Losing nine straight down the stretch stinks. There is no other way to put it. Despite their current two-game lead in the National League West, the Padres find themselves teetering at the edge of an uncomfortable precipice. As I said earlier in the week, when the streak was a more manageable six games, “…if the overachievers from San Diego don’t get back to playing smart baseball soon, they could find themselves looking up before long.”
While the increasingly useless Dodgers were busy blowing a late lead to the Giants in Los Angeles, the Rockies were taking it to the Padres. After the Phillies debacle that started the slide, I’d expressed concern that the Rockies were still lingering:
Sure, they’re eight games back with 32 to go, but as we learned in 2007, they don’t need much room to operate. The Rockies were 6 1/2 back with 13 to go that year and it didn’t present a problem for them.
Eight back with 32 to go? Man, that sounds comfy. Colorado is now 5 1/2 back with 27 to go. Yeah, that didn’t take long at all. And yeah, I still think the Rockies are “the most talent-laden team in the division.”
Did I mention the stink? Or the uncomfortable precipice?
Losing streaks demand two things: First, a team must play poorly. Second, it must be unlucky. The Padres qualify on both counts. Reader Tom Waits drove home the point when discussing the Phillies series:
There’s some comfort to be drawn from the first two games. An inch difference in Game 1, Rollins is out. If Hoffman doesn’t send Hundley to be thrown out at home by a kilometer in the 5th, who knows what might have happened. Maybe we don’t score anyway, but Eckstein’s bullet went right at a CF playing rover depth. Or if Denorfia doesn’t play Victorino’s hit into a triple, the missed double play doesn’t score Victorino later. If Tejada is more aggressive going after Sweeney’s grounder, Eck doesn’t get hung out and maybe we turn two anyway. We still could have lost 2-1, but those first two games were neck and neck.
Sure, that’s a lot ifs… but that’s baseball. Each game is a series of ifs. Sometimes they work in your favor more often than not; other times the reverse holds true.
Reader LynchMob noted that as of Tuesday, August 31, the Padres still had an 89% chance of reaching the playoffs. As of this writing, Baseball Prospectus puts the Padres at 72.4%. That sounds great, but it’s also down from 94.3% just one week ago. If not for the Cardinals dropping from 41.0% to 7.1% over that same period, the Padres might be the talk of baseball right now… and not in a good way.
The positive spin would be that a 72% chance after a nine-game skid is impressive. If that gives you comfort, then by all means, cling to it.
Reader Pat observed that despite their recent slide, the Padres haven’t lost a lot of ground… or at least, not as much as they could have. Here’s how the NL West has fared during the losing streak:
Tm W L RS RA Ari 7 2 63 34 Col 5 4 43 39 SF 4 4 27 37 LA 4 5 37 38 SD 0 9 21 51
Inasmuch as we can divine anything from eight or nine games, we see that the Diamondbacks are playing great baseball and everyone else has been mediocre or worse. The Giants have managed a .500 record despite being outscored by 10 runs, proving yet again that anything can happen in a small enough sample… and when you get to face an incompetent Dodgers bullpen.
The Padres have seen their season-high 6 1/2 game lead on August 25 trimmed to 2 in less than two weeks. Again, this is disturbing… but it also could be much worse (and we may get there yet; these things take time): By rights, the Giants should have passed the Padres by now, but they haven’t played like a team that belongs in first place either.
We recently touched on the running game, and many folks expressed their opinions. I am thinking about it, examining it from various perspectives. I hope to have something intelligent to say about it in the next… sorry, no ETA for that; I go as fast as I go.
My general feeling is this: I like the idea of being aggressive on the bases, so long as you have the right personnel. It puts pressure on the defense, forces them to execute. Plus it’s a lot of fun to watch, which is important for a team that struggles to attract and retain fans. If you can’t be good, at least be exciting.
That said, I suspect the Padres would do well to be more selective in their aggression. For example, give Nick Hundley a permanent red light. He’s 0-for-5 in stolen base attempts this year. Regardless of what he may have been told as a child about “if at first you don’t succeed,” there’s no reason for him to try again.
The Padres are 1-for-5 in stolen base attempts during their nine-game losing streak. That isn’t aggressive; it’s stupid. As reader Field39 said, “I am all for aggressiveness, but I sometimes get the feeling that Bud has a requirement of at least one voluntary out on the base paths per game.”
The cleverly monikered Justin Case posed the following question:
If the Padres don’t make the playoffs this year, what would you think about the year and the team?
On the one hand, they finished August with more wins than I thought they’d get all year. On the other, if the Padres don’t make the playoffs… a lot has been sacrificed in the way of development for the sake of short-term benefit. There’s no question in my mind that it was the right call — when you’ve got a legitimate chance to do something, you’ve got to go for it — but questions about the kids remain unanswered.
Granted, Kyle Blanks and Everth Cabrera have been hurt… but Cabrera looks like a lost cause at this point. My Mike Caruso comp is proving to be more accurate than I’d hoped it would be.
Mat Latos has been a stud, which is great. But beyond him, who have the Padres developed this year? Hundley has lost playing time to Yorvit Torrealba, neither Chase Headley nor Will Venable has stepped forward the way I thought they might… Wade LeBlanc and Clayton Richard have been serviceable, but that’s hardly cause for celebration.
Understandably, development hasn’t been the primary focus in 2010. Although that’s mostly a positive thing (because it means the Padres have played much better than anyone expected), it also will bring some bitter to the sweetness of this season’s first five months if the Padres don’t reach the postseason. If you sacrifice player development for the sake of a playoff run and then fail to reach the playoffs, that is a disappointment, plain and simple.
I guess the positive spin here is that the Padres’ earlier inspired play has renewed interest — to a degree — among local fans. They aren’t exactly supporting their team, but they aren’t exactly ignoring it either… baby steps.
Bottom line? If the Padres don’t make the playoffs, it will be disappointing, but at least we will have gotten to watch five months of good baseball instead of the two we got last year. And we will have gotten to watch a lot of experts squirm as the team with no payroll continued to make everyone look like idiots into September. That last point makes me really hope the Padres can pull out of this funk and make it happen.
Reader Didi lamented the Padres’ miserable approach against Aaron Cook during Friday night’s loss:
…the 6th inning is typical of failure in situational hitting. Bases loaded one out (Cook had just thrown 8 balls in 9 pitches), Headley, who’d grounded out to second twice, hit the first offering for a ground out to first, and Venable (who’d only seen 5 pitches up to this point) took a strike and then popped out to second. Within three pitches, the threat went away with the Padres scoring one measly run.
Granted, it was a great defensive play by Giambi to get Headley out at first; still my point stands in that Cook was laboring to throw strikes, so why not make him work some more?
That was an excruciating sequence. I’ll cut Headley some slack, because he smoked the ball, but Venable’s at-bat was terrible. To see a pitcher walk the bases loaded with one out and come away almost completely unscathed…
At the same time, it did take a great play by Giambi. Unfortunately, when things aren’t going well for a team, the opposition tends to make great plays. If Headley hits that ball six inches to Giambi’s right, it drives home a second run (Carlos Gonzalez was playing well off the line in right field, and even the piano-carrying Adrian Gonzalez could have scored) and Venable steps to the plate with just one out. Maybe then Cook approaches Venable differently; maybe Venable isn’t so anxious and does something useful with one of Cook’s offerings.
Didi also pointed to David Pinto’s take on the streak:
From time to time I would look at the Padres lineup and wonder how they won. When I looked deeper, however, they were scoring at the rate they should, and their runs scored and allowed were in line with their winning percentage. One difference now is that the pitchers aren’t bailing them out.
The Padres offense isn’t this bad, and the pitching probably won’t get hammered that bad during RISP situations. This is a good example of why it’s important to build a big lead early, so a team can withstand a downturn like this.
Pinto notes in a follow-up that the Padres were victimized by “a moment of bad luck” in a bizarre play involving David Eckstein on Saturday. Luck is often used as a copout by those who lack skill. However, it also exists as a very real and very potent force in the world. Just ask Headley or Eckstein.
Reader Pat asked: “OK, I think this is more than a rough stretch now. When does it become a collapse?”
We’re there. The only questions now are whether the Padres can pull out of their nosedive in time to salvage the season and, if not, whether this will rank among the most spectacular collapses ever.
Nine is for a lost god. Ten, should it come, is for everything. Here’s to better days…