The Padres have been awful in close games. No one feels it more than Bob Melvin


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SAN DIEGO — One day last spring, during a lull before the 2022 season, Bryan Price sat in an upstairs room at the Peoria Sports Complex and extolled the man who had brought him partially out of retirement. Price harbored admitted bias; he had served as Bob Melvin’s pitching coach on two big-league teams, and now Price was reunited with Melvin as an advisor to the newly appointed San Diego Padres manager and his staff.

The results, meanwhile, formed a convincing portrait. In what many around the industry lauded as a coup for San Diego, Melvin had been hired away from Oakland, where the three-time manager of the year oversaw repeated success in tight spots: Across 10-plus seasons, his A’s teams led the majors in walk-off wins and winning percentage in games ended on a walk-off. They ranked second in extra-inning wins and third in extra-inning winning percentage.

“He’s as good as anybody I’ve ever seen,” said Price, who managed the Cincinnati Reds from 2014 through 2018. “All those walk-off victories, that’s not a coincidence. The players did it, but somebody has to put them in position to attain that success. Someone has to put them into a matchup that allows them to go out there and give the team the best chance to be successful. And he does it.”

Some seven months later, there was even more substance behind Price’s praise. Melvin guided the Padres to frequent triumphs in close contests — a 12-8 record in walk-offs, 12-5 in extra innings, 30-17 in one-run games — and then into the club’s first National League Championship Series since 1998. In the offseason, that breakthrough encouraged owner Peter Seidler and general manager A.J. Preller to spend like never before.

So, what has since happened is as agonizing as it is confounding.

In 2022, Melvin continued a years-long trend by seemingly pulling almost all the right levers. Now, in August 2023, the Padres are thrashing to stay afloat — largely because no team has been worse in walk-offs (1-10), extra innings (0-10) or one-run games (6-19). The blissful memories of last season have felt fainter and fainter, especially for the men at the helm of a sinking ship.

“We established a certain way of playing and, really, a culture (that) those are our type of games to win,” Melvin said before Tuesday’s 10-3 victory against the Baltimore Orioles. “And a lot of analytics and analysts will tell you that good teams blow teams out, that you’re going to lose your share of one-run games and there’s some luck involved in that. But as a manager, you don’t feel that way. You feel like you’re right in the middle of that. And the fact that it has not been good this year bothers me, and I feel very accountable for that.”

Bob Melvin’s history in walk-offs

Span W-L W%










The Padres, 120 games in, continue to demonstrate certain traits of a good team. They rank sixth in the majors with 16 wins in which they outscored their opponent by six or more runs. Multiple metrics place their team defense among the best in the game. Their rotation, which received a boost with Michael Wacha’s return from the injured list Tuesday, has benefited from such backing: San Diego’s starting pitchers lead the National League with a 3.72 ERA.

All season, however, run support has been inconsistent from the majors’ 13th-highest scoring and most disappointing offense. The Padres, despite signing five-time Silver Slugger Xander Bogaerts and reintroducing five-tool standout Fernando Tatis Jr., have gone from logging the seventh-best OPS in high leverage spots last season (according to FanGraphs) to producing the second-worst OPS. That drop-off has been most glaring after regulation — in their 10 extra-inning games, the Padres have regularly sent their biggest stars to the plate yet somehow compiled a .143 average and only two extra-base hits.

“When you get on a roll on those games, like the Marlins, you just feel like those are your games,” Melvin said. (Miami has made up for a minus-37 run differential by leading the majors with a 27-11 record in one-run games.) “And that’s the way we were last year. We talked about that. ‘These are our games. We are winning these games.’ And when you lose a bunch of them, you don’t want that to creep into your head, but sometimes, because of the fact that you’ve lost so many of them, maybe you get a little tight in those situations.”

Melvin’s history in extra innings

Span W-L W%










While a near-historic lack of clutch hitting could sink the Padres, a leaky bullpen has been another prominent factor. The Padres for months missed setup man Robert Suarez, who, in the first year of a five-year, $46 million contract, did not make his season debut until July 21 because of elbow inflammation. And a pectoral strain suffered June 24 by Steven Wilson, perhaps the team’s best middle reliever, had its own ripple effect.

Since June 25, Padres relievers have combined for a 5.19 ERA and nine blown saves, tied for the second-most in the league. Suarez and Wilson have been shaky in their returns, leaving Melvin with few trusted options other than All-Star closer Josh Hader. Hader, though, has a strict routine that effectively limits him to the ninth inning and three outs at a time. (Hader last went more than one inning in 2020, when he was a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. He has agreed to rare exceptions late in recent seasons, including a four-out save against the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year’s playoffs.)

Yet Hader, with a 0.86 ERA and 26 saves in 30 opportunities, cannot be considered a significant part of the problem. An overall shortage of depth — from the bullpen to the bench to the upper levels of the farm system — has persisted, even as Seidler has allowed Preller to take the payroll north of a quarter-billion dollars.

That does not make the bullpen meltdowns easier to swallow. Nor do such considerations as fatigue and nagging injuries. Melvin makes virtually all his pitching decisions in concert with pitching coach Ruben Niebla, who carefully tracks pitch counts, stress levels and other variables.

“I always go home saying, ‘OK, that didn’t work out,’” Melvin said. “But would I do anything different? Now, when you have hindsight, you’d always do something different. But based on what we had and who was available, I felt like it was the right thing to do, but I also take responsibility for it not working.”

Decades of evidence have shown that winning more one-run games than you lose is difficult to sustain for multiple years. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell, who played for Melvin and has long considered him a mentor, is one outlier; Counsell ranks second all-time with a .573 winning percentage in one-run games (minimum 300 games managed). Melvin, before this season, carried a respectable .521 success rate.

“You look back, and it does tend to even out,” Melvin said. “I didn’t think it would even out this much from last year to this year. So, I don’t know. I don’t really look at it that way. I look at it as those are the type of games that we expect to win. And we have not, so I feel bad about that.”

For Melvin and the Padres, it has been a season of feeling bad. Repeated gut punches and close losses. A razor-thin margin between looming catastrophe and relative comfort. Recent, swirling speculation about Melvin’s job security. The Padres would be in current possession of the National League’s final wild-card spot had they gone a pedestrian 12-13 in one-run games.

Still, as odd as the club’s record is, it would be even stranger if Melvin’s ability to make sound judgments in pressure situations has suddenly deserted him. No franchise owns a higher all-time winning percentage in extra innings than the Arizona Diamondbacks, with a .528 clip. Melvin, whose managerial career began eight years after the Diamondbacks came into existence, opened this season with a .570 winning percentage in extra innings.

“I don’t think that’s just looking at a stat sheet,” Price said last spring. “I think there’s that part of Bob that is like, ‘Hey, I can be fully aware of the analytics and the matchup stuff,’ and he also has a wonderful way of being able to tap into his instinctive baseball side that allows him to do special things with his players.”

Tuesday at Petco Park, the Padres entered a game against the resourceful, first-place Orioles with seemingly little in the way of magic or resilience. Then, at least for another night, they appeared to stay afloat. The ballast arrived with two outs in the bottom of the first. Jake Cronenworth drew a two-out, bases-loaded walk. Gary Sánchez followed by sending a drive just over the right-field wall.

It was the Padres’ first grand slam since Cronenworth hit one on Aug. 17, 2022.

After the game, Melvin cracked a smile.

“Somebody talked to me today about the last time we had a grand slam,” he said. “I’m glad they did.”

Finally, a little luck.

(Photo: Kevin Sousa / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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