There are series you look forward to in advance, that you mark on your calendar (do people even still use calendars?) at the beginning of the season, that you plan around to ensure that you'll be able to watch every second of every game. And then there are Padres series at Petco Park in September. I get that. No one is looking forward to this series, and even die-hard fans couldn't be blamed if they wanted to skip it altogether.
Except that...look, guys, we all know that the Diamondbacks aren't making the playoffs this year. I've gotten my head around that, and there are still plenty of reasons to keep watching. You just have to set lower goals. I'm rooting for the team to finish above .500, because that's the sort of arbitrary landmark would make the fanbase and the front office feel a lot more confident about this team going forward. I'm rooting for the team to finish with a positive run differential, because that's the sort of arbitrary landmark that would make me feel a lot more confident. And I'm rooting particularly vehemently for the D-Backs to finish ahead of the Padres.
Have you checked the standings recently? No, not up at the Giants and Dodgers, that'll just depress you, but down? The Padres are four games behind the D-Backs. Another sweep brings the Padres within a game with more than twenty games to go. It could happen. Need I remind you that these are the same Padres who who have gotten 41 starts from Jason Marquis, Ross Ohlendorf, and Jeff Suppan. That's a quarter of a season that's been started by dudes who most of baseball thought retired in 2008. In my experience, there are two types of seasons: seasons that fans can take a modicum of satisfaction from, and seasons where their team finishes behind the Padres. There's no in between on this one.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
I can't remember the last time the Padres had a decisively better offense than the Diamondbacks.
2006? 2005? 2009, apparently. It's been awhile. And I know I've brought this up before, but here's a list of injured pitchers that the Padres are going to get back at some point in 2013: Cory Luebke, Tim Stauffer, Joe Wieland, Anthony Bass. The Padres don't need their rotation to get better: they're basically getting a new one in 2013.
1. Adam Eaton, CF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Justin Upton, RF
4. Jason Kubel, LF
5. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
6. Miguel Montero, C
7. Chris Johnson, 3B
8. Some unholy mish-mash of Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald, and 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. Logan Forsythe, 2B
8. Cameron Maybin, CF
Look, it's September and we're entering our fifth series with the Padres. I'm out of new things to say about them. Frankly, you're lucky these September NL West previews say anything at all. I seriously considered just writing "DON'T GET SWEPT AGAIN" five hundred times in Comic Sans and calling it a series preview. If you want insight into the Padres' lineup, read this.
But I will leave you with a word of advice: keep an eye on those 4-5-6 hitters, because they should be around for a little while. Quentin signed a three-year deal about a month ago that comes complete with a no-trade clause, and Grandal and Alonso are both rookies. Quentin has an OPS+ of 141, Grandal's is 144 in limited at-bats, and Alonso has hit .287/.346/.433 since the All Star Break. Things won't go flawlessly, since things never go flawlessly in baseball when rookies are involved, and it would just be the most Padres thing imaginable if none of the three work out. But if they continue on the path that they're already on, that's the middle of the order for a team that can compete for the playoffs, even if Headley leaves and top prospect Jedd Gyroko doesn't pan out.
Friday: Tyler Skaggs (1-1, 2.60) vs. Andrew Cashner (3-3, 3.44)
Insightful Commentary: Grant Brisbee wrote recently, "With four young pitchers, I'd guess a team should realistically hope for one successful season, one promising season, a guy who doesn't embarrass himself, and a lost season," which seems about right to me. To review, the Diamondbacks have gotten a Rookie of the Year (in Miley), and a solid mid-rotation guy (Corbin). Bauer has come the closest to having a lost season, but he'll probably be a top-ten prospect again in March, so it's hard to get too annoyed. We've already gotten more than we have any right to expect out of our rookie starters. Skaggs can be the home-made icing on the cake with a good September.
When we last saw Cashner, he was busy out-dueling the aforementioned Bauer in one of the weirder games I've attended this year. Actually, that's the last time anyone has seen Cashner, since he got injured in the fourth inning and has been out ever since. He's more archetype than pitcher at the moment: a youngster with an electric fastball but no clue how to use it. Teams in the Padres' position have the luxury of trying guys like this as a starter. If he improves his control enough to stick as a starter, they might have just found an ace for the future. And if not, they stick him back in the bullpen and get an above-average reliever instead.
Saturday: Wade Miley (14-9, 2.90) vs. Casey Kelly (1-0, 3.86)
Insightful Commentary: With the obvious exception of Mike Trout, Miley has the highest fWAR of any rookie in either league. Among rookie starting pitchers, only A.J. Griffin has a lower ERA than Miley, and he has thrown less than a third as many innings. I don't typically concern myself too much with awards, because it's easy to kick and scream whenever Joe Diamondback doesn't make the all-star team or something, but it's out of our control and typically leads to disappointment. This one is so clear-cut that I can't help but be invested, though: Wade Miley is the NL's Rookie of the Year, and anything else is wrong.
The original Adrian Gonzalez-to-the-Red Sox deal feels like a long time ago now, but you may remember that Kelly and Anthony Rizzo were the main prospects in the trade. So the Padres are understandably invested in his performance going forward. But I wonder how much of the hype that surrounded him early on came out of the Boston Hype Machine, rather than actual performance. He's been injured for much of the year, and it's not fair to dock him for that, but he spent 2011 in Double-A and struggled to keep his ERA below 4. His velocity is adequate, and his curveball is well-regarded, but he seems a bit like a right-handed Tyler Skaggs who also happens to be three years older. So, he's like Skaggs without the things that make Skaggs special. Color me skeptical.
Sunday: Ian Kennedy (12-11, 4.39) vs. Andrew Werner (1-1, 3.00)
Insightful Commentary: Not gonna lie, I'm surprised we aren't seeing Corbin here, even accounting for the off-day. It messes the rotation up, and frankly, one extra Corbin start means a lot more than one extra Kennedy start in terms of player evaluation.
It's common to see rookie pitchers be inconsistent. A good start here, a couple of bad starts there. Andrew Werner has bucked that stereotype in his first three starts, managing to go six innings and give up two runs in all three. Werner's 25, and probably not much more than an organization guy, but dammit, you can't say he hasn't been reliable so far.
Final Verdict: Padres two games to one. It's not because the Padres have humiliated the D-Backs recently, although that has certainly been the case. It's more that a 5-5 roadtrip just feels right for the Diamondbacks in 2012. It's not awful, just sort of "meh," with just enough hope to make everyone think it should be better than it is.
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(Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference)