Opposite dugout: Padres have to pick it up at plate to have a prayer

PadresLogo.jpgManager: Andy Green (3rd season)

Record: 20-28

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: 1B Eric Hosmer (.268/.366/.482, 16 doubles), 3B Christian Villanueva (12 HR, 26 RBIs), LF Franchy Cordero (5 SB, 6 HR), RF Travis Jankowski (.359/.438/.469), RHP Tyson Ross (3.35 ERA), LHP Brad Hand (14 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: (1-2)

Pitching probables:

May 21: LHP Robbie Erlin (1-2) vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (1-0), 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 22: LHP Eric Lauer (1-2) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (4-2), 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 23: RHP Tyson Ross (3-3) vs. TBA, 4:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Padres:

Ranking 13th in the National League in batting average and on-base percentage, and 12th in runs scored, the Padres occupy the cellar in the NL West. However, some young stars and a free agent acquisition who so far is meeting expectations have given fans glimmers of hope. The Friars come into Nationals Park off a series victory in Pittsburgh.

First baseman Eric Hosmer seems to be holding up his end of the eight-year, $144 million deal the ex-Royal got in in the offseason. Backing up established star Hosmer, up-and-comers Christian Villanueva, Franchy Cordero and Travis Jankowski have also provided the Padres with some pop. Villanueva, in his first full big league season, leads the club with 12 home runs and 26 RBIs. With outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Wil Myers on the disabled list, Cordero and Jankowski have taken advantage of opportunities. Over 19 games, Jankowski has shown signs of becoming a legit leadoff hitter, getting on base with regularity to give Hosmer and others ample opportunity to drive him in. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Cordero has demonstrated a power stroke and base-stealing ability. Throw in José Pirela (.259/.318/.341, 11 doubles) and Manuel Margot (six doubles, five steals) - starters in left and center, respectively, on the Padres depth chart - along with former Cub Matt Szczur (.234/.308/.362), and skipper Andy Green might have trouble figuring out which outfielders should go where once everybody's healthy. Nats fans will notice a familiar face in the Padres infield in former Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis (.240/.302/.310), whose squeeze bunt plated Cordero during yesterday's comeback win over the Pirates.

Starting pitching has given the Padres trouble this year. Lefty ace Clayton Richard seems to have gotten back on track since his ERA ballooned to 6.21 in early May, but rookie southpaw Joey Lucchesi, the only Padres starter with a winning record, is on the disabled list with hip strain. Left-hander Robbie Erlin (3.46 ERA) starts in Lucchesi's place in tonight's series opener. Erlin last worked just two days ago, getting the last three outs of a four-run Padres victory in Pittsburgh. He's pitched to a 1.96 ERA in relief, but in his only start this year on April 16 at home against the Dodgers, Erlin coughed up six runs on seven hits over three innings. Another lefty, Eric Lauer (8.14 ERA), starts Tuesday. The 22-year-old rookie has struggled in his last two starts, allowing the Cardinals six runs on seven hits over 2 1/3 innings on May 11, and surrendering four runs on six hits over 4 2/3 on May 17. In his lone win - May 6 against the Dodgers - he scattered seven hits and gave up no runs while completing six innings of work. Tyson Ross (3.35 ERA) goes to work against the Nats in Wednesday's finale. Back with the Padres after the injury-plagued 2017 he had with the Rangers, Ross has performed consistently if not spectacularly. He's gone exactly six innings in seven of his nine starts, including a May 7 outing in San Diego in which the Nationals scored five runs off him on six hits, two of them homers.

If the Padres do manage to carry a lead into the later innings, they can turn to a solid relief corps that includes Jordan Lyles (1-1, 3.11 ERA), rookie Adam Cimber (2-1, 2.92 ERA) and former National Craig Stammen (1-0, I.99 ERA). Lefty Brad Hand (1-3, 2.22 ERA) had enjoyed scant success as a starting pitcher with the Marlins. But after the Padres acquired him in 2016, he flourished as a setup guy and eventually as a full-time closer. Hand has converted each of the eight save opportunities he's had in May.

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