Play with Your Food

I have the strangest dreams...I have the strangest dreams…

Maybe the Padres will do okay this year. In your heart of hearts, you don’t believe it, but you’ll commit to it over olives on a fork and flutes of champagne. You’ll sneak it into conversation, right between “My kid is smart, he’s just not motivated” and “I watch Giada De Laurentis for the recipes.”

Mmm, tomatoes.

* * *

Made it home in time to see the Padres down, 6-5, in the fourth at Coors Field Monday night. Rocky Mountain Pinball. Check-Swing Pachinko. Bobbing for Homers. Duck-Duck-Boom. Anti-Baseball.

Ex-Padre Glendon Rusch (you remember him as the pitcher who couldn’t get anyone out and also as the guy standing at home plate with a bat on his shoulder to end last year’s 22-inning affair against the Rockies) is on the mound with runners at the corners and nobody out. He gets Adrian Gonzalez swinging and then induces Chase Headley to ground into a 5-4-3 double play.

I flip to Jeopardy and see someone win $32,001. The final answer is “George Lucas.” I watch Chuck. Jeffster’s version of “Mr. Roboto” is stunning (if slightly less funny than the original). Fireworks in a church? Inspired.

I flip back to the game. The Padres are losing, 11-7. Jody Gerut needs a triple to become the first player in Padres history to hit for the cycle. Gerut grounds to Todd Helton at first.

* * *

She was making some halibut dish with a grapefruit salsa. Mmm, grapefruit.

* * *

This is anecdotal evidence, but Adrian has had some ugly at-bats against lefties. Monday night it was Rusch. Tuesday it was Jorge de la Rosa — twice.

Adrian expands the strike zone, chases stuff he shouldn’t. It wasn’t always that way. In 2006, he hit .312/.345/.489 against southpaws. Last year he plummeted to .213/.287/.387.

Caught fragments of Tuesday’s win. Saw Headley start a 7-4-3 double play on a hit-and-run sinking liner (“What is, ‘Iceberg’?”). For all of his faults as a left fielder, Headley has a strong arm.

Chad Gaudin made his Padres debut and worked five scoreless innings at Coors. Walked too many — story of the entire staff so far in ’09 — but kept his new team in the game.

Luis Rodriguez, still weak from food poisoning, delivered the game-winning hit. His sharp grounder past a drawn-in Helton plated Nick Hundley, who led off the ninth with a line drive down the right-field line that rattled around in the corner for a triple.

* * *

On April 7, 1992, the Weekly World news ran on its cover the headline, “Satan Escapes from Hell!” The accompanying “photograph” showed grey clouds billowing out of a Texas oil well in the shape of a menacing face with horns. I couldn’t resist; I had to buy a copy.

* * *

Adrian stole second base in Tuesday’s game. Standing up. Without a throw.

The moon landing was faked. John Frum will return to Tanna.

* * *

Friend of Ducksnorts Matt Vasgersian got himself into a little trouble for making a stupid on-air comment that some perceived as having racial overtones. He has apologized for the incident, which isn’t worthy even of being called an incident.

Three disclaimers:

  1. Although I’ve never met Vasgersian in person, I’ve exchanged emails with him and talked to him on the phone. He also contributed the foreword to the Ducksnorts 2008 Baseball Annual, which isn’t a reason for me to kiss his ass, in case you’re wondering.
  2. When I was young, we lived in Monterey Park, Calif. I went to school across the street from East Los Angeles Junior College. From kindergarten through third grade, I was the only white kid in my class. Everyone else was Mexican or Japanese. (In an amusing twist, I used to get teased for having “pushed-in eyes.”) In 1979, the school district started bussing white kids in from the San Fernando Valley. We moved to Culver City, on the west side.
  3. I have been married to a second-generation Asian-American for 13+ years. We say some things to each other that would be considered offensive in many contexts. It is our way of acknowledging the differences between our two cultures in a way that doesn’t take the whole thing too seriously. We are respectful, but we have no use for sacred cows. (She grew up in Hawai’i, home of Rap Reiplinger and Frank DeLima.) Also, we know each other well and that our banter comes from a place of love. We don’t hide from our differences; we poke fun at them.

My assumption, based on what I know of Vasgersian, is that he was being a smart-ass and it didn’t work. Yeah, like your jokes never suck.

* * *

She also made a pear and carrot salad with a curry vinaigrette. Mmm, carrots. No, wait; I meant pears. Mmm, pears.

* * *

Wednesday’s contest? I dunno, didn’t see it. The Padres were down, 7-0, and made a game of it. They lost, 7-5. Henry Blanco hit his third home run. He’s got two at Petco this year and one at Coors. The obvious conclusion is that Petco Park is twice as conducive to homers.

You do know how to abuse statistics, right? You should. It’s a handy skill to have.

* * *

Hideki Irabu has signed with the Long Beach Armada of the Golden Baseball League. He inspired the first ever rant at Ducksnorts back in ’97. Not my strongest work, but a guy has to start somewhere. I say we get as many people from San Diego as possible to his first start and all chant, “PRI-SON CAMP! PRI-SON CAMP!” Would that be in poor taste? I hope so.

* * *

The Padres lost again on Thursday, this time to the Dodgers. Adrian roped a double to left-center off lefty Will Ohman. It was a fat pitch — breaking ball that hung and caught too much plate.

I fear we are now seeing the real Padres bullpen. It takes time for scouting reports on minor leaguers to circulate, but you cannot stave off the inevitable forever.

That’s what makes it inevitable.

* * *

The Padres had a team OPS+ of 103 in April. That placed them ninth among the 30 MLB teams. They scored four runs or more in 15 of 22 games, going 11-4 in those contests. It’s a miniscule sample, but see how this compares to recent years:

Padres Scoring Four Runs or More, 2006 – 2009
Year G 4+ Pct W-L Pct
2006 162 89 .549 64-25 .719
2007 163 91 .558 66-25 .725
2008 162 75 .463 50-25 .667
2009 22 15 .682 11-4 .733

Kinda weird that the Padres have lost exactly 25 games that meet this criterion for three straight seasons. Insignificant, but weird. More relevant for our purposes, they scored a lot of runs in April.

How about the flip side? How often do the Padres allow four runs or more in a game, and what happens in those cases?

Padres Allowing Four Runs or More, 2006 – 2009
Year G 4+ Pct W-L Pct
2006 162 83 .512 25-58 .301
2007 163 83 .509 23-60 .277
2008 162 95 .586 18-77 .189
2009 22 14 .636 4-10 .286

In April, the pitchers didn’t do their job well. A big part of the problem was walks. The staff issued 4.07 BB/9 in the season’s first month, as compared to 3.46 in 2008. That’s an extra walk every other game. As Duaner Sanchez reminded us this past week, an extra walk can mean the difference between winning and losing.

* * *

Listening to Bjork’s Post. How can her music sound mechanical and organic at the same time?

* * *

The Padres had a team ERA+ of 80 in April. Nobody in MLB was worse, although the Phillies matched that mark.

Here’s a fun trick you can play on your friends after they’ve had a few too many mimosas at brunch:

  1. If a team wins the World Series, it must be good.
  2. The Phillies won the World Series.
  3. The Phillies sported an 80 ERA+ in April.
  4. The Padres sported an 80 ERA+ in April.
  5. The Padres must be good.
  6. The Padres will win the World Series.

Be careful when delivering this. If you are off by even a little, your head will explode.

* * *

Nice to see farmhands James Darnell and Anthony Bass off to strong starts. I identified them as two of my sleepers in the Ducksnorts 2009 Baseball Annual. Thanks, guys, for making me look smart.

* * *

Friday night, another loss at Dodger Stadium. It gets worse, but we don’t know that yet.

Jake Peavy spins eight scoreless innings. Offense goes AWOL. The hitters can’t be expected to carry this team all year.

Top of the sixth, nobody on, two out. Adrian grounds sharply toward shortstop. Rafael Furcal backhands the ball and rushes his throw, skipping it past James Loney for a two-base error. Adrian is two steps from the bag when the ball arrives. Furcal needs to get his eyes checked — how did he not see the piano?

Top of the seventh, Kouzmanoff leads off with a double to left-center. Blanco strikes out and Chris Burke lines to center. Juan Pierre races in, then nearly lets the ball sail over his head before making a “spectacular” catch. Peavy strikes out to end the inning.

Mark Grant wonders aloud whether Blanco should have sacrificed Kouz to third, noting that the latter would have scored on Burke’s fly ball. I wonder aloud whether, if Kouz is on third with one out and Peavy is on deck, Burke even sees a strike? We will never know.

I missed most of Sanchez’s walkfest in the ninth. Saw the game winner to Russell Martin. That was one heckuva plate appearance by Martin. He fought off some nasty sliders down and away before spitting on a 3-2 fastball just above the letters.

The game almost ended twice earlier with Martin at the plate. First, Blanco smothered a slider in the dirt to keep Orlando Hudson at third. Then, Martin lunged at and rolled another slider up the third-base line. Kouz charged hard and went to barehand it before pulling back at the last moment, letting it dribble foul. Sanchez was already walking off the mound.

* * *

Didn’t see Saturday night’s loss. Visiting with friends from out of town.

If the Padres can’t win with Peavy and Young on the mound, then what chance do they have with Gaudin, Geer, and Correia?

* * *

Brunch at the Catamaran. Early birthday present. Excellent food, too many mimosas.

Walk along the bay, sit in the shade at Fanuel Street Park. Kids, bicycles, dogs, birds, fish jumping up out of the water, sailboats. Dude in a Chargers shirt deep in conversation with the yellow parrot perched on his shoulder. Roller skates, random bits of conversation. Man jogging turns to his companion:

There was a spot on the optical scanner. I told 100 patients they were going to die. Some of them were quite upset.

Grass, ducks, boats — I already mentioned the boats. There were many boats. Cloudless sky. Ripples on the bay.

* * *

The Padres are getting trounced again and I’m not watching. Should have crowned a champion after 12 games. If they break the ’62 Mets record for futility despite the hot start — well, that would require extraordinary effort.

Extraordinary is good. Beats ordinary, right?

Sipping decaf. Dogs snore, jets from Miramar soar overhead.

I turn on the TV to check the score. Dodgers are up, 3-1, with two out in the sixth. Chad Billingsley faces Nick Hundley with the bases loaded. Cutter on the outside corner at the knees, called strike one. Curve ball down, swinging strike two. Curve ball down, swinging strike three. Inning over.

Three pitches tell me everything I need to know. That’s not a lot of baseball, but on this day, it is too much. I turn off the TV. I’ve got articles to write, laundry to fold, bills to pay.

What did hope feel like? Did you salivate when you saw some lady hit the jackpot at the next poker machine?

Gaudin works five scoreless in his Padres debut at Coors, then gets pummeled at Dodger Stadium. Does he not understand park factors? Or worse, do they not understand him?

* * *

My recommendation: Next time someone asks you what happened to the Padres after their 9-3 start, look ‘em square in the eye and say, “Cantaloupe and watermelon salad.” Then pop another olive in your mouth and walk away.

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24 Responses »

  1. She may be pretty, but her head is HUGE. She is like a weeble-wobble.

    I am surprised she does not fall over with that melon.

  2. I should have closed with some baseball talk, but I have little to contribute to the Padres discussion and VA really only covers the Nats or the Orioles…not much to give there.

    Tough to be a fan right now…I do take comfort in the fact that at least I expected it.

  3. Putting things in perspective, are you? Yes, I can and will still love baseball, even when my Pads look so bad. You’ll make it fun now and during the dog days. Thank you, sir! Thanks for providing the literary opiates necessary to endure.

  4. Among the headlines today at Black confident offense will come around.

    Whew! That’s a relief.

  5. #1@Coronado Mike: You’re not the first person I’ve heard say that, although I don’t see it myself.

    #3@Tex Padre: I do my best. This season is going to be brutal; might as well enjoy it.

    #4@Pat: Super. How about the pitching? Can anyone fix that?

  6. Those pictures are PhotoShopped within an inch of National Enquirer standards, which is too bad because she doesn’t need the help. But that might explain the head proportions.

    The pitching staff now has an ERA+ of 78. That’s just beyond terrible.

    Bell is the only positive, and in his new role as The Closer, he’s only pitched 8.2 innings, or roughly half as many as the far inferior Moreno and Gregerson. In what world does it make sense for your best relief pitcher to get the least work? Home games, especially, it’s acceptable to use him before the 9th with a lead.

    Besides Bell, only Cla Meredith has an ERA+ over 90. And it’s not just the injuries, because Silva and Baek are not good pitchers and Hill was guaranteed to land on the DL sooner rather than later. A greater depth of bad pitchers does not fix a bad pitching staff. Even when Peavy and Young revert to form, you’re still looking at a two-man rotation backed by the crud found in a junk drawer.

  7. A few things that stand out for me early in the season.

    1. Kouz is still absolutely clueless with runners in scoring position (5-for-26). It was good to get him out of the #5 hole but he’s still killing us in the #6 spot.

    2. Meredith is still not very good at stranding inherited runners. He allowed 21 of 42 to score last season and 21 of 52 in 2007. Compare that to 2006 when he was totally awesome and allowed just 9 of 38 inherited runners to score. In 2009, he’s on track for a career worst in that department with 7 of 8 inherited runners scored.

    3. Despite watching Scott Hairston struggle against tough RHP’s last season, I still think they should throw him out there 5-6 days per week and see what happens. He can’t be worse than what’s out there now. Small sample, but he’s 6-for-17 against RHP’s so far and has easily been the 2nd best hitter on this team.

    4. Brian Giles seems to be swinging at a lot of first pitches and is just 1-for-19 when he does so. For someone known for his ability to work the count, I wasn’t sure why the heck he keeps swinging so early in the count. Then I looked up his splits from last season and realized he hit .362 when swinging at the first pitch. So I guess I have to give him a pass for now.

    5. This bullpen officially sucks, although that is no surprise. I expect to see Triple-A relievers Greg Burke (2.25 ERA, 5 Sv), Joe Thatcher (1.69 ERA), Gabe DeHoyos (0.66 ERA), and maybe Scott Patterson (2.13 ERA) each get a chance here real soon.

    At times like these, it’s fun to think about the future. I think the team goes into September with a middle infield of Everth Cabrera and Matt Antonelli, AGON and Headley at the corners, an outfield rotation of Will Venable, Scott Hairston, Jody Gerut, and (maybe Kyle Blanks in LF), and Nick Hundley behind the dish. This is an offense with some potential. The pitching staff is another story. You got Bell, Peavy, Young, and then Towers has some serious work to do. At least it will be interesting to see how he tries to fix this mess of a pitching staff.

  8. I think I am just going to lurk around here this season.
    There is nothing I can add.

  9. Wow, looks like a great game last night! Wish I was there to see it. Back in SD on Friday and looking forward to getting to some games!

    TW, you make a good point, as usual, but I’m OK with using Bell in a limited capacity. Using him in more situations, greater leverage situations, multiple inning appearances (as he did last night) makes perfect sense; however, the team is going nowhere regardless of how many innings he pitches and he’s been used heavily the past two seasons. I think having him pitch less this year could be good for his health long term and perhaps he’ll be fresh and ready to rock next year with a more competitive club. Just my .02.

    Oh yeah, nice outing by Geer! Hopefully he can string a few more of those together. Giles had a nice game at the plate; I hope he’s coming around now.

  10. Keith Law on Strasburg …

    Hmmm, best college pitcher ever? Perhaps … which is one more argument to get out there and see him pitch!

    Also, I’ve been told “In the entire history of the June draft since 1965, NO PITCHER who was taken in the Top 10-overall picks has ever had a Hall of Fame career. Zero. None. Zilch. And none close” … does that ring true to you?

  11. #10@LynchMob:

    Rob Neyer looked at the Boswell story that quote comes from. It’s not exactly rigorous analysis, for a lot of reasons:

    1. The draft has been around for the last 40 years, missing something like 2/3 of players eligible for the HoF.

    2. You can be an awfully good player without the BBWAA electing you to the Hall.

    3. The team that drafts you, in most cases, will not be the team that you spend your entire career with. Picking Strasburg should be judged less on his eventual career numbers and more on what he’ll do in the next 6-8 years as a Washington or (dare we hope) Padre property, than what his HoF credentials will be.

    4. Boswell also seems to conflate coincidence with causality; it’s hard to identify great young baseball players, but there’s nothing intrinsic about being drafted in the top 10 that dooms a pitcher.

    Still, Neyer goes on to say that there’s definitely a breakpoint at which drafting Strasburg no longer makes sense. The floated $50 million price tag is well past that point. A $50 million contract with 10 or 12 guaranteed seems more reasonable, because as good as Strasburg is at pitching, and Boras is at negotiating, the drafting team still has a lot of leverage. So far nobody’s found a way around the draft, although if anybody can, it’ll be Boras.

  12. #7@Jason M.: Good points. I will be discussing Meredith at length in next week’s column.

    #8@parlo: Cool. Glad to know you’re still around; feel free to drop a line if you change your mind.

    #10@LynchMob: The hype surrounding Strasburg is unbelievable. That said, having seen him now four times (with a fifth trip scheduled for Friday) he’s a stud — it’s like seven innings of Rob Dibble in his prime.

    #11@Tom Waits: Boras did a nice job circumventing the draft in ’96, when he cashed in on Travis Lee, John Patterson, Bobby Seay, and Matt White. I’m sure he’s been working on a follow-up to that ever since.

  13. #12@Geoff Young: He didn’t circumvent the draft in 96; the draft rules stated that if a team didn’t offer a contract by a certain point, the player was a free agent. There’s no such rule that allows an American/Puerto Rican/Canadian player to turn down an offer and become a free agent. Even the kids who go to the Independent Leagues are still subject to the draft.

    The longshot would be turning pro in Japan, but that would open a whole can of worms that Japanese baseball might prefer to keep closed.

  14. #13@Tom Waits: Well, he kept his clients from being subjected to market forces established by the draft in a way that nobody has done before or since. Strictly speaking, that may not be “circumventing” the draft, but for those four players, it had the same effect.

  15. From “Manny being Manny Dept.:” Suspended for 50 games due to positive ‘roid test, per ESPN.

    Oh, that home win record for the Dodgers? Tainted.

  16. #14@Geoff Young: An agent following the rules, largely written by the teams and MLB, can’t be circumventing anything. Yes, it freed those four players from the draft — exactly what the rules stated would happen. MLB has since tightened the rules considerably. If there’s a loophole or a legal way around them, yes, I’d expect Boras to be the one to find it. But breaking or twisting any rules? Why, he’s already better at negotiating than the people he’s dealing with.

    Maybe the even-longer-shot approach would be for a few agents and players to sue MLB as restrictive of free labor. But it’s far more likely that he’ll negotiate hard and the total guaranteed value of Strasburg’s deal will be well short of $50 million.

  17. OT … my favorite comment about today’s news …

    “Manny must be having a hard time being Manny”


  18. #14@Geoff Young: One more thing to add — the words “market” and “draft” do not belong together. Baseball’s acquisition of amateur talent through the draft is far removed from a market. We saw what would happen with an actual market in 1996 — good amateur players getting 3 or 4 times what they’d have been paid in the draft.

  19. #15@LaMar: Tainted? I am conflicted. How do we, as Padres fans, view the ’96 and ’98 seasons in light of what we now know about Ken Caminiti?

    #16@Tom Waits: Boras identified a problem, i.e., the amateur draft system was limiting his clients’ earning potential. He identified a solution, i.e., exploiting a loophole that allowed him to negotiate better deals for them. So, okay, he didn’t circumvent the draft; he circumvented one of the intended effects (and really, the central effect) of the draft.

    #18@Tom Waits: It is a market, just not a free market.

  20. #19@Geoff Young: 96 and 98 seem tainted by Ken Caminiti …

  21. #19@Geoff Young: The 96 and 98 teams (especially the latter) have many candidates in addition to Caminiti. Brown, Vaughn, Carlos Hernandez, Myers, even Veras and Shipley show some of the key indicators of PED use. I don’t know of any team that can afford to throw stones about this problem, but it sure isn’t us.

  22. Do jokes ever not suck when they’re made after a person takes a baseball off the neck?