Pobre Padres
September 29, 2005

The Padres have become somewhat of a joke in the media because of their mediocre record in making the playoffs.  But that's one joke that at least 22 other teams wouldn't mind having.  And there's a good possibility that people won't be laughing much longer because the Pads are a much better team than their won-loss record indicates.  After their dismal weekend in Arizona and a pathetic display in the first game of their crucial series with the Giants, the team finally showed a sense of urgency with the kind of grit that makes a team dangerous in the post-season with a 9-6 comeback in on Tuesday.  Then they secured their playoff spot with a 9-1 whitewashing where they took advantage of every scoring opportunity that was afforded them.  Even though their won-loss record may not indicate it, the Padres are as deserving of a postseason berth as anyone.

How many teams would still be .500 had they been without their starting catcher, shortstop, second baseman and centerfielder for an average of 55 games with none of those players suited up for more than 118 games due to injuries.  To whit, how many games would the Yankees have won had they been without Jeter and Posada in addition to the injury woes they suffered through?  How about the Cardinals without Edmonds and Eckstein?  Or the Red Sox without Damon and Renteria and Varitek?  Of the teams that have a chance at finish the season at .500 or above, only the Twins, Mets and Padres have gotten fewer than 120 games out of at least two of those positions.  No playoff team has gotten fewer than 120 games out of more than one of the regular players at those positions except the Padres and they've been without all four.  The point is that is pretty tough to win the majority of your games without the heart of your team's defense for nearly a third of the season.  Throw into this whirlpool of pain that the Pads were also without their #2 starter, Adam Eaton, for two months (and currently pitching through his injury), and their ace Jake Peavy pitched for a month through an illness that caused him to lose 15 pounds.

So how good are the Padres when they are healthy?  In only two months - May and September - have they gotten at least 12 games from each of their keystone players.  They have a .648 winning percentage over those two months (a 105-win pace over a full season) and if you recall, the Padres went 22-6 in May, which also happen to be the best record in baseball that month. 

They bring a pretty decent starting pitching staff to the table.  Peavy is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, period.  He led the league in ERA last year and this year has posted an ERA of 2.56 after the Break and a 2.03 ERA in September.  Pedro Astacio doesn't exactly strike fear into people's hearts, but the fact is that he was once a pretty good starter and has managed to re-capture that magic in San Diego, posting a 1.067 WHIP and a 2.20 ERA over August and September in 7 starts.  The rest of the rotation has been struggling but Woody Williams, Brian Lawrence and Eaton have each had stretches of dominance this year.  If they can battle for five or six innings in their playoff starts, they can then turn the game over to the strength of the Padre staff: the bullpen.  The Padres have the third best bullpen ERA in the NL (behind the Cardinals and Nats) and only the Nats have a better end-game troika than Scott Linebrink, Akinori Otsuka and Trevor Hoffman. 

The offense isn't very scary on paper because unlike the other playoff teams they don't have any guys smacking 30 or 40 (or 50) homers.  But they do have consistency up and down the line-up: except for Roberts, each of their regulars has double-digit home run power.  As he's shown when he's healthy, Roberts can be a real distraction at the top of the line-up.  The Pads can hit-and-run, they have power and have decent speed on the bases.  In the playoffs, unless your team is an overwhelming offensive force like the Red Sox were last year, flexibility like that on offense is paramount because the more ways your team can score, the less chance they can be completely shut down.

Granted, Bruce Bochy doesn't have a reputation as a great game tactician but neither does Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa's reputation has lost a lot of it's luster in recent years.  The Braves don't have much depth in their rotation and their bullpen is suspect, an often fatal combination in the playoffs.  The Cardinals have more depth in their pitching, but after Pujols, Edmonds, Sanders and Walker, do the Cardinals have anyone that is a real offensive threat?  Not really.  I'm not saying the Padres should be favored against either the Braves or Cardinals because those teams have earned their esteem with superior regular season records.  But the Padres have battled through more adversity than just about any team this season and deserve their spot in the playoffs.  Anyone who underestimates their ability based on their .500 record will be in for a very unpleasant surprise.