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Series Preview: The Padres are young, fun, and full of runs

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There’s no need to be jealous — the Giants were once young, too.

MLB: Spring Training-San Diego Padres at Milwaukee Brewers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

From a storytelling standpoint, the third-oldest team in the league opening its season against the fourth-youngest team feels like a great way to kick things off for sports fans. Can a young team still figuring it out hold their own against a gauntlet of battle-tested veterans?

For an ancient team in the middle of a wink-wink hush-hush rebuild, it’ll be more aggravating than fun. As fans of this ancient team, we’re about to watch our battle-tested veterans shuffle their way into Petco Park to face off against some of the top talent in the game. You’re going to be tense. You’re going to be annoyed. You’re going to lament that what the Padres are now the Giants could’ve been had they started a “rebuild” sooner.

You might even be tempted to think that the Giants used to be the Padres. That’s simply not the case. In 2010, the Giants’ roster age was 29.8 years old — which is the same as the Cubs’ average age this season and just a little bit older than the Opening Day roster’s average age (29.4). In other words, the Giants have faced a lot of young upstarts over the years, and they’ve come out just fine.

Sure, we’re about to see the debut of 20-year old shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr., meaning the entire industry’s eyes will be on this game; and, yeah, we’re about to see 26-year old Manny Machado, he of the $300 million dollar contract make his debut with his new team; and, okay, the Padres also have last year’s scary rookies coming back — Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero, and Francisco Mejia — to go with consummate dudebro Wil Myers and still-promising Manuel Margot, but, and I can’t stress this enough: the Giants have been here before.

It’s appropriate that the Farhan Zaidi era begins with the Giants limping into a road contest clearly overmatched. That was the koan of the Brian Sabean era. How does a team with Aubrey Huff win a World Series? Why in the world is Tyl Blach starting against the Dodgers on the road and how the hell did he keep the Giants in the game long enough for Joe Panik to win it for them? Nothing comes easy in those road grays, and the sooner Zaidi realizes that, the better off he (and, by extension, we) will be.

Bruce Bochy begins his final season as manager where it all began for him. That seems like a nice way to close the loop on his Hall of Fame career, and given how his team in a lot of ways reflects where he is professionally — at the end of the line — it probably serves an even better storytelling function that he’s facing off against his old team, now infused with young, brash talent and led by a guy who’s trying to pull moves of his own to win the game.

Yes, yes, I’m still annoyed by that lineup card / starting pitcher stunt he pulled last June, which followed a game wherein Green pulled a pitcher after one pitch. I want to see Fernando Tatis, Jr. and I think the addition of Manny Machado is refreshing and as annoying and frustrating as it is to watch the Giants play the Padres, there’s a part of me that’s happy for their fans — but mainly, I really want them to lose. Before, it was the Eckstein factor and unending 1-0 or 2-1 losses, but now, it’s 100% because of Andy Green.

He probably won’t become as good a manager as Bruce Bochy, but danged if he isn’t gonna try. I don’t wish him well, however, because he really annoys.

But where was I? Oh, right, the series. If you thought last year’s four-game series against the Dodgers was going to be a too-tense way of opening the season, I present to you the exact opposite. Despite San Diego’s exciting youth, they’re still the Padres. The Giants are... you know... they’re a baseball team.

The last time the Giants opened up a season with a four-game series in San Diego was 1980, a season in which they went 75-86 (there was a September rain out that was never made up), which kinda feels like the 2019 team’s ceiling. That’s still a two-win improvement over last season and 11 better than the 2017 disgrace, but, you know, it projects to be a forgettable season.

The Padres, on the other hand, are trying to build on a 66-win season, which was actually a disappointing season in that they won 71 the year before. A.J. Preller has attacked his rebuild a lot of different ways and this time around, maybe the team they have will be a proper foundation. Adding Manny Machado to a team that scored the third-fewest runs in MLB last season (the Giants had the second fewest!) can only make it better. the revamped lineup was tied for fourth with 48 home runs in Spring Training, and even though Spring Training stats don’t really count — that’s 21 more than the Giants hit... and the Giants played more games!

The beauty of baseball is the promise of every pitch. There’s nothing more exciting than that moment right before the ball leaves a pitcher’s hand... nothing except the moments before the very first one of the season is thrown.

Hitter(s) to watch

Manny Machado is a given, so who else? Well, Franmil Reyes scares me — he’s a monster in the box and you can see the power potential just by the way he stands. I mean — just look:

Absolute unit. Still don’t buy what I’m selling?

But! He’s not the dude you’re gonna want to watch. You’re gonna wanna watch Fernando Tatis, Jr. He’s the #2 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline (and many other reputable scouting agencies), which eagerly reports:

Tatis has one of the highest offensive ceilings in the Minors. He crushes the ball to all fields with an explosive but fluid right-handed swing that features a combination of bat speed, barrel awareness and huge extension through contact. His plus-plus raw power plays from line to line because he’s comfortable letting the ball travel deep into the zone. While he can be too aggressive at times, leading to some swing-and-miss issues, Tatis has a consistent approach, puts together good at-bats and shows a high capacity for making adjustments. He also makes an impact on the bases, and he’s improved his speed to the point where evaluators now view him as a plus runner.

Here’s a look at that speed:

Pipeline gave him an overall rating of 70, meaning his future potential is as a 70 major league player. That’s a 70 on the 20-80 scale. He’s an All-Star in waiting, and rather than manipulate his service time to gain an extra year of team control, the Padres have chosen (for now) to field their best possible roster on Opening Day. Tatis, Jr. could very well struggle at some point and be sent down, but opening the season against three left-handed starters (Bumgarner, Holland, and Pomeranz) looks like a really good call.

The Padres will be excited, Tatis, Jr. happy to be there, and certainly Madison Bumgarner will attempt to control the situation with some country gumption which could very well lead to some youthful fireworks.

Pitcher to watch

Chris Paddack, the 34th best prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline similarly avoided the service time manipulation buzz saw and will join Tatis, Jr. on San Diego’s opening day roster. Per Pipeline:

Paddack’s arsenal is unique because he pitches almost exclusively with his fastball and changeup, albeit extraordinarily well. He can dissect the zone with his heater as well as just about any young hurler, sitting in the low 90s and bumping 95-96 mph. Paddack’s changeup is a true plus-plus pitch, thrown with convincing arm action and bat-evading tumble as it nears the plate.

He’ll be making his major league debut on Saturday. Here he is pumping fastballs by some Seattle Mariners:

Pipeline mentions that he has a curveball, but it’s not a great pitch for him yet. My overwhelming Giants fandom compels me to figure that we will see that curveball in his start and he will use it to great success. Such is the Giants lineup, and such are their struggles with the curveball (they were -3.9 below average last season against that pitch type). Hmm, you know what? Come to think of it, they were pretty awful against the fastball and changeup, too: 3rd-worst in MLB with -50.6 below average against the fastball and the worst against the changeup at -29.7 runs below average.

Prediction

Giants will split this series. I don’t know how, but they will.