Friday, April 15, 2011
Padres fans were in a unique position last year. They won ugly all year long, but they won. They led the NL West most of the season with very little offense. Most of the media picked the Padres to finsish last in their division that season. Peter Gammons, one of the most respected minds in baseball proclaimed the only sure thing in 2010 was the Padres would stink.
Using the negativity as fuel, the Padres made a real run at the playoffs. They got great pitching, played excellent defense, ran the bases aggressively, and had Adrian Gonzalez. They were still, however, one of the worst hitting teams in the league. Most of the lineup couldn't hit their way out of a wet paper bag. What they did do was execute team baseball which can be directly attributed to Manager Bud Black.
In 2011 the team changed drastically in terms of roster but the baseball theory stayed the same. It has to when you play at Petco Park, a notoriously pitcher friendly stadium. The difference this season is the absence of Adrian Gonzalez. It has already become apparent how much his bat covered up holes in the Padres lineup.
There was some real excitement about the lineup during Spring training this season. Some speculated the offense would be more dynamic than the 2010 team. I think I convinced myself of that until I saw the lineup card opening day. Orlando Hudson was hitting third. I like O-Dog. He is one of two players on the team that has produced this season. But that's not a guy meant to hit third. That is a slot slated for a run producer, not a table setter. Hudson would hit near seventh for most teams in the league.
Some may remember that I picked the Padres to win the NL West last season. There will be no such prediction this year.
New shortstop Jason Bartlett hit .320 in 2009 with 14 home runs and made the All-Star team. In 2010 he slumped hitting just .254 with 4 home runs. San Diego traded two talented young relievers that were Major League ready for Bartlett in hopes he would return to form in San Diego. Defensively, he fits the profile. Offensively, it hasn't been pretty. He's hitting .118 with 7 strikeouts. He hits second.
Ryan Ludwick was brought over from St. Louis in a trade that looked too good to be true for the Padres. Turns out it was. Ludwick was supposed to add pop to the Padres lineup and help them finish the season in first place as they currently were when he came to San Diego. His arrival made the outfield less athletic and he toiled in the worst slump of his career. He hit just .211 with 57 strikeouts in 209 at bats. Not good. Ludwick admitted to pressing too hard and he never found a rhythm. With an off-season to mentally prepare, the Padres were eager to see the Ludwick that slammed 37 home runs in 2008 or even the Ludwick that hit 22 in 2009. Instead it has been 2010 Ludwick. He is now hitting .103 with 10 strikeouts. He's the cleanup hitter.
Brad Hawpe is a guy that has proven he can hit in Petco Park. The problem is he did it as a member of the Colorado Rockies. From 2005-2009 Hawpe hit just below .300 with 20+ home runs. His numbers were down in 2010 and he joined the Padres to jump start his career. He's hitting .129 with 13 strikeouts in 31 at bats.
The whole lineup reads like a horror show with the exception of Nick Hundley and Orlando Hudson.
Future star Will Veneble: .139
Future star/fresh start Cameron Maybin: .244
Padres veteran Chase Headley: .256 (right in line with his mediocre career statistics)
Fresh start Jorge Cantu: .148
Ugly stuff. Each of those players have struck out way too much. They still play excellent defense and pitch extremely well, but certainly not good enough to overcome that offense. No matter how much I say I can live with watching ugly baseball, I still expect a lineup of guys that can put the ball in play and hit .250. If you can't do that then you don't belong in the Major Leagues.
Statistically it is near impossible for the team to continue to hit so bad. If they do, they will shatter records for offensive futility. 12 games into the season I have been stripped of hope but left with interest. On the bright side, there won't be a first place lead for them to blow like last year's team.
That sarcastic comment is brought to you by, The Joy of San Diego Professional Sports. Check your expectations at the door folks. You're watching San Diego Professional Sports. A partner of the Small Market Baseball is B.S. Foundation. Thanks. And have a pleasant season.
This was written after watching the Padres get beat 1-0 against the Astros in what will be one of five televised Padres games in the Austin area this season. The sky might not be falling just yet, but it sure feels like it.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
The NBA regular season ends this week. For Griffin and the Clippers it will be another lengthy off-season free from the encumbrance of playoff games. This season was different for the Clips, however. There is unfamiliar optimism within the organization. They are still the Clippers though, so any optimism must be met with trepidation. The Clippers improved just in time for a lockout and the possibility of a third NBA franchise in L.A.
You can't count out top seeded San Antonio or Dallas based on their regular season record, but Denver and Portland are two teams I am even more interested in. They are both wild card type teams that are much better than the casual fan might realize. They both lack true superstars, but their depth and team chemistry make them a challenge for any team.
Denver improved after the Carmelo Anthony trade. The Nuggets now have the most depth in the NBA and play better defense. Eight players average double digit points. Denver will have fresh legs and weapons inside and on the perimeter. Their biggest concern is a first round matchup with OKC. That should be a great series.
Despite the pests, it will be a surprise if anyone other than OKC or L.A. advances out of the West. San Antonio has a great pedigree but they aren't as athletic as you'd like for a long playoff run. Dallas is famous for playoff let downs and the rest of the West lacks a superstar. L.A. has struggled a bit at the very end of the regular season, but once the playoffs begin, they are the team to beat.
The East will be just as competitive. Boston was my favorite before the Perkins trade, but they have played stunned ever since. At this point, there is little reason to believe Shaq will be effective in the playoffs after missing most of the regular season. Without an inside presence they are susceptible against Miami, Chicago and Orlando. They will also have a test in the first round against the Knicks.
It's hard to find a reason why Chicago can't win the East but I would be surprised if they do. Derrick Rose has cemented himself as elite, but Chicago lacks maturity and their collective playoff experience is minimal. The Bulls will contend for years with Rose leading the way, but I don't think this is the year he gets a championship.
Needless to say, I can't wait for the playoffs. If the regular season is any indication the playoffs should be legendary. I hope to see Miami versus OKC in the Finals, but I don't think anyone can stop the Lakers from once again defending their title. Miami greatly improved their chances by beating out Boston for the 2 seed. If the Heat can avoid Orlando, I think we will get a Kobe versus LeBron Finals.