There was the tone-setter, the three-run homer by Juan Soto in the top of the first that seemed to leave Petco Park in 1.3 seconds. There were the back-to-back, two-run singles by Josh Bell and Starlin Castro in the top of the second that kept the pressure on Padres starter Chris Paddack. And then there were the three additional runs the Nationals scored soon thereafter to extend their lead to a whopping 10 runs by the top of the fourth and ensure this would be a very good (albeit very long) night in San Diego.
With a 15-5 thumping of the Padres, the Nats ensured at least a four-game series split against one of the tougher opponents they’ll face this season and creeped back to within one game of the .500 mark heading into Thursday night’s marquee Max Scherzer vs. Yu Darvish matchup.
And they took another step toward proving they can still put up big offensive numbers while Kyle Schwarber heals on the 10-day injured list. The Nationals have now scored 26 runs through the first three games of this series as the National League Player of the Month for June watches from the dugout nursing a significant hamstring strain.
“That tells you how it’s going to be (in) the second half,” Soto said in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “It’s going to be really fun with this lineup and Schwarber back. I hope he can be back soon. It’s going to be fun. I think our second half is going to be better than our first one. You can see everybody’s getting locked in and ready to get going.”
They’ve done so thanks to a rediscovered power stroke from Soto, the continued resurgence of Bell at the plate after a dismal start to his season and the sometimes quiet contributions of Castro in the last few weeks.
Soto, who earlier in the day officially accepted an invitation to compete in Monday night’s Home Run Derby at Coors Field, got this game started with a bang when he ripped a three-run homer to left off Paddack, giving the Nats a 3-0 lead three batters in.
The opposite-field laser had a launch angle of only 21 degrees, typically not enough to lift a ball over the fence. But Soto hit it with such authority, he still managed to carry it 382 feet and over the short fence for his 11th homer of the season, his second in as many nights.
Does he expect a ball to leave the yard when he hits it that low?
“Hell, yeah. Every time,” Soto said. “If I hit it hard in the air, I always think it has a chance. We’ve been working on it. I got it in the air enough to go over the wall, and I’m just happy that happened.”
A 3-0 lead in the first made for an encouraging start to the evening. A 7-0 lead in the second made for a fun night for the visitors.
They extended the advantage by having five consecutive batters reach safely with two outs in the second, the key hits coming in succession by Bell and Castro to drive in all four runs.
Bell’s two-run single to left came with the bases loaded and left the cleanup hitter a cool 5-for-11 with 13 RBIs in those situations, which have proved so difficult for most of the rest of the Nationals lineup for inexplicable reasons. He’s now driven in 31 runs over his last 46 games, producing an OPS north of .900.
Castro’s follow-up two-run single was his latest in a recent string of productive hits. The veteran infielder, whose OPS dropped as low as .595 at one point last month, is now batting .373 in 20 games since briefly leaving the club for a couple days to tend to a family matter.
“He’s been really good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And I’ve said this all along: Close your eyes, and at the end of the year he’s going to have a whole lot of hits and he’s going to drive in 70, 80, 90 runs and just do the things he’s doing.”
With a fourth-inning double, Castro put himself in position to score the Nats’ 10th run of the night. And that made life extra easy on Patrick Corbin, who never threw a pitch tonight with his team ahead by fewer than three runs.
Corbin was far from sharp; he loaded the bases in the bottom of the first, never delivered a 1-2-3 inning and needed 106 pitches just to complete six frames. But the left-hander was effective; he held the Padres scoreless through the fourth before allowing a run in the fifth on a pair of hits and another in the sixth on Eric Hosmer’s leadoff homer.
Maybe it wasn’t Corbin’s best outing of the year. But on a night when his teammates supplied two touchdowns worth of offensive support, it was exactly what was needed.
“It was good to get through six innings there,” he said. “The offense did a heck of a job there to put up a bunch of runs early.”