Inside Look: Padres
It’s June 1 and the San Diego Padres are in first place in the NL West, fresh off an 18-6 drubbing at the hands of the New York Mets. Eighteen runs? Aren’t the Padres supposed to be a poor offensive team? Wait, they’re in FIRST? Aren’t they supposed to be wallowing in the NL West basement, and taking calls for an Adrian Gonzalez trade to “rebuild”? What the heck is going on out there on the Left Coast?
To try and sort out what appears to be something from Bizarro World, I’ve called on fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Geoff Young of Ducksnorts. I can’t guarantee Geoff’s answers will clear anything up, but perhaps they’ll give us an idea of why the Padres are doing better than anyone ever imagined — including the Padres’ front office.
1. Are you as surprised as everyone else that the Padres are at the top of the NL West on June 1st?
Yes. I didn’t see this coming at all. I thought the Padres would struggle to reach .500 this year. I had serious reservations about the pitching, which has turned out to be a strength.
2. Do you believe the Padres can remain at the top of the division, and/or seriously compete for a postseason bid? Why or why not?
It’s becoming harder to maintain my skepticism. Before the season, I thought the Rockies and Giants were the class of the division. I still expect them to be there at the end, as well as possibly the Dodgers, who have been playing well. The NL West is shaping up to be a serious dogfight, and it may well come down to who is least affected by injuries. If the Padres do reach the postseason, it will be on the strength of their pitching. I am not yet convinced they can, but that may be more a result of my having had such low expectations for this team than of their actual ability.
3. Other than Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Headley, and maybe David Eckstein, the Padres lineup is filled with players who look like they can lose their starting job at any moment. Is the lineup as fluid / unpredictable as it seems?
It is pretty fluid, partly by design and partly due to injuries. Bud Black has set up platoons in center and right field, and he seems to be going with the hot hand behind the plate. Shortstop and left field are chaotic because the projected starters have been hurt (and neither was producing much before that). Black does a nice job of working with what he’s got and keeping everyone involved, which appears to help offset any discomfort that might otherwise accompany such a fluid situation.
4. With so many young players and journeymen on the roster, do you credit manager Bud Black for his ability to mix and match? Or do you believe he has had little influence on San Diego’s hot start to the season?
Black’s main strengths as a manager are his even demeanor and his flexibility. He is well prepared, and his team reflects that. For example, this year, Black and the Padres have made a concerted effort to be aggressive on the bases. So far, it appears to be having a positive effect, and that is directly attributable to Black’s influence. And again, he gets everyone involved, which helps.
5. The bullpen has been lights-out thus far. Do you think it’s because there are quality arms in the ‘pen or because the personnel is somewhat unknown? In other words, do you see some of the middle relievers becoming over-exposed in the second half of the season and losing some effectiveness?
Quality arms. The back end of Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, and Heath Bell is as strong as any in baseball. Gregerson has a wipeout slider that makes good hitters look foolish, Adams could close for many teams, and you know about Bell. For the most part, I don’t see overexposure playing a role, although Adams’ injury history is a concern. If one of the big three goes down for an extended period of time, the Padres do have depth, but there is a significant drop from those guys to the second-tier relievers.
6. Is Adrian Gonzalez still in San Diego on August 1st?
If the Padres keep playing like they are now, I don’t see how you move him, unless someone offers a king’s ransom. Even if it made fiscal sense, it would be a complete public relations nightmare.
7. Are you confident in Jed Hoyer’s ability as a GM?
There isn’t much to work with in terms of assessing him so far, but he seems like a sharp guy who has a solid understanding of how to do his job. I liked the Kevin Kouzmanoff for Scott Hairston trade, and Hoyer says a lot of the right things. I am interested to see how he handles his first amateur draft and also what he does at the trade deadline, in what was expected to be a rebuilding year. I am cautiously optimistic based on the track records of his former organization and the people who hired him to run things here in San Diego.
8. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, tie ballgame, and Adrian Gonzalez is standing on third base. What Padre hitter do you want to see in the batter’s box?
I’ll get killed for this, but there’s no question it’s David Eckstein. That won’t happen because of the way Black constructs his lineup, but Eckstein is the one guy on this team who can put the ball in play with consistency. When the winning run is 90 feet away, that particular skill takes on greater importance than it does in other situations, where you might prefer to see someone who can drive the ball more. But if all you need is a single or an error, give me Eckstein.
Many thanks to Geoff Young for giving us some insight on the success of the San Diego Padres. I urge you to visit his blog Ducksnorts, which was one of the “original” independent baseball blogs (it was first published only a few weeks after Al Gore created the internet in 1997) and remains one of the best in the blogosphere.