin brother Taylor was coincidentally dealt to Milwaukee in the Hader trade last week.
The pitch Machado hit was a slider on the lower inside corner of the strike zone — a perfect example of the damage he’s been doing en route to a full-season best 145 wRC+ (he had a 150 wRC+ in 2020). He’s been killing pitches in the lower third of the zone as well as the inner third, especially breaking balls.
I’ll get to the specifics that illustrate this, but to back up, Machado was putting together an MVP-caliber season before spraining his left ankle while trying to beat out an infield grounder on June 19. To that point, he was hitting .328/.400/.545 with 12 homers, leading the NL in WAR (3.9) while ranking second in the league in both batting average and on-base percentage, third in wRC+ (163), and fifth in slugging percentage. He did not go on the injured list, but he did miss nine games, and since returning, he’s hit a tepid .234/.301/.461 (112 wRC+) in 156 PA.
Meanwhile, the Padres, who were 41-27, half a game out of first place in the NL West at the time of Machado’s injury, have gone 22-24 since — and at a very bad time, as the division-leading Dodgers have gone 37-8 over that same span, expanding their division lead to 16 games. With the Phillies going 26-16 over that same stretch, and 40-19 since changing managers, the Padres own just a one-game lead over the Brewers for the third NL Wild Card spot. Our Playoff Odds give them an 85.9% chance of holding onto a spot, greater than the Phillies (80.2%) and the NL Central’s second-place team (18.6% for the Brewers, 17.4% for the division-leading Cardinals), and that’s thanks in no small part to the additions of Soto and Bell, whose arrivals have shorn up positional weaknesses glaring enough to make their respective Replacement Level Killers lists.
But even as the new-look Padres slipped into a funk, the signs have been more positive for Machado. In the eight games from August 3 through Wednesday, he hit .364/.382/.667 with a pair of homers (the first one in that August 3 victory while going 3-for-4) and had his first back-to-back multi-hit games since the injury, all while mashing the ball especially hard.
Asked by this scribe what he had seen in Machado over the course of the past week, Melvin agreed that better health was a factor in his heating up. More than that, “He’s excited, hitting with Soto in front of him and Bell behind him,” said the manager.
Citing the big rallies put together by the new lineup, Melvin said, “One inning started with two outs and Manny gets a hit and the next thing you know the floodgates open. It can happen at any point in time now.”
For as hard as Machado has hit the ball in the past week, the breakdowns show that he has actually been making better contact during his slump than in his red-hot phase. Here’s a look at his Statcast rates and averages:
Manny Machado Statcast Rates
All statistics through August 10.
The two lines in yellow represent the arbitrarily-divided periods since Machado’s injury, which I’ve more sensibly combined via the line below them; they’re convenient hooks for a narrative but their sizes make them less meaningful than the larger aggregations. Note that Machado’s average exit velo has increased via the more recent stretches and his barrel rate has more than doubled relative to that early-season run, with far fewer grounders and a much higher pull rate — and yet his actual production has fallen off, yet another reminder of the noise in smaller samples. Here’s another table with the same chronological breakdown, this time for his Statcast expected stats:
Manny Machado Statcast Expected Stats
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
In terms of his expected numbers, Machado’s performance from June 3 to August 2 didn’t differ wildly from his time since then, but the actual numbers are another story; he underperformed by a sizable margin for a long stretch, then overperformed by an even wider one such that the small samples more or less evened out, at least in terms of slugging percentage and wOBA if not batting average.
That first line, though… The gaps between Machado’s expected and actual performance early in the year were wide ones, and it was eye-opening to see him hitting at such a torrid clip despite maintaining such a low barrel rate. Eye-opening but not entirely unique; for that period, the majors’ wRC+ leaderboard included the likes of José Ramirez (188 wRC+, 6.2% barrel rate) and Ty France (156 wRC+, 6.2% barrel rate), and even for the season to date, Nolan Arenado (160 wRC+, 8.4% barrel rate), Bell (138 wRC+, 7.3% barrel rate), and Trea Turner (137wRC+, 8.7% barrel rate) are among the NL leaders along with Machado, whose overall 9.4% barrel rate puts him in the majors’ 61st percentile, respectable but far lower than for his average exit velocity (86th percentile) or hard-hit rate (91st percentile).
Overall Machado is hitting .294/.365/.515 with 20 homers; he’s tied for third in the NL in WAR (5.0) and eighth in slugging and wRC+. He has generally outdone his Statcast numbers by wide margins; the 75-point gap between his SLG and his .440 xSLG is 11th in the majors, as is the 37-point gap between his .374 wOBA and .337 xwOBA.
Back to the Rogers homer. Machado has gotten better results than ever in terms of hitting pitches on the inner third of the plate:
Manny Machado vs. Pitches in Inner Third of the Strike Zone
Pitches in Gameday zones 1, 4, and 7. All statistics through August 9.
The same is true with regards to the lower third:
Manny Machado vs. Pitches in Lower Third of the Strike Zone
Pitches in Gameday zones 7, 8, and 9. All statistics through August 9.
In both cases, Machado’s actual numbers are well ahead of his expected ones, and you can see that from year to year, such gaps are common, in either direction; this time around, he’s ahead of the game, and it’s helping to drive his exceptional performance.
Meanwhile, though Machado has slugged just .433 against fastballs, down 31 points from last year, he’s slugging .568 against breaking balls, up 48 points. He’s also slugging .733 against offspeed pitches, up 205 points from last year, but that’s based on just 48 plate appearances, compared to 240 against fastballs and 146 against breaking balls. Rogers, who had allowed just one other homer all season, gave Machado the wrong pitch in the wrong spot for the Giants’ purposes: of the 13 breaking balls Machado has connected with on the inner third, his 1.385 slugging percentage is second only to Austin Riley’s 1.412 among batters with at least 10 such PA. The sample size probably won’t comfort the Giants.
In the end, Machado is putting together a very impressive season, albeit one shaped a bit differently than his previous performances or those of many of the game’s other heavy hitters. With Soto, Bell, and Drury in tow, he’s got significantly more help within the Padres’ lineup, even before the much-anticipated return of Fernando Tatis Jr., which could come next week. “When you have a good lineup, you don’t worry about hitting the winning homer,” said Soto. “You just pass the baton, let the other guys do their job, like we did yesterday, like we did today.” If Machado and the Padres can keep doing that, we’ll see them in October.