Padres are in first place despite having already started three young pitchers with zero Triple-A experience
The Padres have bet on their young arms, and so far the bet is paying off
The San Diego Padres entered Friday with a 9-5 record, good for first place in the National League West by a game over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most of the Padres-related headlines this season have pertained to Manny Machado or Fernando Tatis Jr. -- San Diego's talented left side of the infield that could soon, if not already, serve as the best of in baseball -- but there are other stories worth telling about the Friars and their play thus far, including their young starters.
The Padres are tied for the second-youngest pitching staff in baseball, but they lead the majors in starts made by pitchers who are 25 years old or younger. In 14 games, the Padres have started a pitcher that young 12 times. No other team has achieved double-digits in that admittedly arbitrary category, and only two others (the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves) have half as many such starts as the Padres do.
San Diego's lead is likely to grow as the season burns on. Matt Strahm is the only member of the current rotation who is 26 or older. Joey Lucchesi will celebrate his 26th birthday in June, but everyone else -- Eric Lauer, Nick Margevicius, and Chris Paddack -- will pitch the season under the line. Heck, even the Padres' spot-starters are young. On Thursday they used 22-year-old Pedro Avila to give their other arms an extra day of rest. He was the third Padres starter to make his big-league debut this season, with none of the three having appeared in Triple-A.
A lot can change as the starts pile up, but San Diego's aggression with its young arms has paid off early on. Paddack has a 1.04 ERA and twice as many strikeouts as walks in two starts; Margevicius has 12 times as many punchouts as free passes and a 1.69 ERA in three starts; and Avila baffled the Arizona Diamondbacks with his breaking balls, holding them to a run over 5 1/3 innings. That Paddack was the only of the three to rank on MLB.com's top-30 prospects list for the system speaks to the caliber of the system and the quality of their forthcoming arms. He starts for the Padres on Friday against Arizona -- stream regionally via fuboTV (Try for free).
Of course, the Padres seem likely to still pursue a veteran arm at some point over the next 18 months. They've been connected with everyone from Chris Archer to Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber to Marcus Stroman dating back to last July. Presumably A.J. Preller will find the right arm to acquire and slot in near the front of his rotation. If nothing else, perhaps the Padres eschew the rest of baseball and sign free-agent southpaw Dallas Keuchel.
Whatever the Padres do or don't do heading forward, they have to be happy with how their young starters have responded to a big ask. Everything might go downhill in the coming weeks to months, but for now the Padres are in first place and that's reason to celebrate.
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