This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in the National League. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Padres, who are young with a deep, talented roster. If there’s one team that could surprise everybody this year, it’s this one.
Projected Lineup: SS Everth Cabrera, CF Will Venable, 3B Chase Headley, 2B Jedd Gyorko, 1B Yonder Alonso, LF Carlos Quentin, RF Seth Smith, C Nick Hundley
The Padres have quietly established some depth this Winter. Without losing any major pieces from a year ago, they are bringing back a young rotation that was actually quite good, though you probably didn’t notice because the team was well out of contention by the time they really started to click. The quartet of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy and Eric Stults took major steps forward as the rotation of the future, as the Padres finished 2013 on a 16-10 run.
Josh Johnson is the new addition to the staff, and this may come as a surprise to almost everyone, but he actually had a halfway decent season last year.
Note that I won’t quite go so far as to call it “good”.
But his peripheral stats were normal, highlighted by a career best 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. It appears he’s still got the velocity and the stuff to miss bats.
So why, then, did his ERA balloon to 6.20 when he put on a Blue Jays uniform? Well, I blame the Canadian exchange rate. Now that he’s in Petco Park, in a country where books don’t mysteriously cost three dollars more for no reason (seriously, what’s up with that?), he should have a lot more success.
If any member of the rotation succumbs to injury or otherwise falters, the Padres have depth in Joe Wieland, the young prospect who is returning from Tommy John surgery, and Alex Torres, acquired from the Rays after a dominant season in relief in which he put up a 1.71 ERA. These guys are more than adequate backups and could easily become mainstays in the rotation as the season progresses.
As always, the success of the offense depends on which version of Chase Headley we end up getting. His Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde tendencies have been well documented. And, strangely, he adopts his personas strictly by the half-season—never for any other period of time. Will we see the Headley from the 2nd half of 2012 (.308/.386/.592, 23 home runs) or from the 1st half of 2013 (.229/.330/.359, 7 home runs)? The ironic twist about the coming season is that he’s an impending free agent—so if he plays well in the first half, it may actually hurt the Padres’ chances of success, as he may be traded for a batch of prospects.
The Padres will make a hard charge at the division, but their defense will be their undoing. The bats in their lineup that were supposed to provide a boost will end up costing them defensively. As they currently stand, they’ve got below average defenders at both corner outfield spots (Quentin and Smith), as well as at second base (Gyorko). The outcome of the season comes down to inches, as teams who can make the crucial plays invariably edge out the teams who can’t. The Padres are in that second tier.
Projected Finish: 88-74, Second place in NL West, Wildcard berth