The 2010 Padres were a fun little reminder that baseball seasons aren't won and lost with preseason projections. Literally no one thought those Padres were going to be any good, but they spent most of the season laughing in PECOTA's face by spending 131 days in first place until a late-season collapse. They had a rotation filled with no-names and a lineup that featured one imposing hitter (Adrian Gonzalez) and a bunch of Chris Denorfias, but they came damn close to winning the NL West last year. Though they fell apart down the stretch, these Padres were a testament to what could happen when a flawed team gets lucky. Their bullpen fell into place, they got enough positive contributions from the Will Venebles of the world to take the pressure off of Gonzalez, they called up an 11th round draft pick named Mat Latos and stumbled their way into having an ace pitcher, and as a result they were playing meaningful baseball in September despite fielding a roster that was probably less talented than the 2011 Diamondbacks. So remember that the next time you catch yourself counting out a team before the season even begins. Remember the Padres.
Of course, all of that just makes what has happened in 2011 that much sadder (for Padres fans, at least). The 2011 Padres host the Diamondbacks this weekend while sporting a 12-19 record, second-worst in the majors. Since they couldn't afford to resign Adrian Gonzalez, their star first baseman, they were forced to trade him to the Red Sox over the winter, robbing an already suspect offense of its best player. Padres fans are frustrated and dejected, having just watched their team drop a depressing series to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. Sure the season's still early, but the Padres have one of the worst offenses in the league right now, and there's no clear indication that it's going to get better right away.
What the Stats Say:
Arizona (14-16) San Diego (12-19) Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 100 81 Arizona
Pitching (FIP): 4.49 3.14 San Diego
Fielding* (UZR): 1.2 7.7 San Diego
As you can see, hitting the baseball has not been a Padre strong suit this season, as their offense is tied for 26th by wRC+. And because they play half their games in Petco Park, the offense looks even worse in metrics that aren't park-adjusted, as it's 29th in wOBA, OPS, and plain ol' Runs Scored. The strength of the team is very clearly the bullpen, which has an FIP of 2.74. Basically, the entire bullpen is currently pitching like Cliff Lee has pitched the past three seasons (FIP: 2.84). Most of those arms were accrued while Kevin Towers was GM, and if he can put together a bullpen that even approaches that in Arizona, I'm fine with him signing as many veteran bench players as his scrap-happy heart desires.
San Diego Padres
The Padres are one of those teams that you look at and go, "Wait a minute, who's injured for them?" before realizing that, no, this is pretty much the team that they've had from the beginning of the season. Starting second baseman (and former Diamondback!) Orlando Hudson is their only injury of note, having been placed on the DL on Wednesday with a sore hamstring. The Padres have only three starters with an OPS+ above 100. The best hitter on the team right now, catcher Nick Hundley (OPS+: 115), is batting eight in one of the worst lineups in baseball simply because he's a catcher. Silly Bud Black. Cameron Maybin has been a nice surprise for Padres, as the former "can't-miss" Marlins prospect is finally beginning to justify the hype in his first season with his new team, and Chase Headley had a nice first month where he put up an OPS+ of 111.
The rest of the lineup ranges from kinda mediocre to downright awful. Will Venable and Jason Bartlett (OPS of .510 and .535 respectively) haven't so much set the table for the offense as thrown bowls and silverware haphazardly in the general direction of the table and hoped for the best. Ryan Ludwick is a fine hitter, but having him bat third suggests that this team really misses Adrian Gonzalez. And speaking of Gonzalez, Brad Hawpe has done about as good of a job replacing him at first base as your average cadaver might, putting up a cool .508 OPS on the season.
Friday: Armando Galarraga (3-2, 5.46) vs. Tim Stauffer (0-1, 3.12)
Insightful Commentary: Both MLB.com and SI.com have Galarraga penciled in for the start on Friday, which makes basically no sense since Hudson has had five days of rest. If Galarraga does end up pitching, he should either stop giving up so many home runs, or stop this illusion and change his name back to "Yusmeiro Petit" already. Tim Stauffer, after bouncing between AAA and the minors for about four seasons, had a breakout year last season as a long man/spot starter. While his 1.85 ERA was clearly Petco-induced, his control was a reason for optimism, as he only walked 2.61 batters per 9 innings last year. So far at least, this trend has continued this season, as he's only walking 2.08 so far in 2011.
Insightful Commentary: Well, whether Hudson pitches on Friday or Saturday, he'll do so with the comforting knowledge that he can, in fact, pitch a game without giving up runs in the first inning, having done so last Sunday against the Cubs. It was one of Hudson's better starts on the season, as he went 7 innings, gave up 3 runs and struck out 6 Cubbies. Despite his early-season struggles, he actually leads Diamondback pitchers in fWAR, a testimony to how low his FIP is and how unlucky he's gotten so far this season. "Dustin Moseley" sounds like the name of a child star from the 1980's for some reason, but he's pitched well for the Pads so far. His K/9 is abysmal (4.86 in his career), but he makes up for it by not walking anyone and inducing ground balls. His ERA isn't going to stay 1.63 for the season, but he has a chance to be a solid back-of-the-rotation arm for San Diego.
Insightful Commentary: Last time out, Saunders pitched 6 innings, gave up 3 runs, struck out 2 and walked 3. This is just about the most boring, "meh"-worthy line I can imagine, but for Saunders that represents significant improvement. It's not great, but it's more or less what the team needs out of Joe Saunders. Aaron Harang is unique among Padres pitchers in that he's actually gotten some run support this season. He had one bad start against the Braves where he gave up 8 runs in 6 innings, but otherwise he's been fairly solid so far. His main bugaboo over the past couple of seasons has been the home run, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep his homers in check in one of the most pitcher-friendly home parks in the country.
Final Verdict: The last time the Diamondbacks played a team that was struggling as much as the Padres are now, it was the Mets and they promptly got swept. With that in mind, I think the Diamondbacks are the better team, but until they demonstrate that they can take struggling opponents seriously, I'm going to err on the side of pessimism and say Padres two games to one.
Visit* Gaslamp Ball for the latest in Padres coverage.
*Assuming we aren't still at war with them. If we are, it's probably better if you don't visit.