San Diego Padres: (75-87, 4th Place in the NL West in 2009)
Look back to about mid-September 2007. The Phillies, mired in a 13-year playoff drought, were still trailing the defending division champion Mets, and 3,000 miles away, the San Diego Padres, coming off two straight division titles of their own, had a comfortable division lead over the Colorado Rockies and, if that didn’t work out, over the Brewers in the Wild Card. The Padres had two top-line starting pitchers, one of whom, Jake Peavy, was one of the top two or three in baseball. Their bullpen, led by all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, featured a young Heath Bell and a host of young, effective relievers. Life was good. Then you know what happened next. The Phillies overtook the Mets and kept going all the way to the top of the National League. The Padres, on the other hand, went into a tailspin, famously losing in the last weekend of the season to the Brewers, then to the Rockies in a 13-inning one-game playoff that must be the single least entertaining extra-inning playoff game in history.
They’ve never been the same. Milton Bradley and Khalil Greene went crazy and are now gone. Greg Maddux and David Wells have retired, and Brian Giles might as well have. Peavy’s gone, as is Kevin Kouzmanoff. From that those 2005-07 Padres teams, the only real contributors who are still around are Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell.
The Padres have lived a truly bizarre and (I’d speculate) cursed existence. Only two World Series appearances in their 41-season history, neither of which were even competitive. Worst uniforms in baseball. Gimmick ballpark. They parlayed some of the best years of Tony Gwynn, Kevin Brown, Rickey Henderson, and others into a long series of disappointments. The 2005 edition of the Padres holds the dubious distinction of the worst playoff team ever. They’re the only team to never have had a player thrown a no-hitter or hit for the cycle.
In 2009, Adrian Gonzalez was the only above-average position player, leading the team in batting average, home runs, walks, hits, runs, OBP, slugging percentage, RBI, and total bases. No one else had an OPS+ above 105. Tim Stauffer, with only 73 IP, posted a 104 ERA+. No other Padres starting pitcher put up even a league-average ERA. The Padres, in 2009, were a team that couldn’t hit or pitch. Bad as they were, it’s a miracle they weren’t worse.
The Padres are really the only team in the division without any reason to be optimistic. The Dodgers and Rockies can expect to contend for the pennant this season, and the D-Backs and Giants have enough exciting young players to give the fans hope to contend soon. The Padres? Well, they’ve got a great closer, Heath Bell, who might get traded. They’ve got one of the best first basemen in the game, Adrian Gonzalez, who might get traded, though I’m not quite sure why everyone’s assuming he’s going to get traded to the Red Sox.
Everth Cabrera’s a solid player, putting up a near-league-average OPS at shortstop in 2009, and at only age 22. Another young player, Kyle Blanks, is expected to put up huge power numbers if the Padres can ever find somewhere to hide him defensively. Scott Hairston hit for some power and, like his brother, can play multiple positions. The Padres als0 have a slew of low-minors prospects who might be worth something down the road, including a personal favorite of mine, a fire hydrant-shaped 20-year-old outfielder named Jaff Decker.
But this is a team that, in all likelihood, is set to bottom out in 2010 and remain irrelevant for the foreseeable future. Until then, the good folks in San Diego will just have to keep the faith.
Phillies Nation’s Season Previews Will Resume with the Los Angeles Dodgers.