Jake Cronenworth gives the Padres a big win over the Mets

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Jake Cronenworth gives the Padres a big win over the Mets

SAN DIEGO — About a month ago, the Padres wrapped up a streak against the Cubs in which they sat eight games over .500 and looked a lot like the contender they claimed were all offseason.

Well, their doubters quickly realized they hadn’t played much of a plan. That should change in the next four weeks. The Padres would face a slew of competitors — the Brewers twice, the Braves, the Phillies, the Giants and the Cardinals. And to top it off, they would play the red-hot Mets, holders of the best record in the National League, in a three-game series at Petco Park.

So, now that we’ve gotten to the back end, are these Padres of 2022 real? It sure looks like it.

On Wednesday night, San Diego delivered a second straight sweeping win over first-place seed New York, this time with a 13-2 victory in front of a packed Petco Park. Sean Manaea threw seven dominant innings, Jake Cronenworth hit a homer and had five RBIs as part of a three-hit game, and Jurickson Profar continued to thrive on the leadoff spot, amassing two hits and three RBIs.

It was an emphatic conclusion to one of the toughest stages on San Diego’s schedule this season. In that 25-game span — which also included a three-game streak against the Pirates — the Padres went 15-10. They capped it off with streak wins over division leaders in NL Central (Brewers) and NL East (Mets).

Of course, as Profar put it: “We also have a good team.”

As usual, the Padres rode their starting pitcher on Wednesday. Manaea allowed just one hit in the first six innings, which was Jeff McNeil’s colorful single in the second. The left-hander finished the game after allowing two runs (one earned) spanning seven frames and continued a remarkable run for San Diego’s starting rotation.

“I thought he was great,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “He set the tone early in the game, going zeros for six innings. He was really, really, really consistent.”

Manaea has pitched at least six innings in 10 of his 11 starts this season and is the only pitcher in the NL, along with teammate Joe Musgrove, to have done so many times. (Yu Darvish, another San Diego starter, has nine, tied for third.)

No team in baseball has also gotten more starts of at least seven innings. And as Melvin was quick to say, “The difference between six and seven is very big.”

With back-to-back seven-inning starts from Darvish and Manaea, the Padres used just four pitchers in their last two games combined. After a Thursday off, they will be perfectly prepared for four games in three days this weekend against the Rockies.

The Padres’ starters are clearly doing their bit. But they hadn’t gotten much running support until recently. San Diego’s 13 rounds on Wednesday marked a highlight of the season, and every member of the grid recorded a hit.

“We’re starting to spread it a little aggressively,” Melvin said. “Even though the first two guys in the lineup did a lot of damage.”

In fact, the main reason for the offensive resurgence was the emergence of Profar and Cronenworth at the helm. Cronenworth in particular had big problems at the beginning of the season. He finished a three-way deficit on the cycle Wednesday and ran a career-high in five runs, coming via a two-run double in the fourth and a three-run homer on the right field line in the fifth.

Cronenworth’s wRC+ is simply 98. For the uninitiated, Weighted Runs Created Plus is an all-encompassing score for which 100 is the league average. Cronenworth has essentially worked its way back up to the league average this year, despite all the preseason woes. (And he did so with his usual superb second base defense.)

“I’ve felt good for the past three, four weeks,” Cronenworth said. “I was just trying to find something that would put me in the right place. To see it pay off is great.”

Cronenworth’s resilience can be extrapolated to that of his team. The Padres were swept up in St. Louis last week, staring at back-to-back series against the Brewers and Mets. They took three out of four in Milwaukee. Then, after losing to New York on Monday, they responded with a vengeance, beating the Mets 20-2 in their last two games.

“It was great for our confidence,” Melvin said. “Because we’ve beaten really good teams, and we’ve done it in different ways.”

In the end, the Padres not only survived their brutal month: They thrived. Now they have three straight weeks of games against teams who are currently under .500. If they can go about their business against these opponents, they might be in pretty good shape next time they face off against a team with a winning record.

That would be June 30-July 3 — a four-game series at Dodger Stadium.

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