Second Verse, Same as the First

This is nuts. How have the Padres won 90 games this year? How have they come back from the brink of oblivion to make Sunday’s regular-season finale mean something?

Here are the Cool Standings playoff odds:

    9/29 9/30 10/1 10/2
SF  90.6 96.3 94.3 94.1
Atl 92.2 96.1 85.1 53.6
SD  17.3  7.6 20.6 52.3

Like I said, nuts.

On Saturday, San Diego product Barry Zito issued two bases-loaded walks in the first to give the Padres an early lead for the second straight game. Zito’s wildness bailed out Ryan Ludwick, who again came up in a crucial situation and again did nothing. Bases juiced, one out, and you hit an infield fly? Hey, the way he’s been going, I’m grateful he didn’t ground into a double play.

Still, the Padres blew the chance to knock Zito out of the game early — Giants skipper Bruce Bochy had someone warming up in the ‘pen in the first. When Zito escaped with just the two runs, I said to Mrs. Ducksnorts, over a lovely sushi lunch: “That is going to cost us the season.”

Mrs. D, who is tolerant to a fault, has her limits: “Okay, Mr. Bitter,” she shot back and laughed.

“No,” I replied a bit testily… and by “no” I meant “yes.” The English language is so confusing sometimes… by which I mean, I can get grouchy.

The Padres managed to scrape together a couple more runs and, as in the previous game, hold a comfortable (by their standards) lead headed into the middle innings. Tim Stauffer shut down the Giants through six, allowing just a scratch infield single to Mike Fontenot in the first.

Stauffer eventually surrendered a solo homer to Juan Uribe in the seventh that landed just beyond the reach of Chris Denorfia in left field. Stauffer’s story is incredible enough on its own, but to see him come out and pitch like an ace in a game that meant everything to his team was impressive beyond my ability to describe it. As reader LynchMob noted in the comments:

The Padres need to make sure they overpay Tim Stauffer on his next contract … he just earned back every penny they saved when they signed him after he admitted his injury.

Yeah, dude is nails.

Luke Gregerson, as he has done so often this year, put out the fire in the seventh. Mike Adams breezed through the top of the Giants order in the eighth, which left a presumably exhausted Heath Bell to work the ninth (again, this is where putting Zito away early and letting the crappy part of the bullpen pitch the final few innings would have been nice).

The self-proclaimed Drama King got Buster Posey to ground to shortstop for the first out. Two doubles and single later, the Giants were down two runs and had runners at the corners. Jose Guillen came up to bat for Guillermo Mota, and I had a very bad feeling. Showing great mercy, Guillen whacked the second pitch he saw right to Miguel Tejada, who gloved the ball, stepped on second, and fired to first to end the game.

And exhale.

There will plenty of time to reflect later, but it’s worth noting that the Padres now have reached 90 wins four times in their history (1984, 1996, 1998, 2010). This team has more wins than the 2007 squad, which blows my mind. That was a very talented bunch. This year’s version is a very… persistent bunch.

If I were a fan of the Braves or Giants, I would be livid. The Padres have no business being in this race, but they won’t take the hint. Even if the Padres don’t pull off yet another miracle, one senses that the prevailing emotion among the survivors will be one of relief and not of triumph.

Meanwhile, we’ve got at least one more game. David Pinto outlines the possible scenarios (reader Didi notes that Joe Posnanski provides even greater detail), including the nightmare three-way tie possibility. If the Padres win and the Braves lose, life is good… any other outcome and things get irritating.

The Phillies and Braves play at 10:35 a.m. PT. San Diego product Cole Hamels goes for Philly, while Tim Hudson gets the call for Atlanta. Hudson threw well his last time out against Florida but has stumbled down the stretch, going 2-4 with a 4.86 ERA over his past eight starts.

Meanwhile, the Padres and Giants send Mat Latos and Jonathan Sanchez into battle at 1:05 p.m. PT. Two young pitchers with big arms and big mouths. Latos, like Hudson, has thrown far more innings this year than last and has been far less effective recently (0-4, 10.13 ERA over his past four starts) than he was earlier in the year (14-5, 2.21 ERA to that point).

Latos turned in one of the season’s dominant performances against the Giants back in May. I don’t know if he’s got anything left in the proverbial tank, but now would be a good time to find the form that made him baseball’s best pitcher from May through August.

Nuts? This is beyond nuts. It’s the whole damn tree.

Go Padres, go Phillies! Enjoy…

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9 Responses »

  1. Whoa, somebody not related to the Stauffers or SD noticed Tim and put him on this list:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/joe_lemire/09/30/power.rankings.1/index.html

  2. Going by Pythagorean record, the race is over for NL West but the Wild Card is alive… and the Padres are even better at 92-69 (better than 2007 as well).

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/standings/_/type/expanded

    Crazy, right? It’s even crazier that there is a chance even with their record, the Padres may not make the playoffs.

    It could turn into another 2007, playing game 163 for the Wild Card again. Whoa!

    Go Padres, just win.

  3. Didi, lots of people have noticed Stauffer this year. I’ve been following the Giants fans’ comments in the Chronicle website, and they know him too, though they were mostly complaining Friday about Zito getting the Saturday start. The mentions of Stauffer I’ve seen from the big outfits don’t mention Tim’s back story (journalistic negligence?) but they’re consistently impressed. I expect Stauffer to replace Correia in the rotation next year.

  4. @Didi: Up until about halfway through the 10-game losing streak, the Padres’ Pythagorean record was the best they’ve ever had in a season (better than ’98 even).

    @Larry: I’m glad to hear that Stauffer is getting recognized outside of San Diego. Too bad the back story isn’t being told; people should know about it.

  5. This is a crazy season. From despair three days ago to elation last night (and hopefully again tonight).
    Here is hoping Latos was only a bit mechanically off and not shot for the season. What do people think?

  6. Duck,

    Remember me? Couldn’t get me off this site when Stauffer first made The Show in 2005 with his win over Cincinnati.

    Then, of course, Stauffer’s 2007 major league campaign wasn’t exactly the second coming of Randy Jones, but what’s a 21.13 ERA between friends? Still, I kept charting Stauffer’s outings (and working my own gigs), hoping he’d regain his confidence and his health. Knew Stauffer needed as much the former as the latter.

    Now, it’s just nice to see the Kid who once pitched for the highly forgettable Phonsey Lambert (no, that’s not a joke and he doesn’t have pals named Richie, Potsie, and Ralph – I think… chuckle) at Saratoga (N.Y.) Catholic and John Schiffner’s 2002 Chatham A’s on the Cape is now an adult. I remember Stauffer in high school, which shows that one of us is aging.

    Since the days of someone’s youth, Stauffer has been a star at the University of Richmond and with Chatham, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2003 draft (one year ahead of always forgettable Matt Bush), an honest guy with a weak shoulder who fessed up and took the short-term financial hit when his broker had to be screaming “No!”, and a minor league sensation who rocketed from Lake Elsinore through Mobile and Portland and past the Reds in a season and a half.

    Stauffer’s also overcome surgery, the loss (rightful) of Bud’s confidence, two 2007 starts that reminded one of how the London citizenry must have felt in 1940-41 with the German bombers dumping their daily payloads, a 2008 on the shelf, a 2009 trip to San Antonio, a return to the bigs with some solid numbers, regaining his self-confidence, a 2010 switch to the pen, a sizzling 2010 debut, a bad appendix, the reacquisition of Bud’s confidence, a spot start, then two, then a regular turn in the rotation, and a September and, so far, October to remember.

    Six starts for Stauffer in September and October. 3-2 record. Five starts allowing one earned run or less. A 1-nil loss to the relaxed (imagine that in June?) Carlos Zambrano. In all, 34.1 innings, 24 hits, eight earned runs, 11 free passes, 22 strikeouts. In all, an impressive 2.10 ERA. Not bad for a Kid deemed to be an afterthought at best and a failure at worst at the start of this season.

    Let’s hope the Pads win today. Be nice if the Braves lost, too. Keep things much easier. San Diego gets the West. The Giants get the wild card. No need for additional playoff games.

  7. From Sports Illustrated’s Cliff Corcoran regarding Matt Latos’s performances down the stretch:

    Mat Latos, like (Atlanta’s Tim Hudson, 1-4, 5.35 ERA, seven home runs allowed, in six starts in September), appears to have tired down the stretch. Having never thrown more than 123 innings in a professional season, Latos has thrown 178 2/3 already in 2010 and has gone 0-4 with a 10.13 ERA over his last four starts, that after going 14-5 with a 2.21 ERA in his first 26. Still, there are positive signs for Latos even within those four starts. To begin with, he struck out 15 men in 16 innings and allowed just two home runs in those four starts. Perhaps more importantly, he suffered from some awful luck on balls in play. Despite a roughly average line-drive rate, opponents hit a staggering .458 on balls in play off Latos over those four starts. What’s more, it was really just the first two of those last four starts that were disastrous. Though he failed to complete the sixth inning of either and allowed two unearned runs in the last, he didn’t allow more than three earned runs in either of his last two starts and lost both primarily due to poor run support (three runs combined in those two starts). Still, his September struggles started when he allowed five runs in four innings against the Giants on September 12, and no matter how you slice it, he’s not been the same pitcher in those last four starts.

    Jonathan Sanchez, meanwhile, has been very sharp coming down the stretch, going 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA in his last six starts while striking out 43 men in 38 2/3 innings. Sanchez did walk seven men in five innings the last time he faced the Padres, on September 10, but he still managed to keep San Diego from scoring, in large part by allowing just one hit over those five frames.

    In short, Bud Black figures to keep everyone in the Padres’ pen ready today – and will probably yank Latos at the first sign of trouble.

    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/cliff_corcoran/10/03/final.day.preview/#ixzz11JI0veBm

  8. @DMG: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns about Latos going into the finale. He has thrown a lot of innings this year.

    @Iced Coffee: Of course, I remember! Thanks for stopping by and saying hey. Stauffer’s performance on Saturday was unreal. I don’t know the last time I’ve wanted to see a guy succeed as bad as I want to see him succeed… Thanks also for the link to Corcoran’s article. Here’s hoping for one more miracle…

  9. Geoff,

    Sorry the Pads couldn’t close the deal on Sunday. The team far exceeded expectations. The pitching staff, in particular the bullpen, was superb throughout the year. On the offensive side, the club struggled outside of the superb efforts of Adrian Gonzalez. Perhaps San Diego will be able to find a couple of solid hitters in the offseason either on the farm or from another club without damaging the team’s overall pitching depth.

    A local note of interest: In upstate New York, there’s little day-to-day coverage of Tim Stauffer – even through the Associated Press. In this area, sadly, once a kid graduates high school or from a local college, his athletic career seems to end. We’ve had few area kids grow up to become professional athletes: Stauffer and Tigers outfielder Casper Wells, former Chicago Bears guard Josh Beekman and Houston Texans wide receiver/kick returner AndrĂ© Davis (now on the injured list), and Miami Heat reserve guard Kenny Hasbrouck (of Siena College in Loudonville).

    However, the local media offers little, if any, day-to-day coverage of these guys. I wonder if the same is true for the other players on the Padres’ roster in their hometowns. Something worth considering perhaps.