It is difficult to watch the Padres right now. Between Cory Luebke’s Monday night clinic on how not to field the pitcher position, Rob Johnson’s excellent Gary Bennett impersonation (hey, there’s a 2-0 slider; I’ll bet if I swing, I can pop it up to shortstop), and the team’s general offensive incompetence, there just isn’t much reason to cheer.
Did I say incompetence? This year’s Padres have been shut out 16 times through 111 games, or 14 percent of the time. Only once in 43 seasons have they been blanked more often at the same point in the season. That would be the inaugural 1969 club, which was shut out 18 times. So yeah, thank goodness Jesus Guzman cranked a solo homer with two out in the ninth against Joe Saunders last week.
The current team is bad, but we’ve seen worse in recent years… much worse:
Year W L Pct RS RA Dif 2002 66 96 .407 662 815 -153 2003 64 98 .395 678 831 -153 2008 63 99 .389 637 764 -137
At least this year’s run differential is only -34. Hey, the Padres should put that on a T-shirt. Or “Not As Bad As 2008.” (This is why I didn’t go into marketing.)
The good news is that when things are bad, they tend to get better. It may take a while (compare, e.g., 1981 to 1984, 1993 to 1996, or 2003 to 2006), but unless you’re the Pirates or Royals, eventually you start winning again.
Teams operating on a shoestring budget must take certain measures to facilitate the process:
- Draft and develop young talent – The Padres have struggled in this area, but appear to be making some progress.
- Make good trades – Kevin Towers was a master, and Jed Hoyer appears to be no slouch (or perhaps you miss Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica?).
- Avoid handing out big contracts to mediocre players – The Padres haven’t done this since the days of Wiki Gonzalez, Kevin Jarvis, and Bubba Trammell; even they weren’t as crippling as, say, Kansas City’s inexplicable signings of Jose Guillen and Gil Meche.
To that first point, the trading away of Mike Adams and Ryan Ludwick has opened up opportunities for internal advancement. Erik Hamren, a 24-year-old right-hander, came up to take Adams’ spot on the roster, while Blake Tekotte (24) and Aaron Cunningham (25) help fill the void left by Ludwick (insert “Ludwick was his own void” joke here).
Add them to a foundation of Chase Headley (27), Cameron Maybin (24), Mat Latos (23), and Luebke (26), and things don’t look so bad. I mean, they don’t look great, but baby steps.
Even guys like Ernesto Frieri (25), Josh Spence (23), and Anthony Bass (23) — who admittedly get a boost from pitching half their games at Petco Park — have been useful. Kyle Blanks (24) and Logan Forsythe (24)? Not so much, but they’ve got time to fix that.
If there aren’t many stars in this group, at least there are some players who should make the Padres more watchable in the near future. That’s something, right? It’s better than the promise of Guillen and Meche (or even Gonzalez, Jarvis, and Trammell).
Down on the farm, more prospects are making strides toward San Diego. Southpaw Robbie Erlin, acquired in the Adams trade, worked six shutout innings in his organizational debut at San Antonio. Outfielder Rymer Liriano (20) is enjoying a breakout campaign (.327/.389/.522, 48 SB) at Low-A Fort Wayne. The Padres even went way over slot to sign seventh-round pick Matt Wisler, a high school right-hander who had committed to Ohio State.
Not all of these kids will succeed. In fact, most of them won’t. As Orlando Hudson reminds us, if baseball were easy, everyone would be doing it.
But the more talent you develop, the better your chances are that some of that talent will end up contributing at the big-league level. And increasing the odds of success is the name of the game.
Well, that and winning. Baby steps…