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Robbie Erlin is only 22 years old, and the Padres starter is going to have to learn as he goes at times pitching to major league hitters. Sunday didn’t go so swell for him as the Padres lost to the Washington Nationals to cap off a disastrous road trip.

After taking a single game on this road trip from the Miami Marlins, the Padres have now lost nine straight games, which included being swept in Boston by the Red Sox and now by the Nationals in the Nation’s Capital. The Friars are in last place in the division, 7 1/2 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks.

From being on the verge of taking the lead in the National League West, the Padres have gone to bringing up the rear. Again. The level of frustration from the fan base judging from social media and casual conversation is high.

But is there really any blame to be tossed around? Hey, injuries have been the theme of the club from the outset. Three pitchers that would have been likely starters are out due to Tommy John surgery and won’t be back until next season unless called up in September, which seems less likely as time passes.

Then, there’s Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, and Cameron Maybin, with still no set plans to return soon. Alonso is in Tucson working into shape and Gyorko seems close, and Maybin isn’t even in the conversation these days. And catcher Yasmani Grandal tore up his knee and now he seems lost for 2013.

Only Everth Cabrera has returned, but it’s likely going to take some time until he’s comfortable facing major league pitching again. Everth got a hit on Sunday, but that was his first since coming off of the disabled list on Friday. Cabrera will represent the Padres in the All-Star game a week from Tuesday.

So, it’s pretty easy to figure that key injuries had a lot to do with the current free-fall that the Padres are currently enduring. And perhaps that’s part of the problem, but taking a step back to examine the team as a whole is probably the key to deciphering why the club is currently flailing away and coming up empty.

Successful ball clubs are steady, putting it all together as they need to. Starting pitching, hitting, relief pitching, defense, all of it comes together consistently. The Padres have been streaky in that regard.

The Friars have some depth, they simply don’t yet command the consistency that a team hoping to compete needs to have. When they are on, they are as exciting as any club to watch on the field. And there isn’t a bit of quit in them.

But in an interview a couple of months back, veteran Jason Marquis was prescient in his observations. Jason was careful to point out that while the Padres were riding a nice winning streak (and Marquis was riding one of his own), contending ball clubs bank on consistent play over a streak.

The Padres are now home and will play division rivals in the Colorado Rockies and the San Francisco Giants for a seven-game home stand before the All-Star break. Maybe some sort of consistent play will develop at Petco Park. Otherwise, being nine games under .500 and getting any worse will lead to no chance of having a shot at the play-offs in 2013.

And in all likelihood, nine games in back of even at the All-Star break will mean that the Padres will be sellers of talent this season rather than looking to sign help to take them over the edge of a precipice they were looking at crossing only a few weeks ago. The Friars’ time is now or never for 2013.


Notes:

With Yasmani Grandal out for at least 60 days if not longer, the Padres called up catcher Rene Rivera from AAA Tucson. Rivera was hitting .343 in AAA and has bounced around the majors and minors before landing with the Padres organization this year.

Monday, the Padres will be at home entertaining the Colorado Rockies for the first in the three-game set. Edinson Volquez (6-6, 5.26) will go for the Padres against Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood (4-2, 2.75). Game time is at 7:10 PM PDST and can be heard on 1090 AM and seen on Fox Sports San Diego.

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