This year, as in years past, I haven’t been allowed to say anything negative about the San Diego Padres until the All-Star break. Originally, the rule was created because the team was really, really terrible and there was no reason for me to pile on, though I did, often and at length. But even when the team was mediocre or even good, there were always players that drew my ire. While that may just be the breaks of small-market baseball, the rule helped to keep the first half of the seasons that had potential tolerable. And if the team melted down in the second half or lost to the Cardinals in the playoffs (again), I could voice my displeasure at the decomposing career of Brian Giles and the utter crappiness that is a Woody Williams start. I should be fair though; the lean years produced some memorable moments as well as my favorite Padre ever in Eric Owens.
But now it’s 2007, the Padres have won the division the last two years, and we’re in first place again with the National League’s best record. You’d think I wouldn’t have anything to complain about and, well, you’d be mostly right. Even coming into this season, I had no feeling of dread, no knowledge that the Padres would be terrible or that they would be undone by some clumsy personnel work (Giles, Williams, Ryan Klesko). We looked pretty good on paper and, amazingly, that has actually translated to 49 wins and .563 baseball. Not too bad.
Now that baseball is finally at the halfway point, I can talk about the things I don’t like about the team along with the obvious things there are to like about them. But, since I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy, I’ll list a positive trait to go with every shitty Padres trait.
Positive Trait No. 1: The Pitching Staff
The Padres have good pitching. An understatement, I know, but it perfectly describes the staff. The four main starters (Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux, and David Wells) are all excellent pitchers and have been mostly solid all year and should continue to be all the way into the playoffs (knock on wood). Peavy is starting the All-Star game, Young is also an All-Star and has an ERA of 2.00, and Maddux and Wells are the very definition of crafty, effective veterans. And I haven’t even mentioned the bullpen yet, which is sick. The point is that the team has been and will be carried by the pitching staff. So far they’ve been up to the task.
Negative Trait No. 1: The Offense
As good as the pitching is, the offense is the exact opposite. The Padres can’t hit. Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s Petco Park, no one can hit there. True, but I didn’t say the team can’t hit home runs, I said they can’t hit. With the exception of the slumping Adrian Gonzalez, this is a roster full of punchless has-beens (Brian Giles), undisciplined free-swingers (Marcus Giles and Mike Cameron), young hitters who are still developing (Khalil Greene and Kevin Kouzmanoff), and a ton of never-were’s (Jose Cruze Jr., Terrmel Sledge, and Russell Branyan). All that adds up to is a team that flat out sucks at situational hitting and a last in the National League team average of .242. That’s behind the Nationals, people. Further evidence: the Friday before the break, the Padres allowed Buddy Carlyle to pitch a career-high eight innings and strike out seven batters, tied for a career high. This just won’t do.
Positive No. 2: The Trades
You know when Peter Gammons mentions it, and it isn’t about the Red Sox, then it has to be good. The Padres have given up essentially nothing while acquiring catcher Michael Barrett and outfielder Milton Bradley, who will help the offense out immensely. Bradley is a great pickup because he actually takes a pitch, which means that Gonzalez might actually have protection in the lineup at some point. Barrett has always been a decent offensive catcher as well. These two guys at least have a chance of contributing offensively. Then again, they’re kind of like the rest of the lineup already. At least Kevin Towers did something before the break to help the offense.
Negative No. 2: No Power
This lineup has no power whatsoever. It would actually be fine if they had a bunch of high-average, OBP, and OPS guys, but they don’t. They have the Giles brothers. Remember when Brian Giles was a power hitter? Well if you’ve been watching any Padres baseball since they dealt for him, he ain’t a power hitter no more. He’s not even a regular hitter. If he played for any other team, I’d be accusing him of being a former steroid-user, but he’s a Padre, so this decline in production is, um, confusing. Did I mention we traded Jason Bay for him? Oops.
The reason having no power in the lineup is important is because Adrian Gonzalez can’t do everything for us when we’re playing big games down the stretch. And don’t blame Petco Park either. Sure, it’s hard to hit home runs there, but they don’t hit them on the road either. It’s entirely possible the team won’t have a player who hits 35 home runs this season, which is fine, but with no one to fear in the lineup, they’ll get mowed down in the playoffs again.
If you can’t tell, Brian Giles is this year’s Designated Whipping Boy because he’s worthless. That said, I’m fresh out of issues to complain about. The team looks good this year and, for the first time in years, I still like our chances against the rest of the National League. The team’s problems are essentially centered around Giles and all that he represents: no power, no average, totally relying on the pitching staff to get us through every game. But whatever. We look good so far this season. And for the first time in a long time, I’m totally confident in the team’s abilities. Knock on wood.