On last night’s podcast, Bill brought up that his favorite story of the year has been the San Diego Padres improbably run to the top of the NL West. Still, things aren’t going to be easy for the Friars. At 51-37, they are ust two games up on both the Rockies and the Dodgers, and four up on the Giants. And while they’ve been great so far, The Common Man can’t help but feel like we’ve reached the Padres’ high water mark in 2010. Indeed, if TCM had to pick one division leader right now who was not going to make it to the finish line, it would be San Diego.
There are several obstacles standing in their way. The first, and most important, is that they are fighting with three other teams for the division lead. While they have a head start, the likelihood of one of the other clubs (in particular, the Rockies, who are going to get Troy Tulowitzki and Jorge De La Rosa back soon) putting together a big second half is high.
The Padres also have a grueling end of the season, playing 13 of their final 20 contests on the road in Colorado, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Plus, three of their seven home games come against the NL Central leading Reds. All in all, it’s going to be a tough back half of September for these Padres.
And while it may not seem like it, given the offensive black hole they play in, the Padres may have some weaknesses in their rotation, where Clayton Richard, Jon Garland, and Wade LeBlanc all have xFIPs a run or so more than their ERAs.
The Padres have also fared incredibly well in one-run games thusfar, winning 19 of 31 contests. To a certain extent, this is a function of the team’s magnificent bullpen, but it’s also likely that this kind of success simply isn’t sustainable.
And then there’s this: The Common Man doesn’t expect the Padres to make any major moves here at the trade deadline. For one thing, the team is not poised to take on additional salary. Increasingly, these deadline deals are being made for financial reasons, and many of the players that GM Jed Hoyer could acquire to help (Roy Oswalt, Jose Guillen, Corey Hart, Jayson Werth, etc.) make a bunch of money.
The Padres remind The Common Man a lot of the Seattle Mariners from last year or the Twins from 2001, in that no one really expected the clubs to be competitive, but they did through great defense, decent pitching, and mediocre offense. That said, it’s important to note that both clubs ran out of gas, as they were just not good enough to stay in it. And given the realization that the Padres are probably playing over their head, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to plug leaks on a ship that’s going to sink anyway.
Under smart leadership, the Padres are also going to patiently implement their master plan, which is incredibly similar to the M’s. With a lead, it doesn’t make sense to sell off players and compromise their long term prospects for a short term gain. Instead, they’ll hold tight to prospects Donavan Tate, Simon Castro, and Jaff Decker. The Padres, in their market, will only remain competitive by building themselves into a player-development machine on par with the Twins of the early 2000s.
Indeed, while the Twins did try to upgrade in 2001, they smartly refused to part with their prospects, who included Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Luis Rivas, Bobby Kielty, Matt LeCroy, JC Romero, Kyle Lohse, Lew Ford, Juan Rincon, Jason Kubel, and the young Johan Santana. Each of these players would prove valuable in the coming years as the Twins became the dominant team in the AL Central. Expect the Padres to hold course and, at best, pick up a castoff in August to cover CF or SS. But in the meantime, they’re likely to get passed by either San Francisco (who seems to be aggressively pursuing offensive upgrades) or Rockies.