NL West Report: Are The Padres Destined For Last?

The San Diego Padres visit the Chicago Cubs in a series that starts today and when you look at the teams’ position in the standings you wonder if the sports world wouldn’t be better served by just giving everyone DVD copies of the 1984 National League Championship Series when the teams played all the way to a decisive fifth game (’84 was the last year the LCS was best-of-five). Of course that would require Cubs fans to relive Leon Durham letting a crucial groundball go through the wickets in the finale, but Padres fans would surely enjoy re-living one of their two National League pennants (they would again win in 1998). At 17-32, the Pads are in last in the NL West. Are things really that hopeless?

As long as Colorado is around this season, San Diego has a shot to avoid the cellar. They briefly moved ahead of the Rockies’ last week although SD promptly lost three straight in St. Louis and dumped three of four in New York to the Mets and slipped back into fifth. To no one’s surprise the Padre offense has been awful. But that was to be expected. The team’s pitching is also terrible, and while perhaps not shocking, it’s at least disappointing.

San Diego ranks 10th in the National League in ERA and this is done while in baseball’s friendliest pitcher’s park at Petco. Clayton Richards, with his 4.76 ERA in ten starts is the poster boy for the disappointment and the park effects require us to take a more sober view of Edinson Volquez’s 3.46 ERA in 11 starts, particularly when Volquez is averaging less than six innings each time he goes to the post. Anthony Bass has got promise although for the present his 3.55 ERA is too high for a Petco pitcher. That Jeff Suppan is still getting starts at this stage of his career tells you where San Diego is at. If things get any worse for manager Bud Black he might as well just grab a glove, warm up and pitch himself  (Black was a starter for the 1985 Kansas City Royals team that won the World Series. And I think this third note added in parentheses sets a record for the first three paragraphs of an article). The bullpen is even more problematic with the top three setup options all sitting with ERAs in the high 3s.

Black can reasonably expect Bass to get better, and one would hope Richards would get better as well, although this is now a season-plus of subpar performance from him. And they sure aren’t going to get any help from the bats. In addition to the Petco-related problems that come with hitting, there’s just no one here who has any real muscle. There are some nice hitters—Yonder Alonso, whom it seems get mentioned every week here when we review the NL West is just a very consistent hitter, both for average and driving the ball in the alleys. Will Venable’s having a decent season. But the leading home run hitter is Chase Headley with five, and that’s after spending time on the disabled list this early in the year. And with a slugging percentage of .396, Headley is not exactly a consistent power threat. The bright spot is that Carlos Quentin returned to the lineup today from knee surgery in March and he’s the best hope this team has for some power production.

If we measure San Diego by the reasonable goals of finishing in fourth place and perhaps winning 74 games, which would beat their preseason Las Vegas win projection by a ½ game, you’d have to give them a decent shot at the former, so long as Quentin can produce. But if they’re going to get 74 wins, the team currently on a pace to win 56 is going to have get a lot better starting pitching—this means Volquez, Bass and Richards.

Around the rest of the NL West…

LA Dodgers (32-15): Does this team ever plan on slowing down? Matt Kemp’s still on the disabled list, and Dee Gordon, A.J. Ellis, James Loney and Andre Ethier are not only still churning at the plate, they’ve been joined by second baseman Elian Herrera, who’s got a .414 on-base percentage in the last week.

San Francisco (25-23): Give the Giants credit for surviving this past week. A seven-game road trip in Milwaukee and Miami produced a 4-3 record, as they won the series with the Brewers and managed a split with the Marlins. And get this—it was the offense that came through. In addition to Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey continuing solid seasons, Frisco got their own young second baseman, Joaquin Arias, to hit .345 while Angel Pagan hit .348.

Arizona (22-26): The D-Backs missed another chance to gain ground when they lost a home series to the Dodgers a week ago. They’re playing better than the record suggests—Justin Upton, Jason Kubel, Ryan Roberts, Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt are all locked in at the plate, yet Arizona was just 10th in runs scored among NL teams last week, which suggests a certain amount of bad luck. The positive? Daniel Hudson returned to the rotation and this team is healthy for the first time all year. June is going to be a huge month in the desert.

Colorado (17-29): I picked on Jamie Moyer last week and while he continued his poor pitching, with a 13.50 ERA his last two starts, he’s got plenty of company. Over the last six games, Rockies’ starters have averaged less than five innings with an ERA of 8.38. And that’s incompetence equally spread, not just the result of a couple atrocious games.