Dave Rice 6:30 p.m., March 24
Inconceivably, the after beating the Colorado Rockies 12-11 on Sunday in a wild and often sloppy game that included errors and pitching meltdowns on both sides, the Padres are in position to do something remarkable this season. San Diego has a real opportunity to finish the season with as many wins as they will have losses, which would be a miracle when taking the entire season into account.
The Padres began the season horribly - so horribly that only a couple of months into the season, finishing 81-81 seemed completely impossible - the 2012 campaign looked like 100 losses for the year. Figure that the team won only 6 of 24 games in April, and only improved to win 10 of 28 in May.
That's 16-36 to open up the first two months of the season, and even after a somewhat more respectable 12-15 record in the month of June, that still left the Padres 28-51 after three months and on pace to lose 100 games, the benchmark of an embarrassing season in baseball. But then the Padres got good and the team is currently at 71-76 in September.
There's even very, very remote possibility for the end of the season for the Padres. Would you believe the club is only six games out to land the second wildcard berth in the National League?
The problem is, there are only 15 games left, and there are quite a few teams closer to the St. Louis Cardinals that would have to completely melt down. With that much optimism - for what it's worth, since a playoff spot is pretty much out of the question - it seems to be a good time to examine what went wrong and then what went right.
Early Pitching Injuries
Don't blame pitching, not even early pitching injuries. While starting pitching went down for the count early, their spots were adequately filled with minor league call-ups and by making crafty acquisitions.
Even though arms like Tim Stauffer and Cory Luebke disappeared quickly from the starting rotation, players like Eric Stults and Jason Marquis replaced them and didn't embarrass themselves in the process. The club also smartly shuffled young relief pitchers up and down from the minors to the majors without losing much while keeping fresh arms on the roster, so pitching didn't cause that immediate collapse.
While the number of injuries to arms has been referred to as unprecedented (and probably is in recent Padres history), the club had a combination of resources and smarts to overcome most of what they lost in terms of games they might have otherwise won. And the swing probably wouldn't have been much early in the season because pitching wasn't getting much run support from the offense.
Offense by Addition and Subtraction
Looking at the hitting, Carlos Quentin and Logan Forsythe were out of action at the beginning of the season, Forsythe with a fractured left foot and Quentin with knee surgery. It took until June to get these guys back, and Forsythe is currently flirting with a .300 average while Quentin is second on the club in home runs, to put it into perspective.
Quentin was especially the key to what seemed to be missing from the line-up card that Buddy Black scripted every day, in that Chase Headley showed a lot less power before Quentin came back and since opposing pitchers no longer seem to pitch around Chase, Hundley has caught fire. Forsythe has been getting key hits since being added to the line-up, eventually replacing opening day starting second baseman Orlando Hudson, who was released in June. Hudson finished his stint with the Padres hitting .211 in 2012.
Nick Hundley, who hit well last season and certainly improved his catching skills for the 2012 season, struggled early at the plate and it never improved. It became obvious that Nick was pressing more and more, to the point where he was hitting a paltry .166 in late June when he was sent down to the minor leagues.
Hundley's replacement from AAA Tucson was rookie Yasmani Grandal, who came in and made an immediate impact at the plate. Currently hitting a robust .277 with some very clutch hitting, Grandal has been a great addition often protecting rookie first baseman Yonder Alonso in the line-up, and, oh yeah, Grandal is a switch hitter.
Shortstop Jason Bartlett - in limited plate appearances - fared far worse than either Hundley or Hudson, hitting only .133 before hitting the disabled list in the middle of May. Bartlett has since been released. Everth Cabrera is now the mainstay there, hitting only .241 but leading the club with 33 stolen bases.
Others, such as Headley and Cameron Maybin have improved much since the early part of the season while steady contributors Yonder Alonso and Chris Denorfia have held ground nicely. The acquisition of utility infielder Alexi Amarista (obtained from the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Ernesto Frieri) has helped and pinch hitters Mark Kotsay and Jesus Guzman have provided options that seem to plug into game decisions better now for manager Buddy Black.
Defense Went From Horrible to Not So Horrible
Sure, the defense in terms of errors have only improved from worst to second-worst at this point, but statistics do not tell this story so clearly as having seen the improvement on the field. The play was notoriously bad in the beginning, especially up the middle.
Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett - for various reasons - provided opposing hitters easy holes in the infield. It seemed to be catching early, with outfielder Will Venable committing early errors at a position where such errors are rare and Venable has historically been more capable.
But the glaring deficiency was middle-infield, and that has been noticeably tightened now that Cabrera and Forsythe have filled the spots. Both commit their share of errors, but both have significantly more range and cut off balls that Hudson and Bartlett didn't have a chance at reaching.
While Nick Hundley appeared stellar defensively, his poor hitting mandated a change at catcher. Yasmani Grandal filled the void and has always shown that he could be a good hitter at the major league level, but his defense was always suspect. Grandal - while having a difficult time throwing out runners early - has surprised greatly and not as much has been defensively lost at the catcher position than some thought might happen, Yasmani is a quick learner.
Chances of Making the Playoffs
The Padres have about the same chance of making the playoffs as the San Diego Chargers have of winning the Superbowl this season. Or even getting a stadium built in San Diego anytime soon. You get the idea. It can be possible yet you know it isn't going to happen.
Chances of Finishing Even
It wouldn't have even been a consideration in the middle of June, but it's entirely possible at this point in September. Going 10-5 with the 15 games left won't be easy, especially with the Padres having to face the division leading San Francisco Giants for three games in San Francisco starting on Friday and then having to face them at home for three more a week later.
But with the Giants, they are 7 1/2 games up at this point, so Giants manager Bruce Bochy might be in the position to play it safe and rest some veteran pitchers for the play-offs which would certainly benefit the Padres. The other side of that coin is that the Giants might be in the position to try and improve their position in the National League, so we'll have to see what happens.
Three games with Arizona - a team the Padres have handled well this season - looks encouraging, but entertaining the Los Angeles Dodgers for three games might be tough. The Padres have not done well against the Dodgers and Los Angeles is fighting hard for a playoff spot,
The Padres close out the season at Milwaukee for three games against the Brewers, and anything can happen there. San Diego will need a little luck, but hey, they've been on a good streak lately, and what's the old adage in baseball?
Never mess with a streak.