The Padres rocked the baseball world when they traded for slugger Juan Soto prior to the trade deadline, but their acquisition of reliever Josh Hader was arguably of equal importance.
In combination with the Soto deal, landing Hader, a four-time All-Star closer, was supposed to help the Friars clinch a berth in the postseason, where in theory they'd be a force to be reckoned with for teams like the Dodgers, Mets and Braves.
But instead Hader has slumped miserably in San Diego, allowing three or more runs in three of his seven appearances, leading to his banishment from the closer's role.
In his latest meltdown, on Sunday against the Royals, Hader coughed up a whopping six earned runs in 1/3 of an inning. The calamitous outing brought his ERA in a Padres uniform up to 23.14, while his WHIP ballooned to 4.07. For the season, those numbers sit at 6.52 and 1.47 -- ghastly figures for any hurler but especially for one who was considered the game's best reliever only a short while ago.
In fact, Hader reeled off 19 consecutive scoreless outings to begin the season. That's right: As recently as June 5, Hader sported a 0.00 ERA and 0.57 WHIP, with 18 saves. Opposing batters were hitting just .069/.156/.086. Simply put, Hader was virtually unhittable start the year.
When Hader finally lapsed by coughing up two home runs in a blown save against the Phillies on June 7, there was little reason to think anything was wrong. He logged saves in seven consecutive outings after that -- but trouble finally arrived in a big way in July.
In his final 10 appearances with the Brewers, from July 4-29, the 28-year-old allowed 13 earned runs -- including five home runs -- in 8 1/3 innings. His ERA in those outings was 14.04, and his season line ballooned from a microscopic 1.05 all the way up to 4.24.
The Padres seemed undeterred by the rough stretch, though, striking to shore up the bullpen in exchange for what was widely regarded to be a modest trade package of reliever Taylor Rogers; Dinelson Lamet -- who was subsequently designated for assignment by the Brewers and claimed by the Rockies; minor league stolen-base leader Esteury Ruiz; and pitching prospect Robert Gasser.
The Friars were initially hailed as the victors of the Hader swap, but the month since has seen the story re-written as more of a "lose-lose."
So, what is up with Hader?
At this point we can only speculate, but certainly injury of some kind has to be a possibility. Hader's falloff is simply too marked to happen out of the blue. Other possibilities include issues with his mechanics -- he previously alluded to tipping his pitches -- or perhaps something have to do with mental health. Players are only human, after all, even the best ones.
Reliever performance, in particular, can be subject to wild swings, so it wouldn't at all be surprising to see Hader right the ship down the stretch. His own performance this season shows what a rollercoaster it can be when pitching in small samples. And even if he doesn't figure it out this season, he is still under contract for next year, so he's not merely a half-season rental.
The news isn't all bad for the Padres. They were in control of the final wild card spot entering Monday's action, 1.5 games ahead of the Brewers. Still, they were 12-13 since Hader arrived in town, which surely fell well short of what they were hoping for when they swung the big trades before the deadline.