If only they could have started the season three weeks later.
That’s the conclusion I reach when I look at the Padres recent turnaround. After April 23, they were 5-15, and on a pace to match the ’62 New York Mets record of single-season futility. Since then, they have gone 11-3.
So, if only they had started three weeks later, my Padres would now be in first place.
But “if only” is not an argument, and it doesn’t change reality. As things stand right now, they are 16-18, in fourth place, two-and-a-half games behind the underachieving Dodgers, three behind the Rockies who are cooling off after a fast start, and three-and-a-half behind the D-Backs and Giants.
As an aside, the Dodgers have had their fair share of injuries: Zach Greinke has missed a month, and Hanley Ramirez will be out 4-6 weeks. Even still, they’re looking like the perfect sequel to the 1992 Mets, i.e., the best team money could (supposedly) buy. If things don’t change by say, June, we can expect to hear calls for Manager Don Mattingly’s dismissal.
In short, we should be thankful for the turnaround, and what has led to it:
- Chase Headley’s earlier-than-expected return from the disabled list;
- Edinson Volquez’ turnaround: he is always going to be somewhat erratic, but even still, his first three starts were ridiculous: 0-3, 12.1 innings, 21 hits and seven walks, and a 11.68 ERA. Since then, he is 3-0, 25.1 innings, just 24 hits and nine walks, and a 2.49 ERA. It seems the U-T’s Bill Center was on to something when he said that playing in the World Baseball Classic affected Volquez’ mechanics.
- Seeing Clayton Richard and Cameron Maybin go on the DL. Both were playing woefully bad baseball: Clayton 0-4 with 8.54 ERA, and a 2.05 WHIP, and Maybin batting just .091. While not a star, Richard is decent (as his 14 wins and 3.99 ERA from last year attest), and Maybin is still trying to find his way. But removing these guys from the field until they heal was essential in saving the season.
- Jedd Gyorko got hot: over his last nine games, he is batting .375 (12-for-32) with three homers and 6 RBI). Before April 30, he was at .225 with no dingers and 6 RBI. Clearly, he just needed to get adjusted to big league pitching, and he obviously benefits when the Padres lineup is at full strength with Chase Headley’s return and Carlos Quentin coming off of his eight-game suspension. For this, Gyorko is now removed from what’s “Bad” about the Padres (see my previous column).
- Andrew Cashner is in the starting rotation. In 21.1 innings, he is 2-1 with a 2.98 ERA. Keep in mind that this includes a lackluster start against Chicago on May 1, when he surrendered four runs in as many innings. While the verdict is still out on Cashner, the early returns do look positive.
So, what does this mean for the rest of the season? On the whole, it portends good things. Bear in mind that:
- Carlos Quentin is still not hitting (.169 BA with a .338 SLG);
- Yasmani Grandal is still not back and his teammates are apparently still angry with him for his cheating last year, and assuming the reports are true, it appears that he has only sorry that he got caught;
- Logan Forsythe, a very talented hitter, still has not played this year;
- Corey Luebke, the lefty who was on his way to contending for the Cy Young Award last year when he went down in April, should be back in July;
Glancing at these facts, one can see that maybe, just maybe, the front office knew what it was doing when it didn’t make any major offseason moves.
Their best starting pitcher thus far is still Jason Marquis, their starting center fielders have included Will Venable and Alexi Amarista, and Nick Hundley is 0 for his last 19, conjuring up memories of his disastrous ’12 season (.157/.219/.245).
Additionally, they will at some point be calling up the young pitchers–including Burch Smith, who will be making his major league debut tomorrow night against Tampa. Soon after that, we will see the likes of Max Fried, Robbie Erlin, and Donn Roach. They will have their good moments, but they will also have their inevitable growing pains, as most rookies do.
But the flip side is that the majority will likely be decent, if not outstanding pitchers in the big leagues. So with Richard out, Tyson Ross apparently not returning to the bullpen any time soon, and hitters finally figuring out that Eric Stults is not Sandy Koufax, it’s the perfect time to see what they can do.
Who knows? They might even surprise, and confound the experts…although I still say they’re a decent SP away from being a seriously competitive team.
But let’s not get too distracted: they’ve won 11 of their last 14 games, so let’s enjoy the ride.