So, You Want To Win The Wild Card?

The Padres last made the post-season in 2006, losing in the divisional round to the St. Louis Cardinals. There was of course Game 163 which was technically a regular season game but certainly felt like a post-season game. That was 2007.

Since then? Not too much in the way of October baseball. But that could all change if Buster Olney and Peter Gammons are right. Olney was more confident, outright saying that the Padres would snag that second wild card and citing the Padres relative bad luck regarding injuries in 2013 as a primary reason. The Olney article is subscription only however the U-T excerpted the article here.

Peter Gammons is a bit more muted but further notes the Padres as a team to watch in the NL West and cites their ability to score runs, when healthy, and a vastly improved pitching staff. Gammons put them around the 85 win mark, noting that:

…but when teams appear to be built for at least 85 wins, the unforeseen can make it 90 wins, in a hurry.

Clay Davenport projected the Padres to win 83 games which, per his projections, puts the Padres 2 games behind the Wild Card.

So I guess the immediate takeaway is this. The Padres have become a trendy pick to sneak into the playoffs. In part buoyed by the hope of better health and new blood entering the locker room. But also in part to the still fresh second Wild Card spot. It’s a dangerous game to play for the chance at a one-game playoff and the overwhelming belief is that the NL West is the Dodgers to lose.

So, let’s look at the Padres path to the playoffs, more likely through the Wild Card. Let’s begin with the baseline we are starting with.

2013 Padres wins: 76.

Dodgers wins (to win division): 92.

Second Wild Card (Reds): 90

We have some work ahead of us. As the second Wild Card is so new there’s a minimal amount of information to go off of. For instance, while last year the Reds won 90 games to grab that spot, in 2012 the Cardinals got in with 88 games. But we can look back the past 10 years and find out who, and more importantly with how many wins, the second Wild Card had. Obviously it’s impossible to account for how teams would have played and reacted with the possibility of that second Wild Card so this is far from a perfect barometer. But it’s better than nothing. Here we go.

2013: 90

2012: 88

2011: 89

2010: 90

2009: 88

2008: 89

2007: 89

2006: 85

2005: 88

2004: 91

2003: 87

Fun fact, in two of these seasons the Padres would have won the Wild Card (2007, 2010).

By glancing at the past 10 years it’s pretty clear that 85 wins isn’t going to get it done. Certainly not the 83 wins that Davenport has them projected for. So really the questions becomes two-fold: a) how accurate are these projections? b) how likely is it that the Padres win 5ish more games than the projection?

Getting to 85 games isn’t too challenging to imagine. Last season the Padres played 3 months in which they only won 10 games (10-16 April; 10-17 July; 10-16 August). If they win 3 more games per those 3 months that’s 9 games. 9 plus 76? 85 wins. Keep in mind they started last season with an abysmal 2-10 record and a 10 game losing streak at the end of June.

The pitching staff upgrades alone should account for at least some of those 9 wins. If nothing else, Edinson Volquez will not be their Opening Day starter (or Clayton Richard starting Game 2). That’s addition by subtraction before we even note that they are being replaced by a Cashner with a full season under his belt, a Tyson Ross that has become a legitimate starter after starting in the bullpen, and the additions of Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson.

In 2013 the Padres also lost Evereth Cabrera, arguably their offensive MVP of the first half of the season, to a 50 game suspension. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that doesn’t happen twice. Maybin returns fully healthy, Gyorko is entering his sophomore season.

Frankly, the offense seems like the least of the Padres concerns. As pointed out by Peter Gammons, the Padres scored 31 fewer runs than the Dodgers despite the apparent overwhelming discrepancy in talent in 2013 amongst the two teams. In fact, in Davenport’s projections he sees the Padres as the highest scoring team in the NL West. That seems far-fetched but it underlies the theory that the days of 2-1 games being the norm at Petco may be over.

The Padres getting to 85 wins is not hard to imagine. Health and a better (on paper anyway) pitching staff is further aided by upgrades to the bench (Seth Smith) and bullpen (Benoit, Torres) the Padres blowout losses (23 in 2013, defined as 5 or more runs) to a minimum while increasing their chances at bettering their 28-24 record in 1-run games.

The path to the second Wild Card is paved with health, timely hitting, good defense and pitching, and luck. For the first time since 2010 the Padres appear to have at least some of the materials to build such a path. And you don’t even need to be a blind optimist this season to see it.

 

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I forget to write these things close to 50% of the time. But hey, I remembered! You can follow me on Twitter though for the next two months it’s going to be heavy on Arizona basketball and the Oscars. So, apologies ahead of time. I’ll be here (most) Fridays with more stories of This American…wait, that’s not right. 

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