As the Padres bask in the glow of taking three straight from the formerly first-place Miami Marlins, they get a chance to take a breather and a day off as they embark on a six-game road trip.
Since we are just about at the quarter point of the season, this is a good chance to regroup and look back at what we’ve seen out of the team in the first 39 games.
What has worked
The bullpen: Plain and simple, this group has been unhittable. Huston Street has converted all 11 of his save chances while putting up a miniscule 0.56 ERA. Alex Torres has only given up one run in 17 appearances, Dale Thayer only three runs in 20 games. Nick Vincent has the only blown save of the season, and that turned into a 12-inning win.
Seth Smith: Has anyone had two more dramatic at bats to start his tenure with the team? Smith hit a pinch-hit homer in the Opening Night win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, then hit another blast in his next at bat. While he only has one more long ball since, Smith is fifth in the National League with a .330 batting average. He leads the team in doubles (11), triples (3) and walks (15) and is second in runs scored (14).
The young starters: Midway through spring training, Tyson Ross was expected to be the fifth starter and Robbie Erlin really didn’t have a role. Then the Josh Johnson news kept getting worse and all of a sudden the two were thrust into the rotation with expectations to perform. While it hasn’t been the smoothest ride for either, they have both looked sharp as of late. Erlin has put up three straight quality starts while Ross (4-3) is the only starter with a winning record. He also has a 1.29 ERA and even 1.00 baserunners per inning in two May starts. Both will be needed to keep it up if the Padres are going to contend for a playoff berth.
Opening day … and the last three games: Remember that Sunday night in March, when the bright lights of ESPN were shining on Petco Park and the Friars rallied to beat the hated Dodgers? It was a magical time. The good times haven’t exactly rolled quite as easily since then, but the series win over the Marlins puts the team a three games below .500 and 6 ½ behind the first-place San Francisco Giants. They’re in striking distance, which is all you can hope for considering what this team has gone through so far.
Everth Cabrera’s first three weeks: The kid hit everything he saw coming out of the gate, rattling off a nine-game hitting streak and raising his average as high as .356 midway through April as the team’s leadoff hitter. Unfortunately, nobody else did much of anything and a lot of that production was wasted. Then he hit the skids just as others finally began hitting. A 5-for-46 slump dropped his average more than 100 points – and dropped him out of the leadoff spot – but five hits over the weekend are a good sign for the future.
What hasn’t worked
Josh Johnson: Literally. The offseason signing was supposed to bolster an already strong rotation. Then word came out of training camp that he would start the season on the disabled list. Then, even worse news, as the team announced he would have another Tommy John surgery – ending his season and putting his career in doubt. It’s not like the guy was the model of health, so you knew the signing was a risk. But still, losing a guy for the season before he even throws a pitch is a killer.
Jedd Gyorko making contact: There’s nothing wrong with five homers and 19 RBIs at this point in the season, but something has to be done about that .162 average. The power-hitting second baseman got off to a horrid 4-for-29 start to the season and has been digging out ever since. As a cornerstone of the team’s future – cemented by a five-year, $35 million extension signed in April – he’ll need to dig harder if the team is going to succeed.
Everyone else making contact, too: While we’re at it, there are just too many lineup regulars with awful batting averages. Yonder Alonso: .200. Chase Headley: .195. Will Venable: .194. Alexi Amarista: .188. Yasmani Grandal looking Tony Gwynn-esque with his whopping .218 mark. On a positive note, the team now doesn’t have the worst batting average in the majors, surging past the Houston Astros into 29th place over the weekend with a .224 BA on the season.
Runs … and lack thereof: The Padres scored 25 runs this weekend, giving them 116 on the season and pushing them past Atlanta out of last place in all of baseball. So, that’s something. Still, the team is near the bottom of the league in almost every offensive category. Chase Headley and Cameron Maybin are back from injury. Carlos Quentin is expected back soon. It’s time to start producing real soon.
Quarter-season MVP: It has to be Street, who has locked down any late-inning leads. Now, if we can just get some more of those leads …
Most pleasant surprise: How about backup catcher Rene Rivera, who has put up a respectable .268 average while serving as ace Andrew Cashner’s personal catcher. The team started out 7-1 in his first eight starts behind the dish. His five RBIs paced the win over the first-place Giants last week. Rivera is a big reason why the three-catcher platoon system has worked.
Player with the most to prove: Gyorko. No wait, Quentin. How about Headley, who two years ago had 31 homers but has just 16 since? There are just so many hitters with so much to prove on this team. Who will step it up?
Weird stats of the quarter season: Xavier Nady has three home runs on the season and just one single. … Cameron Maybin is hitting .341 in 41 at bats since returning from an injury, but has yet to drive in a run. … Ross has given up a team-high 25 runs, but eight of them are unearned. No other pitcher has allowed more than three unearned runs. … Starters have an ugly 12-19 record, while the bullpen is 6-2.