Frankly, I'm a bit torn about this one. As the fan of an NL West team, it is etched into my very soul to make fun of the Padres. It's nothing personal, just that the Padres are, for lack of a better word, the Padres. Normally, a Padres series in mid-August, particularly in a season where the Diamondbacks aren't going to make the playoffs, is an invitation to mail in a series preview. You know, make some jokes at the expense of pitchers you had forgotten even existed, throw in an off-hand comment about how the Padres are building for the future and will probably be really good in a year or twelve, and then get to bed early.
But the last time I blew off the Padres, they sort of embarrassed the Diamondbacks. You remember, no? That series had everything: offensive incompetence, a Bauer implosion, and a blown lead in front of a sold-out crowd on the Fourth of July. It was just three games, but for those three games at least, the Padres looked decisively better than the D-Backs. No one punishes hubris quite like the baseball gods.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
That garish FIP- is the first thing you notice on the chart, but I'm going to defend the Padres a bit here. I mean, four of their top five starting pitchers from the beginning of the season were out by mid-May. Can you imagine if that happened to the Diamondbacks? They'd be stuck giving starts to guys like Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin, and Tyler Skaggs, for god's sake!
But since the Padres don't have that sort of talent lying around, they had to post an ad titled "Looking 4 Hot Sexy Washed-Up Former NL Central Starters" on Craigslist. Ross Olhendorf, Jason Marquis, Kip Wells, and Jeff Suppan answered, and here we are. That figure is pretty much what you would expect.
1. Chris Young, CF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Jason Kubel, LF
4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
5. Justin Upton, RF
6. Miguel Montero, C
7. Chris Johnson, 3B
8. Jake Elmore, SS
1. Everth Cabrera, SS
2. Will Venable, RF
3. Chase Headley, 3B
4. Carlos Quentin, LF
5. Yasmani Grandal, C
6. Yonder Alonso, 1B
7. Alexi Amarista, 2B
8. Cameron Maybin, CF
I hope you all enjoyed the jokes about the Padres' pitching, because this section won't be anywhere near as light-hearted. And that's because the Padres' offense has quietly started looking pretty good. They've put up a team line of .252/.320/.397 since the all-star break, and before you start scoffing at that, remember that they play half their games in Petco Park. Also, there's not a player on that last older than 30. Most of them are young, and a lot of them were top prospects rather recently. They're better than you think right now, and they're probably getting better.
Everyone just sort of assumed the Padres would deal Headley and Quentin at the trade deadline. I don't think the Padres ever stated that they wanted to or anything, but, you know, other teams were looking around for guys to acquire, and the Padres are the Padres. I don't think anyone even asked them or anything, people just sat around waiting for it to happen. Well, it didn't happen, because the Padres are evidently tired of being taken for granted, and because of that, they decided to try this new thing where they hang onto their good players. And both Quentin and Headley certainly qualify, with OPSes of .882 and .830 in 2012, respectively.
The Mat Latos trade was probably frustrating for fans of a team that has already seen more than it's fair share of rebuilding, but they can't argue with the results. It's dangerous to read too much into the first 100 Plate Appearances of anyone's career, but through his first 100 PAs, Yasmani Grandal has produced a 138 OPS+ while flashing solid catching skills. And while the first three months or so of the Yonder Alonso Experience had Padre fans bracing for the Justin Smoak-ian worst, he's hit noticeably better since the All-Star Break, with a line of .289/.329/.444.
That's not all. Alexi Amarista and Logan Forsythe form a young, dirt cheap, robustly league-average platoon that has the potential to be around for the next four years or so. Cameron Maybin has had a miserable season, but he's just a season removed from being the best hitter on the Padres (this comment works better if you don't think much about the Padres' offense last year), and he's started looking rather more like his old self since the All Star Break. In short, this offense makes me nervous.
Friday: Patrick Corbin (5-4, 3.60) vs. Eric Stults (3-2, 3.06)
Insightful Commentary: Since coming back up at the very beginning of August, Corbin has been nothing short of phenomenal. 4-0, 2.77, with four times as many strikeouts as walks. The "But Is It Sustainable?" crowd will note that his BABIP during that period is only .245, and that's likely to rise somewhat during the rest of the season. But still, this season has proven that Corbin belongs in the rotation going forward, making it a very solid rookie campaign.
Eric Stults has quietly toured the NL West since 2006, bringing his own particular brand of mediocrity to Los Angeles, Denver, and now San Diego. He did spend part of a season on the White Sox, but I assume that was only a clever ploy to get himself traded to Arizona, since he saw what happened with Chris Young, Brandon Allen, and Daniel Hudson. He's never pitched a full season in the majors, and his career major league K/9 is 5.48. Seems like a Padres Pitcher (TM) in waiting.
Saturday: Ian Kennedy (11-10, 4.24) vs. Clayton Richard (10-12, 3.73)
Insightful Commentary: It's August 23rd, more than three quarters of the way through the season, and I'm finally prepared to accept that we aren't going to get 2011 Ian Kennedy this year. Aren't you proud of me for finally getting there? Oh sure, 2011 IPK will show up every once in a while, putting together one of those seven inning, one run starts with a handful of strikeouts and no walks, but it's always followed up by inconsistency. He's been a glorified version of Trevor Cahill this year, and it's probably time to stop expecting more than that from him.
By my estimation, the Diamondbacks have faced Clayton Richard 183 times in the past three years. And frankly, I'm out of comments to make about him. Those "LOL the Padres could of had Daniel Hudson instead LOL" jokes that were never that funny to begin with have become even less so now that Hudson is injured and Richard is still doing his thing. He doesn't strike anyone out, but he walks very few and doesn't give up home runs excessively, but that could be cut and pasted from my description of any non-Latos starter the Padres have had in the last four years. He just sort of is. Clayton Richard: solid starter, wayward White Sock, perpetual exister.
Sunday: Joe Saunders (6-10, 4.22) vs. Edinson Volquez (8-9, 4.18)
Insightful Commentary: Much has been made of Joe Saunders getting placed on waivers recently, but I'm getting a little tired of writing eulogies for his Diamondback career. Do you remember the beginning of Empire Strikes Back, where everyone assumes Han is going to leave, and even Han eventually starts planning on it, but nothing ever comes of it because of course it doesn't? This constant, forced "will he, won't he" feels a bit like that. And yes, that does make Rockkstarr12 Princess Leia in this scenario.
I honestly have no idea how a professional pitcher can be as bad at finding the strike zone as Edinson Volquez is. Is he trying for an "effectively wild" motif? Does he feel bad for hitters, because he has such good stuff and all? Is he just the baseball equivalent of that kid we all knew from high school who wouldn't try because he was secretly afraid of failing? I don't understand it, but it is quite literally the only thing holding him back as a pitcher.
Series Preview: Of course this is a trap series. The Padres have been playing better of late, they have what passes for the top of their rotation going, and the Diamondbacks are coming off of an emotional doubleheader victory. It's the most obvious trap series I've ever seen, which makes me wonder if a trap series can be so blatant that the team can just go "nuh uh, not buying it" and win like they normally would. Also, the Padres already sprang this trap back in July, so wouldn't just make the Diamondbacks stupid for falling for it again? I'm overthinking this. Diamondbacks two games to one.
Gaslamp ball is the place for Padres pontifications.
(Stats via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs)