Fernando Tatis Jr. - the talisman
Some things transcend sport and others transcend sporting metrics.
For the purpose of this piece, and because he’s a shining example of both, we’ll use Fernando Tatis Jr. as the centre point of this argument.
Alongside Shohei Ohtani, Tatis is probably the most recognisable figure in the sport right now.
That’s not to say he’s been the best player in baseball this season - that’s undeniably Jacob deGrom - but the way in which he carries himself, to how he plays the game, to his overall style and appeal, means he’s got a chance at being baseball’s most marketable player ever.
His Padres, meanwhile, are better than they were. And that’s about all anyone can say at this precise moment in time.
The fact that the Padres were long-seen as small-market perennial underachievers is probably a great indicator of just why nobody is asking the hard questions of them just yet - but with the talent they possess, being five games off the lead in the NL West should be raising more eyebrows than it is.
And Tatis in his own right is every bit as big a story in baseball as the franchise that owns his contract. And this season, despite missing a sizeable chunk with significant shoulder stress, he still started at shortstop in the All-Star Game because that’s just who he is.
Through 19 July, Tatis possessed a 4.8 WAR, has hit 28 homers, stolen 22 bases, had 64 RBIs and scored 73 times himself. His OBP is .372, he slugs .649 and his OPS is - wait for it - 1.021.
For such a young star to perform this well so early in his career, there is a considerable contingent that believes he can’t maintain these levels. And yet there appears to be growth in his game rather than regression every time he plays.
The stick used to beat him with earlier in the year was his defense - which was fair.
His errors were a major concern, but WAR factors in those mistakes - and for him to nearly be touching five in that column is frightening.
But given the opening paragraph, you may have guessed that we’re not here to preach metrics - but instead offer some insight into the man.
...but that's not all
Tatis is a consistent hitter, but more than that, he’s a clutch hitter - and those don’t come around too often. The Padres have lost some bad games, but rarely by blowout margins.
When the pitching struggles, their bats help them out, and vice versa. Right now, they’re without a healthy Yu Darvish, a coherent Blake Snell, Ryan Weathers and Dinelson Lamet.
Joe Musgrove, who recorded the Padres’ first-ever no-hitter back at the start of the season, has been their most consistently available and most durable.
With just one arm in the rotation that’s dependable, it’s so often fallen to the Padres’ bats to extend rallies and make sure they’re doing enough to subsidise their pitching struggles.
With the Braves series underway, it’s not wild to imagine their hot bats taking advantage of a rotation that just used Musgrove in their last game against the Nationals. This three-game series is one with a ton of opportunity for Atlanta to do a number on the ailing Friars - which brings us to the second point.
When a live shooter appeared outside the stadium in the second game against the Nats, causing panic among the crowd inside the stadium, Tatis Jr. and three of his teammates - Wil Myers, Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar - helped open the gate to the stands to hustle fans into the safety of their bullpen.
The point here?
Tatis and the Padres seem to strive in adversity.
There’s no calculation for that which you can cite as a stat line for anyone - it’s an unseen attribute you can’t scout and the Pads have it in abundance.
They showed it last year in their run of road games and they’re doing it again, even if, in baseball terms, that means going .666 for the spell without your key slingers.
The chips are very much down right now for the NL West’s third-best team in baseball. The first game didn’t go their way, but it was tight at 1-2. They’ve favoured in game two. And taking game three could see them back on track.