SAN DIEGO — Since May 25, Joe Musgrove has recorded the second-lowest earned run average among qualifying major-league pitchers. The Padres right-hander spun six scoreless innings in Friday’s 7-1 win against the Rangers to shave his ERA over his past dozen starts to 1.84.
The only pitcher to outproduce him in that span: teammate Blake Snell, with a 0.78 ERA.
If it were up to Musgrove, they will continue being teammates for at least the next two months. And if it were up to Musgrove, the Padres would also keep closer Josh Hader — who has a 0.95 ERA on the season — through Tuesday’s trade deadline.
“We don’t feel out of this,” Musgrove said after the Padres moved to 50-54 and six games back of the National League’s third wild-card spot. “We know what’s in front of us, we know the task that we have, but with the guys in here, if we get the production and we play the way that we know we can play, we’re definitely in this thing.
“Obviously, when you lose the best closer in the league and the best starter in the league, that makes it a little tougher. But I think our ownership is just as committed to this thing as we are. So I’d love to see them stick around.”
Friday night at Petco Park presented an intriguing case for retaining the expiring contracts of Snell and Hader, perhaps the two best pitchers on the trade market. Musgrove, a San Diego-area native and lifelong Padres fan, led the argument with more than his words.
First, in a pregame ceremony, the team inducted former owner John Moores and Musgrove’s favorite former player, Jake Peavy, into its Hall of Fame. Then Peavy, sitting near the home on-deck circle, watched Musgrove pitch live for the first time since the Padres eliminated the Dodgers from the 2022 postseason.
Musgrove again delivered, shutting down the American League’s top offense. So did his supporting cast. The Padres took a 3-0 lead in the fifth when Fernando Tatis, ending a season-worst homerless streak, socked a drive out to right. They piled on with four runs in the sixth, when Manny Machado went opposite field himself with a two-out, two-run single. The next half-inning, Machado supplied one of the defensive highlights of the season.
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It was the kind of game that might encourage a pot-committed front office to wager more capital in the face of long odds. Or to at least wait a couple more days before making a final decision.
“We’re all concentrating on trying to make sure that we’re not in a position where anybody gets moved,” manager Bob Melvin said before the game. “I mean, we’re kind of right on that cusp.”
By all conventional wisdom, the Padres should already be trying to sell what they can. Not only the likes of Snell and Hader but also a pitcher such as Seth Lugo, who can opt out of his contract after this season. Maybe even star outfielder Juan Soto, who, in a trade, could replenish much of the missing depth that has plagued San Diego.
But the Padres tend to operate outside the bounds of conventional wisdom. Owner Peter Seidler, especially this year, has invested unprecedented sums of money in a small media market. A.J. Preller remains the game’s most aggressive and most unpredictable general manager. A deal involving Soto in the next few days would shock the industry.
And in Musgrove, the Padres have an emotional leader who understands as well as anyone the significance of bucking convention in this title-starved city. After Friday’s game, the pitcher addressed the clubhouse.
“I think everyone’s starting to realize where we’re at in the season and the sense of urgency we got to have,” Musgrove said. “I think the attitude, the mentality, the aggressiveness tonight on the basepaths, at the plate, really good defense all around — that’s the kind of baseball we got to play down the stretch.
“My message was just, let’s go out on our own terms. We have the control to make the decisions of how things go down the rest of the season.”
Musgrove and his teammates might, in part. If the Padres pull off a series win against the first-place Rangers and a series-opening victory Monday at Coors Field, they would at least give Seidler and Preller more motivation to do what many in the organization believe they already want to do: double down, maybe a bit recklessly, at the trade deadline.
To them, such a choice may not feel reckless. But the Padres, all season, have failed to show they deserve more investment. At this point, erasing their deficit in the wild-card standings would require a minor miracle.
Still, hope is a funny thing. It was only last week that Musgrove started in a 9-1 win in Toronto and sought to send a message that did not land for some of the team’s supporters.
“I feel like, whether we buy or sell, we’re a really good team regardless,” Musgrove said after that game. “There are certain guys that they’re not gonna sell off. And even if we do sell off, you know, the Blakes (Snell), the (Josh) Haders, that are going to be available at the end of the year, we have a good team in here without those guys. Obviously, we’re not the same team without them, but we do have a good team.”
Two days later, the Padres whiffed on a chance to sweep the Blue Jays in a 4-0 shutout. They opened this week by losing three of four against the Tigers and Pirates. This weekend likely presents one of their final opportunities to build momentum before it becomes too late.
“I know some fans were upset about what I said (in Toronto). I think I might have come across wrong when I said that if (Snell and Hader) go, we have a good team still,” Musgrove said as he stood at his locker. “But yeah, that’s the mentality you have to have. It’s like, you get what you get in here, and that’s what we have to go and run out with. Obviously, you want to keep those guys around, and I think winning these next two games is going to be a big deciding factor in that. But ultimately, we feel like we have a good team in here, and whether those guys are here or not, we got to go out and play games and win baseball games either way.
“Whether it’s this year or next year, you got to constantly be working towards getting better or towards building the camaraderie and the unity as a group in here. So whether they’re here or not, the approach is not gonna change.”
Late Friday, everyone was still there. Snell sat at his locker, looking relatively at ease as he stared at his phone. Hader followed his 1-year-old son, Lucas, as the infant crawled around the room. Musgrove recounted his excitement at getting to pitch in front of Peavy and, for the first time ever, Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, who led the Padres for much of Musgrove’s childhood.
And before he departed for the night, Musgrove sent another message. Did he believe whatever he and his teammates would do on the field the next three games could influence decisions made upstairs?
“I do,” Musgrove said. “I really do. Yeah. Here and Colorado is going to be two big series.”
(Top photo: Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)