The Padres have now played 40 games so far this season which brings us just about to the quarter poll of the 2013 campaign. As that is the case, I thought it might be a good moment to take stock of what the Padres have, what they don’t have, where they’ve been, and where they may be going. So, with the Padres back home for a 7-game homestand, let’s see what we have.
To say it’s been a roller coaster opening quarter would be an understatement. The Padres have been involved in 8 sweeps so far this season. 4 times being swept, 4 times sweeping. For reference sake, the Padres were involved in their 8th sweep in 2012 on July 4th when they completed a sweep of the Diamondbacks. Considering this you’d be excused for waffling on whether this team is good, bad or something else entirely.
The turning point thus far was the sweep of the Dodgers between April 15-17. As you will likely recall, only a few days prior Carlos Quentin had charged, tackled and subsequently injured the Dodgers prized off-season acquisition in Zack Greinke. The Padres went on to lose that game and be swept by Colorado for the second time in two weeks. The Padres had been outscored to that point 68-39. Pitchers couldn’t get through the 5th (if they could get to the 5th at all). They found themselves 6.5 games back and the season was only 12 games old. There was no joy in Mudville.
Then April 15th rolled around. Jackie Robinson Day across the nation and Padres fans watched with curiosity as to what might happen when the Padres arrived at Dodger Stadium. As it turned out, no Jets vs Sharks turf war broke out on the field or in the stands. The game wouldn’t be without it’s own oddities as Eric Stults got the offense rolling with a 3-run HR in the 2nd inning. The Padres went on to win the game 6-3 and sweep the Dodgers. It was, to say the least, unexpected.
What was more expected was the subsequent sweep at the hands of the Giants in San Francisco that weekend. But something was different. Even in losing the team seemed better. It didn’t feel like a team that was going to be MLB’s punching bag for the season. These were games they could have, and nearly, won. A walk-off double to lose on Friday night. Being shutout but only surrendering 2 runs. Nevertheless coming off the sweep of the Dodgers the Padres went on to lose 5 games and it would appear that the promise of that Dodger sweep would be an anomaly.
Then the winds of change blew. Edinson Volquez went 7 innings in a win against Milwaukee. They put Cashner into the starting rotation and swept the Giants, took 2/3 from Arizona and swept the Marlins. And yes, they were swept by the Rays. But much like the sweep at the hands of the Giants a few weeks earlier, this felt different. They lost 3 games in which they easily could have won 2 of them.
Since starting 2-10 the Padres have outscored their opponents 117-109. The team ERA has dropped from 4.53 in April to 3.52 so far in May. The pitching staff has dropped opponents BA to .233 clip vs .266 in April. The offense has been better as well. Though they have a lower BA in May than April (.224 vs .251) and is slugging at roughly the same clip (.374 vs .376) they will almost certainly eclipse April in HRs (16 so far in May, 18 in April) and SBs (16 in April, 13 so far in May).
The team is better. This is true by any metric but you likely didn’t need a bunch of numbers to tell you that. Your eye can tell you that this team is playing better and with more confidence. The pitching is spotty at times, no question. The bullpen is living on an edge at time, yes. But remove the first 12 games of this season and this is an above .500 team very much in the NL West conversation. Of course, you can’t remove that 2-10 start so here we are.
The good news is the Padres, after being 6.5 games back on the 12th game, are 5.5 games back on the 40th game. That’s not so much noteworthy for the ground they made up as it is for the fact that they stopped a freefall mid-freefall. And more help is on the way. Grandal returns at the end of May/beginning of June. Luebke, despite some setbacks, is due back this year. Some pitching help has already arrived (Cashner and Smith) and possibly more to come (Stauffer?).
Which brings us back to our central question. What do we have here? The team is likely not as bad as the 2-10 start they got off to. And we’d be remissed in not mentioning that Chase Headley was not playing during that stretch. They are also likely not as good as the 11-3 stretch they went on in late April/early May. Typically, a quarter of the way into a season, you would have a pretty strong grasp on your teams identity and ability. I’m not sure that we can say that about the Padres in 2013.
Can this team contend for the NL West? It’s probably to0 early to determine that. But as of today, the Padres are not out of that race. And that’s something that couldn’t be said on April 14th when they were 2-10.
The Padres pre-season Over/Under for wins was 74.5. I took the over. I feel very comfortable with that today. Beyond that the answer to “what do we have here” is simply “I’m not sure yet.”
So, what do you think the Padres are? Contenders? Pretenders? Middle-of-the-roaders? Or is it too early to tell? Leave a comment. And as always you can find 140 characters worth of nonsense and optimism on Twitter @LeftCoastBias.