A Point Of Contention

On Thursday, during the Padres’ off day, after they’d finished off a sweep of the NL East leading Braves, I started reading some Twitter musings about how few games back the Padres were from first place and how close contention actually was for this team. So I tweeted this:

Then the Padres beat the Diamondbacks twice and got to .500. But my Thursday tweet had specifically said over .500. So I tweeted this:

Then Clayton Richard did his best Eric Stults impression and Kyle Blanks hit another shot into the Western Metal Building, and the Padres finished off their sweep of the division leading Diamondbacks. The Padres, thanks to this 6 game win streak over division leaders, are now 35-34, above .500 for the first time since April 2011, when they started the season 3-1, then lost their next 3 games, and never again tipped above .500 the rest of the season. 2012? Not a single day of the season were they ever over .500. How depressing is that?

 Anyway, as of right now, the division looks like this, if you’re viewing it from an iPhone 4s:


First, let’s just take a second to laugh at the Dodgers. Okay, that was fun. Now back to the…holy crap! Look at how bunched up the NL West is. The Padres are now two games back of first place, but because the rest of the division (except the Puigilists…get it? They have Puig and they fight a lot) is pretty good, they didn’t actually gain any ground in the standings.

So, now that the Padres are both over .500 and close to the division lead, I guess not only is it okay to wonder if the Padres are possible contenders, but I probably have to discuss it since I’ve been such a Debbie Downer about it actually happening. So let’s discuss. I’ll try not to be too negative.

The Padres are now an impressive 30-19 since their horrible 5-15 start. They’ve climbed completely out of the hole they started off in, and they’re not likely to go back to being oh so bad. The 5-15 team had almost no depth, and now depth is probably the biggest strength of the team.

The Padres have a plug-and-play team. They’ve built a bench half-full of starter-quality players who play multiple positions, so when players like Maybin, Alonso, and Gyorko go down, they can fill the holes in the lineup with guys like Forsythe and Blanks and not only not miss anything offensively but in the case of Blanks actually improve the team.

On the other hand, their 30-19 pace is probably not sustainable. Over a full season, that’s a 99 win pace. This team isn’t a 99 win team. Not with this pitching staff. There are too many throwaway starts for that. In order to win 90 games, though, they can’t have any let up. They have to maintain a 95 win pace for the remainder of the season to hit the 90 win mark.

Luckily, the rest of the division is in a similar situation. The Diamondbacks, still currently atop the division, need to win at a 92 game pace to hit 90 wins. So if anyone is going to win 90 games in the NL West this year, somebody’s going to have to stay consistently hot for an extended period of time, much more than just a 50 game stretch. Somebody likely will.

Can it be the Padres? The good news is that they’re running hot without having to rely on plus play from their two best players from last year, Chase Headley and Yasmani Grandal. The Padres have the 5th most position player fWAR in MLB and a top 12 team wRC+, and they’re doing it as a group. They have 11 players with more than 100 PA’s on the season, and 8 of them have a wRC+ of 100 or better.

They’re also running hot without great pitching. Amongst the starters, Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez, the two starters making more than $5 million each this year, have been mostly horrible. Jason Marquis and Andrew Cashner have gotten good results on mediocre-to-bad performances. The lone real bright spot has been Eric Stults, who continues to prove that his 2012 numbers weren’t fluky, and that he probably had this kind of ability his whole career, just nowhere to show it off.

The bullpen has its questions as well. This isn’t one of those great Padres bullpens we became used to as fans over the years. It’s been Luke Gregerson and everybody else, with nobody but the man with many sliders showing anything better than replacement level stuff. Huston Street, last year so good, has seen his strikeout rate plummet while allowing 7 home runs in just 23 appearances, and has only finished his outing with a clean sheet 6 times.

So what do we make of the 2013 Padres now that we know they aren’t bad? Can they really be good? Can they really contend for the playoffs? The truth is I really don’t know. When I try to answer those questions, I come back with more questions.

Can Jason Marquis continue to have success in spite of his stats? Can Clayton Richard build off Sunday’s start and turn his season/career around, and if not, will the Padres bite the bullet and replace him before he sets them back too far? What will become of Huston Street, professional closer? If the team ever gets healthy, will they keep their best players on the roster when decisions need to be made, or will they continue to make decisions based on who has options?

There are 93 games left, including 27 before the All-Star break when teams really start making decisions about whether they are contenders or pretenders. A lot can happen in 27 games, and obviously a whole lot more in 93. Are the Padres contenders? Ask me again in a month.

The Vocal Minority is on Twitter @The_NV and @VocalMinoritySD. Follow us both, because we are two different people with two different egos. I also saw a commercial for this new thing called Myspace on TV and am thinking about jumping on that before it gets cool. The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays.

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  • Jefe

    Agree – the next month until the ASB will be most interesting. If we are still real close or leading the west by this time in July, what does the front office consider doing?

    The bandwagon is both good and bad in this case – and San Diego is a BIG bandwagon city. It would be great to welcome those who have not been around since 2010 and see more excitement (and butts) back in the seats at Petco, but the drawback to this will be the pressure on the FO to add “somebody” (or worse, his cousin “anybody”) in an effort to push us over the line. Renting a starting pitcher or two does not excite me in the least when I think about the longer term cost, but without it we may not be able to get to October. The Central has potentially three 95 win teams so a WC might be harder to reach than winning the division. I admit I have not yet looked at the pitching that may be available at the trade deadline.

  • GoldenBoy

    We really do have the best offensive depth in the division (although the D-backs’ depth is great too). Alonso & Gyroko were two of our most productive hitters, and they’ve been injured during this recent win streak. You got to give credit to Bud Black for his daily lineup magic, as much as the Guzman & Kotsay starts irritate some of us. Buddy has done a hell of a job. And don’t forget to give Dale Thayer some major credit. He’s been every bit as good as Gregerson. Go Padres!

  • Lonnie Brownell

    My highly optimistic view has been that this season is an extended spring training for next year. I still feel that way, but even more so given how the team is doing now. If we do manage to win the division, awesome–at worst, it’ll give this young team even more confidence and some playoff experience. Next year we come back with an improved (or at least different, younger) starting rotation, maybe pick up a key player or two in free agency, and settle in for a few years of being legit contenders.