Matthew Lickona 5 p.m., Dec. 9
Fifteen games in, what to expect from the Padres
At 5-10, are the Padres history this early in the season or can we expect more from this club?
Fifteen games into the season, what conclusions can be drawn from the performance of the 2013 Padres? Sure, it’s early, but baseball is a game best examined by taking current trends and then projecting them onward.
And obviously, such projections are destined to be wrong. But if you want to have fun with the game and the incredibly long season, then speculation is the greatest form of entertainment when the boys of summer aren’t on the field playing the game.
Injuries are key in explaining the Padres slow start
The injury bug will be driven home by all MLB clubs at every opportunity to justify poor performance, it’s easy to spin it and spoon it into the mouthpieces that write and talk baseball. But in the Padres case, there’s a lot of truth to it.
Cory Luebke was likely to be the Padres number one starter, but he underwent Tommy John surgery, as did Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly, young talent that appeared to have a spot each open in the back end of the rotation. This is three starting pitchers not starting the season with the club, and while Kelly is out for the year, Wieland and Luebke do figure to return after the All-Star Game art some point.
Obviously, that doesn’t help the club right now. And Chase Headley breaking the tip of his thumb wasn’t expected and it’s great that he returns now but with Carlos Quentin suspended, the Headley/Quentin dynamic in the starting lineup is missing.
Cameron Maybin’s DL stint, which may last for a very long time, doesn’t hurt the club offensively since Cameron got off to another horribly slow start. His defense is missed, in that between Will Venable, Alexi Amarista, and Chris Denorfia there are capable replacements, Maybin got to a lot of balls that otherwise found the gaps.
Injuries likely didn’t cause a 5-10 start but certainly contributed to it. Perhaps with Luebke and Wieland in the starting rotation the Padres could be playing .500 baseball.
Starting pitching hasn’t been good enough early
Edinson Volquez has been a wreck so far, with erratic starts that only level out when he throws the ball over the middle of the plate where the opposing hitters can tee off on it. There’s no question that Volquez is quite talented but due to a combination of mechanical issues and mental lapses, he’s been very ineffective so far, even booed by the fans during his last home start.
Clayton Richard started poorly but has since recovered, and is in the middle of a seven inning scoreless streak. Richard will level out and likely give manager Buddy Black six or seven innings each start which will result in keeping the bull pen fresh, which didn’t occur the first ten games.
Eric Stults has been fairly stellar, carrying a 2-1 record with a 3.94 ERA into San Francisco. Stults is leaving off where he wound up last season and is easily the most successful acquisition made last season.
Jason Marquis will continue to eat innings, his 1-1, 2.41 ERA a result of crafty location and the ability to change speeds effectively. Expect Marquis to have the odd night off of his game, but mostly Jason will deliver steady starts and has the ability to pitch out of trouble and keep the team in the game.
Tyson Ross is a total wildcard in the rotation. His stuff can be electric at times, but like Volquez, he’s entirely erratic and has trouble finding the plate in spurts. When Luebke or Wieland get healthy, he seems to be the pitcher that would leave the rotation first.
Relief pitching isn’t what it was last season
Padres relievers have given up the most home runs in the National League (9) and that’s not a good sign, especially playing in the National League West in ballparks that aren’t prone to seeing the long ball. Dale Thayer has been excellent out of the bull pen but others have had their problems.
Andrew Cashner and his 100 MPH fastballs are at times brilliant and at other times either erratic or too much to the center of the plate. Cashner is likely to find himself in a starting role again at some point this season, but meanwhile, his bull pen work is hit and miss.
Joe Thatcher hasn’t been himself at all, as the left-handed specialist has allowed base runners and runs, something he didn’t do much of last season. Often called on just to get one left-handed batter, Thatcher has failed several times to accomplish that task in 2013.
Anthony Bass and Brad Brach have both been hit and miss, Bass serving in long relief while Brach pitches an inning or two if the starters fail to go long. Brach in particular has been easy to hit with opponents sporting a .387 average off of him early in the season.
Luke Gregerson has had some flat outings, although lately he’s straightened up. A low ERA (1.29) and a low batting average against him (.130) whisper that Luke is likely back for another season as one of the best set-up relievers in the game.
Huston Street is off to a very poor start as closer, giving up 3 home runs in 5 appearances. Opponents are batting .300 off of Huston, so it’s hopeful that his proclivity toward giving up hits this early season is partly due to a lack of him being used because the Padres haven’t been in the position to need a closer very often.
Bats from the position players have been streaky
The everyday position players got off to slow starts at the plate, for the most part. However, the last few games have seen a phenomenal recovery, so there are reasons to be optimistic about this Padres offense.
Yonder Alonso has a sweet left-handed swing and has shown a little bit of early power with a couple of home runs. Expect Yonder to be a steady bat in the five-hole and flirt with .300 all season, with ample doubles and increased runs-batted-in from last season.
Chase Headley was out until just recently but if he can put up numbers even close to what he put up last season, then the middle of the order will benefit. Chase is a steady 3-hole hitter now, and even though he projects to hit around .280 or so, he should still have an opportunity to hit 25 or 30 home runs and approach 100 RBI’s; this is depending on Carlos Quentin batting clean-up to protect Chase in the order.
Carlos Quentin is the quintessential clean-up hitter on a squad like the 2013 Padres, if he can avoid injury (and suspensions). He has a great eye at the plate and plenty of power so his ability to protect Headley and serve a nice dish for Alonso is critical if the Padres are to have success offensively.
Jedd Gyorko is a rookie and sometimes he looks the part at the plate, often fooled by changing speeds and breaking pitches. But Gyorko should be fine so long as he stays back on the ball, and so far he’s had a few promising at bats that could project Jedd toward being a Rookie of the Year candidate. His skills at second base are better than most expected.
Everth Cabrera is either brilliant or awful, depending on who he faces. He’s hit two home runs this season, or rather, ran into a couple, and needs to work on getting on base instead of hitting for power. If Everth can find himself on the base paths more often this season than last, he’ll be a force. So far, the book is still out on Cabrera.
With Maybin on the disabled list, Chris Denorfia should see a lot of playing time in center field. Denorfia is an excellent hitter although with very little power. He was slated to platoon in right field with Will Venable, but with Maybin’s injury, he’ll see a lot of right-handed pitching in the coming weeks.
Will Venable will drive you nuts at times, he’s a guy you want to root for. Hidden power, although that’s not his strong suit, Will can get on a roll and hit well but other times looks lost at the plate. He’ll get plenty of time in right field for a few weeks, so if he can find his stroke then he’s good for a clutch hit or two.
Kyle Blanks will see time in the outfield now, his power has yet to be realized. Kyle is big, but surprisingly athletic in the outfield as well, and should see plenty of time in right and left field while he’s up with the big club. If Kyle can sustain that bat, then he could finally be up for good.
Nick Hundley started slowly but began to see the ball better about a week and a half ago, and is now batting over .300 on the season. Nick still strikes out in critical situations, but it appears that he has back the stick he swung in 2011, his break-out year.
The Padres bench is a positive
Having Alexi Amarista around has proven to be advantageous in the field, although Alexi got off to a horrible start at the plate. Lately he’s found his stick, and he’s been taking extra batting practice which might have helped. As small as Amarista is, his bat is capable of some pop.
Jesus Guzman can hit, no doubt about that, but hiding him in the field is sometimes a problem. However, Guzman has looked much better in left field this season and seems to be squaring up better on balls hit to the outfield. Buddy will try and keep Guzman off of the infield, however, where he’s looked out of place in the starts he received in Headley’s absence.
Mark Kotsay is the consummate pinch-hitter at this point in his career, hitting over .300 lifetime in that role and killing the ball this early season as well. Mark does have a hamstring issue at the moment, so don’t expect him to get the odd start until that resolves itself.
John Baker is perfect in his role as back-up catcher. While it’s difficult to be productive with the bat when not in the lineup as much as he would like to be, Baker embraces his role on the club and produces at the plate enough to warrant a pinch-hit opportunity at times when he isn’t spelling Nick Hundley.
Overall, while it’s early in the season and the Padres were not expected to compete in the division, even the 5-10 record isn’t a reason to throw in the towel 15 games into the season. The sweep of the Dodgers wasn’t even close, and the Padres bats and pitching came together, on the road. The upcoming series against San Francisco will be interesting in that if the Padres perform well then it’s possible that San Diego will have a team to root for this season.
Will they make the playoffs? Not likely, although the players and the manager and the coaches will tell you that the payoffs are their goal. And that should be their goal. Otherwise, what would the fans have to root for?
According to Corey Brock of mlb.com Cameron Maybin is now wearing a splint on his right wrist. Maybin injured the wrist in the field a few games ago, it’s an injury that has recurred in his young career. It would appear by all accounts that Maybin will likely be on the disabled list for quite some time beyond the 15 days that he’s slated for.
Friday, the Padres open a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Edinson Volquez (0-3, 11.68) will go for the Padres against Madison Bumgarner (3-0, 1.77) for the Giants. Game time is at 7:15 PM PDST, carried on radio 1090 AM and television Fox Sports San Diego.