Why Padres are surprising new problem for Giants in NL West


At the top of the list of Crazy Facts About The 2021 Giants is the fact that they won 107 games, but not far down the list is them finishing 28 games ahead of the San Diego Padres. 

It wasn't a huge shock that someone finally ended the Los Angeles Dodgers' run atop the NL West, but just about everyone outside of Oracle Park would have picked the Padres as the ones to do it, not the Giants. This season, the Giants might be seeing that version of San Diego

The Padres took a second straight on Saturday, with their 2-1 win showing off a lot of traits that might keep them around for the long haul a year after they collapsed in the second half.

Joe Musgrove might be the most underrated pitcher in the league right now, and he went seven shutout innings to improve to 5-0 with a 1.90 ERA. Manny Machado might be the best player in the league right now, and he hit a huge homer. 

As he digested the loss, Gabe Kapler saw something else, too. 

"(Ha-Seong) Kim deserved a lot of credit for helping their team win today," Kapler said. "He gobbled up a lot of balls up the middle and converted balls into outs all day. He just played well on defense. It was really helpful for them."

Kim is replacing Fernando Tatis Jr., who is out until midseason after having surgery in spring training. The last two days, the Padres have looked like a team that might be better off putting Tatis -- the game's most electric player, but a poor shortstop at times -- in the outfield when he returns and keeping solid defense up the middle with Kim and Jake Cronenworth. 

They already know they're as good as it gets at third base, both on offense and defense. Machado made a sneaky-hard play to cut off a potential rally in the eighth. Five innings earlier, he had given the Padres the lead. 

As good as Musgrove has been, the Giants went into Saturday's game feeling they had the edge on the mound. Carlos Rodón was mostly his normal self, allowing just two runs in six innings, but Machado took a 99 mph fastball out to dead center for the first run of the game. 

"I tip my cap," Rodón said. "He hit 99 at the top of the zone. That's a good hitter. A great hitter."

Kapler called Machado "one of the top three hitters in baseball right now," and he's the leading NL MVP candidate early on given how well he's playing and how well the Padres are. 

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They improved to 26-14, one game behind the Dodgers and 3 1/2 ahead of the Giants, who spent all of last season trying to stay ahead of the Dodgers. It looks like they'll have to worry about the Padres for 162 this season, as well.

"They're a good team, they're one of the better teams in the league," Rodón said. "They put together good at-bats. It's just solid."

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