Wins are at a premium right now for the three teams competing for the final two spots in the National League playoff race. With both San Francisco and Atlanta winning last night, it was imperative for San Diego to defeat the Chicago Cubs and stay within a half game of the Braves and a full game of the Giants. But the Cubs and Alfonso Soriano simply wouldn’t lie down for the Padres at PETCO Park last night.
After five innings, Mat Latos of the Padres and Ryan Dempster of the Cubs both had good starts going. Latos allowed two runs in the fifth due to a couple of errors and a double by Kosuke Fukudome, and the Padres had tied it on a Nick Hundley home run, leaving the score at 2-2.
Latos has had terrible results in September, allowing a 6.94 ERA despite fantastic peripheral numbers. Although we can’t blame the first two runs of the game on him due to errors, the next runs the Cubs scored are completely on Latos. After allowing a line drive single to center field, Alfonso Soriano drilled a two run homer to left field to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. The home run clearly goes down as the turning point of the game, as the Cubs win expectancy rose from 55.5% to 81.2% on the play. This doesn’t even take into account the run suppressing tendencies of PETCO Park, so in all likelihood this win probability was likely even higher for Chicago, making the situation even bleaker for the Padres.
The Cubs bullpen has been, on the whole, roughly average this year, compiling 23 runs above replacement and just under +1.0 WPA on the season. But judging the Cubs bullpen “on the whole” isn’t entirely fair – Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol account for +47 runs above replacement and +5.2 WPA, meaning that the rest of the Cubs bullpen has, to put it lightly, struggled. As Sean Marshall pitched on the 27th, there was a good chance that the Cubs would turn to another candidate in the 8th, meaning that a two run lead for the Cubs wasn’t necessarily safe.
Soriano, however, wasn’t done. Facing Mike Adams – perhaps the nastiest member of the vaunted Padres bullpen – Soriano belted a second home run out of PETCO Park, putting the Cubs up 5-2 and lowering the Padres win expectancy from 11% down to 5.4%.
With Marmol waiting in the bullpen, the Padres only chance was likely to come against rookie Andrew Cashner, who despite solid stuff and a 96 MPH average fastball has struggled mightily against major league hitters. Cashner, however, managed to retire the side in order, all but sealing the Padres fate. Marmol entered in the ninth, and, somewhat shockingly, recorded only one strikeout in a hitless ninth. It was only the 30th time in 75 appearances that Marmol has failed to record at least two strikeouts, showcasing just exactly why he has been the best closer in the league by WAR.
In a low run environment and with a scoreless ninth almost a guarantee, the three runs from Alfonso Soriano home runs were truly killers for the Padres last night. There’s no reason for panic in San Diego – they’re only 1.5 back of Atlanta and 2 back of San Francisco. Atlanta gets Philadelphia in their next series, and San Diego gets a personal hack at the Giants to close the season. The Padres, however, need to take care of business from here on out and barring a sweep against San Francisco, they’ll need some help. Coolstandings has dropped the Padres’ playoff odds to 19.2% – panic may not be in order, but if I’m a fan of the friars, I’m definitely worried.