Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rain in San Diego

The rain delay of today's regular-season home finale for the Padres is the second rain delay in San Diego this year. The game against the Giants on April 21 was pushed back 18 minutes.

The Padres have only had one rainout in Petco Park's seven-year history -- April 4, 2006 against the Giants. Only two San Diego home games have been rained out since 1990.

Jon Garland's first pitch today came at 3:57 p.m. The rain delay was 22 minutes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Seamhead stuff

* Mat Latos pitched well, but you could see steam coming out of the 22-year-old's ears when Tuesday's game started to turn against him. A call on a good fastball went against him, then he misplaced a slider, which Kosuke Fukudome -- remember him? -- impressively swatted to the left-field wall for a 1-0 Cubs lead.

* If he had fielded Koyie Hill's bunt with his glove instead of his hand, the Tattooed One probably gets the out and maybe the whole game is different. One of those lessons that can last a lifetime.

* Looked like steam was still coming out of Latos' ears when he batted against a wobbly Ryan Dempster in the fifth and struck out in the final failed attempt to bunt. Latos is a good athlete. On this night, not so much. Just a hunch, but his ultra-competitiveness is more strength than weakness. Didn't Bruce Springsteen say something about, can't create a fire without a spark? Latos has a spark, and a fire, and sometimes an inferno.

* Alfonso Soriano's home run off a shin-high pitch recalled what Joe Torre used to say about Soriano when the two were Yankees -- Soriano is much, much stronger than he appears from afar. Soriano is able to buggy-whip an unusually heavy bat because his hands, wrists and forearms are so powerful. Deeper into games at Petco Park, drives tend to die in the outfield, but Soriano's golf shot cleared the center field wall. Ryan Ludwick isn't as strong, and Ludwick had that Petco'd look late in the game when Marlon Byrd gloved his right-center drive at the front of the warning track.

* I wonder if Hill's bunt had anything to do with Cubs interim manager Mike Quade. He's getting a lot of praise. The Cubs are playing energetic ball. Sometimes, a small surprise can cause mistakes such as Latos' on the bunt. When those small surprises are created, you know someone's paying attention.

* I disagree with Bud Black that Miguel Tejada's throwing error was excusable because Tejada was "trying to make a play." I hate to knock Tejada, who has been tremendous with the bat and is playing despite a groin injury, but he needs to eat the ball there. A younger middle infielder, Blake DeWitt of the Cubs, wisely made a restrained if wide throw the previous night on Yorvit Torrealba's slow groundball. DeWitt realized that it was a longshot and that going for broke could've put Torrealba in scoring position.

* Adrian Gonzalez has appeared mentally tired for some two weeks now. Long season, lot on his shoulders.

* Everything I've written above takes a backseat to the following -- the Padres' offense has been dreadful of late and was so again on Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Latos

Going into his start tonight, the Tattoed One has lost three consecutive starts for the first time in his career. Previous to this mini-skid he set a major league record for consistent goodness -- 15 consecutive outings of at least five innings with two runs or fewer allowed...Entering tonight, the Padres are 26-12 against the NL Central and 5-1 against the Cubs, who've lost nine of their last 11 games against San Diego. Recent history is also on the side of San Diego's NFL team, but not if it continues to part like the Red Sea for return specialists...One other thing about Latos. He didn't get his first tattoo until he was 18. He estimates he's paid 30 visits to a tattoo artist. And here I thought it was just longtime newspaper hacks who are ink-stained wretches.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stauffer, Cubs pitching

Tim Stauffer is giving the Padres reason to believe he'll join Mat Latos and Clayton Richard and perhaps Wade LeBlanc and Corey Luebke in an inexpensive, well-balanced Opening Day rotation, 2011. Stauffer has stretched out nicely since moving from long relief to starting. Over his last five starts, Stauffer has a 2.25 ERA with a .208 batting average allowed. He has a 1.91 ERA in six starts this year -- 33 innings, seven earned runs.

Stauffer's good work was for naught on Monday, as the Cubs prevailed 1-0 behind three good pitchers -- Carlos Zambrano followed by Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol. The Padres have stunk it up against a variety of pitchers for several weeks now, so I'm not giving the Cubs all of the credit. But Chicago's pitching staff is having a pretty good year. The Cubs have thrown 12 shutouts, their most since a staff led by Mark Prior and Kerry Wood amassed 14 shutouts in 2003. I wonder if this Cubs staff throws too many breaking balls for its long-term good, but that's just a random thought.

Tonight, the Padres need a return to form by the Tattoed One.

The final week

Seven games left. Four at home. The Padres are 14-5 overall against the two remaining opponents, the Cubs (4-0) and Giants (10-5). They are 5-1 in San Francisco, where they will end the season...Of some concern is shortstop Miguel Tejada's groin strain suffered on Saturday. Tejada returned to the lineup on Sunday and probably will stay in the lineup, but he's not at full speed and there are no open dates left. With Jerry Hairston Jr. done for the season because of a stress fracture, the Padres are thin up the middle...The hottest hitter on the Padres is Will Venable, who in the last 16 games has batted .462 with a .673 slugging percentage. The other contenders have their own set of problems. Stamina and willpower are being put to a severe test within the Padres, Braves and Giants. That's part of what makes a playoff race riveting.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekend newstand

Friday's Padres-Reds game returned strong entertainment value. Taut duel. Lots of energy. Playoff implications. Not many empty seats. A crowd that was into the baseball. For Padres fans, it had to be a lot of fun because it felt like a home game. The Oktoberbest beforehand seemed popular. Meanwhile, West Coast Bias took a look at the race for NL Manager of the Year, which Jed Hoyer says shouldn't be a race anymore. Across town, WCB caught up with Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, one day before Marcus McNeill returned to the fold. Interesting times on the local sports-scape.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Felix

Please indulge a side jaunt here today. I'm singling out a West Coast pitcher who works for San Diego's so-called natural rival. This pitcher often works while folks in other time zones are either asleep or headed toward bed. Hence the need for West Coast Bias to help to draw attention to his deeds. Further, because the pitcher has a win-loss record of 12-12, he may get slighted in voting for the Cy Young award. Friend Larry Stone, who ably covers baseball for the Seattle Times, will tell you about the pitcher, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. King Felix is having an incredible year for a team that's generally been a (Space) needle to the eyes. Larry forwarded his comments below after Hernandez suffered a 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday.

Larry said that Thursday's game was "a classic example of why Felix Hernandez’s win total should not be held against him in Cy Young voting. He limited the Blue Jays to two hits in a complete game – but one was Jose Bautista’s 50th homer in the first inning. So Felix got tagged with his 12th loss, and is now 12-12. Keep in mind that the Mariners have scored a total of 14 runs in his 12 losses. That’s not 14 runs while he was in the game; that’s 14 runs total.

"A couple of weeks ago," Larry continued, "I did a blog post detailing seven games that could cost Felix the Cy Young. This gives an indication of the lack of bullpen and offensive support he’s battled (and you can add Thursday’s game to the list):

* April 5, vs. Oakland: On Opening Day, Hernandez and the Mariners are holding a 3-1 lead after six. He gets two quick outs in the seventh, then walks Mark Ellis and Travis Buck. Sean White replaces him, and gives up RBI singles to Cliff Pennington and Rajai Davis to allow Oakland to tie the game. The Mariners score two in the ninth to win, 5-3, for Brandon League.

* May 13, at Baltimore: Hernandez pitches seven strong innings, limiting the Orioles to five hits and one run. He leaves with a 5-1 lead, only to have League give up five runs in the eighth. The Orioles win 6-5, and Hernandez gets a no-decision.

* May 29, at Los Angeles Angels: Hernandez pitches another strong game, limiting the Angels to one run on six hits through eight innings. But the score is 1-1 when he's pulled, so no decision for Felix. The Angels go on to win 5-1 on Kendry Morales's ill-fated grand slam in the 10th off League.

* June 24 vs. Cubs: Felix works nine innings, limiting Cubs to five hits while striking out eight, but the game is tied 2-2 after regulation. In the fourth, the M's had the bases loaded with no outs, but couldn't score. In the ninth, they had first and secord, one out, and again couldn't score. The Cubs won 3-2 in 13, the loss going to Garrett Olson.

* July 5, vs. Royals: He leaves with a 4-2 lead after seven strong innings, but League gives up two in the eighth to eliminate Hernandez's victory. The Royals scored two in the 10th to win 6-4.

* July 21 vs. White Sox: Hernandez blanks White Sox on two hits, striking out eight, in eight innings. But the game is scoreless when he is removed. The Mariners go on to win 2-1 in 11, but the victory goes to League, who gave up a run in the top of the 11th only to have the M's score two in the bottom.

* Aug. 31, vs. Angels: Hernandez blanks the Angels on three hits over seven innings, but again the Mariners can't score, either. Another agonizing no-decision. The M's eventually win, 3-1, the W going to League.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

WCB, road success

West Coast Bias revisited the Padres of rookie GM Towers. Tibits going into tonight's game at Dodgers Stadium: The Padres have beaten the Dodgers six in a row and nine of 11, and have won the season series for the first time since 2007...A win tonight would be San Diego's 11th against L.A. this year and the club's most since going 13-5 against the Dodgers in 2006...Miguel Tejada has 289 career home runs as a shortstop, raking third all-time behind Cal Ripken, Jr. (345) and Alex Rodriguez (344)...The Padres' .558 road winning percentage leads the National League. With three more road victories, the Padres would tie the franchise record (46-35) set in 1996.

Gayton let go

The Padres continue to expel holdovers from the Kevin Towers regime, telling former scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton recently they will not be renewing his contract for 2011. Current Padres drafted under Gayton include Mat Latos, Tim Stauffer, Chase Headley, Nick Hundley, Will Venable, Cory Luebke, Wade LeBlanc (a Grady Fuson pick) and Cesar Ramos. This is the most homegrown Padres team that I can recall in some 20 years, and Gayton played a big part in it.

Snapshot

The worst of the storm is over. Another might be brewing, but the Padres have weathered a crackling, torrential, window-rattling assault. Ten straight losses. The annual drubbing in St. Louis. The home set loss to the Giants. Tell the truth, you wondered if it would ever end, didn't you? Take a peek at the standings now. The Padres are still atop the National League West.

Irony of ironies, your most disliked rival supplied umbrellas and slickers. With enemies like the Dodgers, the Padres do not need friends. The Padres swept the Dodgers in San Diego earlier this month, and a San Diego victory tonight in Los Angeles would apply the broom again. So the Padres are 5-0 against the Dodgers this month, recalling for me September '96 when I see the SD and the LA on the same field. Against the rest of the schedule since Aug. 26, the Padres are 4-17.

One other thing about the Dodgers. They were flatlining against the Rockies as well. Then someone paddled them and they came back from 6-1 to beat the Rockies on Sunday, and the Rockies haven't won since. Absent that Dodgers comeback, Colorado would've pulled into a tie with the Padres, who led the Rockies by 11 games -- 11 games! -- only 27 days earlier. Maybe that Dodgers comeback killed another Rock-tober.

The margins remain thin, the Giants are only half a game out. But if there's a more favorable schedule, it appears to be the Padres'. The Giants still must go to Denver. On the verge of winning their first playoff berth since I can't recall, the Reds could be in hangover mode while they're in San Diego this weekend. The Cubs follow them to town. Then comes the finale in San Francisco, where the Padres are 5-1.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quote of the day

The Gunslinger: "My hope is to be next year's Padres."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gunslinger

I wrote about The Gunslinger moving back to the West. The Arizona Diamondbacks are nothing like they were when Kevin Towers despised them circa 2001-02 (Bruce Bochy, Padres coaches and several players also loathed those Diamondbacks, who habitually beat up on the Padres).
The NL West certainly becomes a more interesting neighborhood with Towers working out of Phoenix.

Hinch, Ludwick

Confirming my report from two weeks ago, the Padres announced today that they've hired A.J. Hinch, the former Diamondbacks manager, as director of pro scouting. He also gets a vice-presidency title, which presumably means extra salary, but he'll also draw salary from the D'backs. I'm told that Hinch has never been a scout at any level, so it seems odd to put him in charge of scouts. Just a guess here, but this may be a place-holder position for Hinch, who has the backing of Padres CEO Jeff Moorad. The two worked together with D'backs. Call me Oliver Stone, but I think one reason that Josh Byrnes hired Hinch as manager two years ago was to pre-emptively thwart Moorad from bringing him to the Padres as a GM. Certainly it was an odd hiring. Hinch had never coached at any level, let alone managed. In addition, Byrnes gave him a four-year, guaranteed contract, which is lengthy for rookie managers and even many veteran managers. The move fizzled. Arizona was 34 games under .500 when Byrnes and Hinch were fired on July 1. By the way, in no way am I implying here that Hinch will become a GM candidate with the Padres. But, given Moorad's support for him dating to their time in Arizona, when Hinch was the farm director, he'll likely be a significant person in baseball operations. A former major league catcher and a Stanford man, Hinch should both call a good game and talk a good game.

Ludwick's trip -- Ryan Ludwick has four multi-hit games over the current road trip, going 10-for-26 (.385) with one home run, five RBI, two runs scored and four walks since Sept. 13. He has a .467 OBP and a .500 slug rate in that span.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday

For me it was mostly a football weekend that included covering the Chargers' happy home opener, but I did collect a few Padres tidbits.

* The Padres didn't have to face Ubaldo Jimenez in Denver and missed two of the Cardinals' three frontline starters over the four-game set in St. Louis. They will not face the best Dodgers starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, this week. Unfortunately for the Padres, they drew Adam Wainwright on Sunday. After the All-Star Game two months ago, Torii Hunter of the Angels told me he dreaded facing Wainwright. Looking like someone who belongs in the playoffs, Wainwright held the Padres to one run in eight innings.

* Mat Latos' breaking pitches have deserted him in the last two outings. The Tattoed One didn't seem real confident in his fastball, either, against the Cardinals on Friday.

* Four of the five home runs hit by Ryan Ludwick as a Padre have come against the NL Central. Part of that may be comfort, as the NL Central used to be home to the former Cardinal. Part of it may be the NL Central is larded with mediocre pitching.

* Cardinals reclamation project Jeff Suppan, released earlier this season by the pitching-poor Brewers, had below average stuff across the board and misplaced several pitches on Saturday, yet the Padres scored only one run off him in six innings and that was only because Suppan served an 0-2 cookie to David Eckstein. At some point, the Padres have to hit better than they have over the last few weeks, don't they?

* Matt Stairs has been tremendous for several weeks now. His swing doesn't look as long as it was in the first half. Did Petco induce him to make subtle changes? Is he benefiting from knee health? You can see, pitchers are wary of pitching him both outside and inside.

* That was some determined work from Chris Young, who, in his comeback from a shoulder ailment, had below-average velocity but allowed only one run in four innings on Saturday. Young looks like he's still in spring training mode in terms of pitch quality. Back before the shoulder problems, it used to take him several major league games to build up his fastball and stamina. So, if he's going to be of help, it'll likely have to be through deception and determination. Young owns the franchise's only playoff win since 1998, but his margins for error are so much slimmer now.

* Third baseman Chase Headley made a mental mistake that former big leaguer Eric Karros, now a talking head, harped on during Saturday's telecast. After fielding a groundball struck by the hobbled and slow Yadier Molina, Headley decided against throwing to second base to start a likely doubleplay. Instead he made a failed tag attempt of a baserunner. Karros was puzzled by the decision. My guesses for it: 1) Headley is fatigued; 2) Because he's made no fewer than three inaccurate throws to second base this year, it may not be a second-nature, routine throw for him.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bonus coverage

Problems? You think you have problems? Just because your team has fallen out of first place by half a game? The Cardinals and their fans would love to have that kind of problem. Not that I expect you to have any sympathy for them. You'd probably rather the Cardinals take it easy on your team, which has lost its last 10 games in St. Louis entering tonight's contest at Busch Stadium. I'm going to make a wild assumption here. I'm going to assume that you might be interested in reading about the Cardinals' struggles. We'll call it bonus coverage, courtesy of my friend Rick Hummel. For more years than I know, Rick has ably covered the Cardinals for the Post-Dispatch. Among scribes with the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he's known as the Commish. He's sort of the dean of the BBWAA. Anyway, the Commish forwarded to me a few notes on the Redbirds, and here they are:


1 _ Some numbers to explain the Cardinals' demise:

They have dropped eight straight series to teams with losing records. That's two each with Houston, Chicago, Milwaukee and one each with Pittsburgh and Washington. They are 5-19 in those games.

They are 44-47 against teams with losing records. They are 22-29 against National League Central clubs not based in Cincinnati, against which the Cardinals were 12-6.

After being outscored by the Cubs, 19-6, in a three-game sweep, manager Tony La Russa said, "The scores weren't really close. That's troubling. We're all troubled."

On Aug. 13, the Cardinals were 65-49 and one game ahead of the Reds. In the next 30 games, they were 9-21 and eight games behind. A losing season is still a possibility.

"There will be a record and that will define a lot of what we've been about," said La Russa. "You don't get special points for having a winning record for awhile. It's the total season that will go into the book."

La Russa said, "It's kind of painful to watch. Over the course of the season, we know what this club has gone through. To see them struggling is kind of painful. To see guys pushing it.. . . nobody's taking an easy way out. . . you're hoping there's a reward there somewhere."

Second baseman Skip Schumaker is as puzzled as anybody. "We can't find a reason for what's going on," said Schumaker. "It's frustrating. It's wearing on a lot of guys."

2 _ La Russa announced Wednesday afternoon that LHP Jaime Garcia, the club's outstanding rookie, was being shut down for the season because of arm fatigue after he had worked a career-high 163 1/3 innings. But Garcia, after meeting with La Russa and general manager John Mozeliak, almost unbelievably talked the other two out of it. He will miss just one start, so far.

"He was really forceful about how he doesn't want to give the impression that he's deserting the team," La Russa said. The manager, who apologized for how he handled the situation initially, said, "What he had to say was great. You have to respect what he was saying. So we're going to be careful, but we're not going to slam the door. He's earned that."

3 _ Garcia, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright lost in succession against the Cubs. It was the first time the top-drawer threesome had lost three consecutive games this season.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Seamhead stuff

* The Padres have scored a total of two runs in their last four games at sea level. Unless baseball creates a Mountain West Conference, the Pads may need to change that mini-trend.

* Tonight's game in St. Louis was the kind of test the Rockies' hitters face, and flunk, many times a year. The Padres were coming off a series in Denver, where pitches don't swerve and dart like they do at sea level. Padres hitters had a lot of fun in those three games. Tonight, they kept skulling the baseball. Great praise Jake Westbrook, a groundball artist who made several clutch pitches tonight. Who knows, if the game were played in Wyoming, Westbrook still may have had his best outing as a Cardinal. He didn't allow a run in eight innings. How many times has a Padre done that at Petco this year? Probably can count 'em on one hand. I suggest the difficulty of going from high to comparatively low is evident in Colorado's history. Only once have the Rockies posted a winning road season.

* In the duel between starting pitchers, Tim Stauffer actually had equal or better stuff and accuracy than Westbrook. Funny game, this baseball.

* Not that Stauffer was wholly unlucky. He had a poor game both defensively and as a hitter. If he had defended and bunted like, say, Greg Maddux, it likely would've been a much different ballgame. That's another way of saying, I miss Maddux.

* Obviously Stauffer's four-pitch walk to Skip Schumaker was a killer. The Cardinals went on to score three runs, expanding their lead to 4-0 in the sixth. Schumaker was the leadoff hitter. Stauffer knew he was entering his final inning. Behind Schumaker was John Jay, who had ripped two hits off Stauffer and this time would drop a beautiful bunt single. Behind him was Albert Pujols. Yep, a game-changing walk. Have to make Schumaker swing the bat there.

* Looked like right-fielder Ryan Ludwick got a slowish jump on the Pujols lob that landed in right-center, a foot beyond Ludwick's diving try. Big play.

* Pujols didn't look himself in any of his four at-bats. He's been nagged by an elbow injury. Matt Holliday looked a lot more comfortable. Let's see how Albert looks Friday.

* Westbrook, to his credit, was at his best against the Padres' best hitters -- Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Tejada.

* Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus made a nice play in left-center to thwart Yorvit Torrealba. A lot of outfielders slow down in order to dive. Rasmus lost no speed and speared the ball without leaving his feet.

* Yes, it was a gut punch for the Padres when Molina blooped a two-run hit off Ryan Webb later in the sixth. On the other hand, Molina did well to stay alive in the at-bat, then put a difficult pitch into play. I've seen Molina have those kind of great at-bats too many times to attribute it to luck.

* Here's what bad luck is: The previous batter, Rasmus, was called out on a pitch that appeared far outside (both on TV and the mlb.com). Plate umpire Ed Rapuano is a good umpire, but he had a weird night. Westbrook's armside sinker seemed to get favorable calls from Rapuano. That is, until the sixth, when the ump called that pitch a ball to Torrealba with the count 2-2. Westbrook looked miffed, but then induced a groundout from Torrealba off a 3-2 pitch. Big pitch, that.

* You could see that Will Venable made Westbrook uncomfortable in their first two meetings. Westbrook throws a lot of sinkers, and Venable's swing matches up with that pitch's location and speed. First at-bat, easy walk. Second at-bat, scorched single. Third time up, the veteran pitcher took advantage of Venable's confidence. He threw four consecutive offspeed pitches, including three consecutive changeups, and retired the lunging Venable on a popup. A former basketball star, Venable came late to advanced baseball. All things considered, he's having an OK season. If he can learn to make adjustments a little faster, then the Padres might have something.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Padres and Twins

Earlier this summer, I wrote that the tentative schedule for 2011 had the Padres playing in Minnesota's new ballpark. It's now official. The Padres will play the Twins on June 17-19. My fellow ball scribes tell me the ballpark is spectacular, particularly at night. Consider that a recommendation. Folks in Kansas City probably are excited about the chance to come to San Diego, where the Royals will play from June 27-29.

The Padres will be in Fenway Park from June 20-22.

As for San Diego's NFL team, I looked at its loss to the Chiefs and the big picture for the franchise.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bullpen

The bullpen is still going strong. As the Padres begin a 10-game trip tonight in Denver, they take comfort in how their relief corps is pitching -- 0.72 ERA in the last seven games, a span of 25 innings. The nine relievers used in the seven games recorded 30 strikeouts.

Monday

Three weeks ago, two hardcore Padres fans I know texted each other with the following: 76-49.

They texted no other commentary. For them, 76-49 said it all. It was like looking at the Hope Diamond. The mythical Padres of '98 were the franchise's only other team to rise 27 games above .500. For these Padres to reach 76-49 was one of those stupendous stories that makes sports fun. I picked the Padres for 79 victories and fourth place, ahead of only the Diamondbacks. And I was more bullish on the Padres than most pundits (in fact, I heard in March that even in San Diego's front office, some folks regarded Arizona as the favorite in the NL West).

Maybe this is a goofy way to look at it, but when the Padres were 76-49 and playing with house money, I figured that no one should be surprised if the Padres played losing ball henceforth. Let's say the Padres were to go 18-19 in their final 37 games. They'd still end up with 94 wins. Which should win the West. Unfortunately for the Padres, the losing took on a life of its own. They dropped 10 in a row, something the club had lost done in 1994. Overall the Padres are 4-13 since waking up on Aug. 25. On that morning, they were kings of the NL universe with the 76-49 mark.

Yet, as Heath Bell kept pointing out on Sunday after the Padres lost to the Giants, the Padres are still in first place. I asked Bell if it felt like they were still in first, and he allowed that to some of the players, it did not. The Giants are next to the Padres atop the NL West. But if the Padres win tonight in Colorado, they will be alone in first with 19 games to go. A much-needed off day looms on Sept 20. So do series remaining with laggards such as the Dodgers and Cubs. The Giants have their own set of challenges. One of their best all-around players, Andres Torres, required an appendectomy on Sunday and will be out at least 10-14 days; and their second baseman, Freddy Sanchez, limped out of Petco Park on Sunday and today will have his knee examined.

The Rockies are a game-and-a-half out of first. They are riding a 10-game winning streak, but they're just now going through the rotation without pitcher Aaron Cook, a Padres nemesis who suffered a broken leg last week.

I wonder if being refitted with the underdog's cloak will suit the Padres. San Diego sports teams tend to fare better when wearing that garb.

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, none of these other factors will matter much to the Padres if their offense remains dormant. The Giants held them to five runs in the four games. Padres hitters should welcome the trip to Denver. On the subject of hitting, Giants catcher Buster Posey is one guy who knows how to use a bat. For Padres fan, this looks like the start of a long and unhappy relationship.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Latos

Cy Young and Mat Latos in the same sentence? Sure, Latos belongs in the conversation, and another strong outing against the Giants would lengthen that chat. No one should blame fans for buying tickets or not buying tickets, but for the most part, the Padres' incredible season hasn't generated as much atmosphere as the club would've hoped. Last, a look at Chargers rookie Ryan Mathews going into his NFL debut on Monday night.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Behind the scenes

Padres are still reconfiguring their baseball front office and minor league staff. They're trying to hire A.J. Hinch, the former Diamondbacks manager, and probably will get that done. Wrote about Hinch as part of West Coast Bias column, which included other NL West material.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New hitting coach

The Padres are replacing their minor league hitting coordinator, Tony Muser, with Sean Berry, a former third baseman with the Astros, Expos, Royals and Brewers. For the last three years, Muser oversaw hitting instruction with the franchise's six minor league clubs. He worked the last eight years for the Padres.

600

Two years after the Padres traded for Trevor Hoffman, a new regime came aboard and accused Randy Smith, the club's GM, of retaining Hoffman in the closer role in order to justify the trade. I suppose we all say things that look stupid years later. The Padres and Hoffman parted ways after the 2008 season, ending a remarkable run that began in June 1993. The Padres didn't miss Hoffman because Heath Bell pitched so well last year, while Hoffman was having an incredible year with the Brewers. Yet the all-time save leader remains popular with several Padres employees who are ecstatic that Hoffman nailed his 600th save on Tuesday in Milwaukee. Among them are Glenn Hoffman, the team's third-base coach and one of Trevor's older brothers; Mark Merila, the former bullpen catcher who sits in San Diego's dugout; Todd Hutcheson, the longtime trainer whom Hoffman partly credits for his longevity; and Smith, who gets choked up sometimes when he talks about "Hoffy." Here's what I wrote about Hoffman.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stauffer redux

Tim Stauffer's clutch assist on Monday recalled a late-season performance from Stauffer in 2006, also against the visiting Dodgers, also featuring an extra speedy fastball. Summoned hastily from Triple-A Portland to replace Chan Ho Park, who suffered from gastrointestinal bleeding, Stauffer flew to San Diego on game day, got to the ballpark about two hours before first pitch and began by retiring 10 consecutive batters. Dodgers hitters were often tardy, likely because Stauffer was clocking 92-94 miles-per-hour, about 2-4 beyond his norm that year. "The power of adrenaline," marveled Bruce Bochy a day later. Stauffer lasted six innings and allowed only one earned run, far more than the Padres expected from the finesse right-hander who lugged a 5.07 ERA from the Pacific Coast League to San Diego. It was Stauffer's only major league outing all year, and it was as important as any start that season for a Padres club that would win the National League West.

Onward from the swamp

The streak is over. The next step is to move beyond any lingering doubts, writes former Mets GM Steve Phillips. It'll be interesting to find out what, if anything, the Padres learned from the 10-game losing streak, beyond that it's hard to play baseball underwater. Antonio Gates, who is the Chargers' most interesting bundle of talent, experience and candor, talked to me about the playoff loss to the Jets, and what he learned from it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day

Wrote here about the Rockies mostly, but also touched on the Padres and their 10-game losing streak. You probably want to read a blow-by-blow of the losing streak as little as I want to write one. So, I'll limit this to a few observations.

* The only surprising part of the streak has been the shoddy defense, and only some of it. Part of why the Padres traded for Miguel Tejada was that Everth Cabrera was getting the yips with his throws and still struggling with his defensive timing. Tejada loomed as a defensive upgrade despite being slower afoot and rusty at shortstop. Indeed Tejada has upgraded the defense. When Jerry Hairston Jr.'s elbow pain became too much, though, Cabrera went back into the rotation of middle infielders. It wasn't surprising to see Cabrera's two miscues that opened the door for the third loss in Arizona (again, maybe David Eckstein should've gone in as a defensive replacement once the Padres went ahead by one run in the seventh inning). Saturday against the Rockies, the Padres rested Tejada, 36, and the ball found Cabrera, whose muff led to a key run. Cabrera was jumped from low-Single A to the majors a year ago. He missed vital development time, but the Padres weren't happy with their other alternatives. You buy the ticket, you take the ride.

* Other defensive miscues have been glaring. Such as Chris Denorfia losing concentration on a slow groundball, allowing a Rockies baserunner to go from first base to third on Sunday to set up a run. The runner had stopped to see if Carlos Gonzalez's liner would get past Eckstein. Then Chase Headley muffed a potential doubleplay grounder, bringing in the run. Earlier in the streak, we also saw Ryan Ludwick throw 10 feet wide of Adrian Gonzalez; and a passed ball by Nick Hundley that led to a key run. Hundley is playing more because of Yorvit Torrealba's balky back, and it hasn't been his prettiest stretch of catching. I wonder if Headley is running on fumes. He and Gonzalez are the only Padres who play every day. After his first full year in Double-A, Headley said he was gassed late in the summer. Ideally Tejada could spell Headley, but that became harder to do when Hairston got hurt. Bottom line, the Padres need to get back to playing clean defense.

* It's often said that the Padres aren't playing the caliber of baseball they had played in building up a 76-49 record. I agree with the substance of that view, but I think it gets overstated. Several times, probably at least 10, I watched the Padres win a game this year and thought they played a bad game. Their pitching was that effective, their opponents that lacking, and, to an unusual degree, I guessed, their luck that favorable. Some credit now goes to the opponents. The Diamondbacks aren't wretched any more. The Phillies pitched and defended well in the three games here. The Rockies match up well with the Padres.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Still in it

The Rockies are still hanging around. No one in San Diego should be surprised by it. While it may not feel like 2007, victories here the last two days have Colorado 5.5 games out of first place. The Padres are 9-2 against the Giants, but they are 4-10 against the Rockies. In the 14 games, the Rockies averaged 5.6 runs. Colorado has won all three series in San Diego.

"In this division, teams have (a) certain team's number," said Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who wears No. 2. "That's just how things fall sometimes. Take nothing away from (the Padres). That's a great team. They are in first place for a reason."

Sunday's matchup sets up like the Padres-Rockies final game before the All-Star Break, July 11. The Padres were reeling. The Rockies were charging. The Padres responded with a comeback victory at Denver. Without it, the teams would've been tied at the break. The Padres were 50-37 entering that day. They would climb to 76-49. Now they're 76-58.

Friday, September 3, 2010

WCB

A few Padres items within this West Coast Bias column.

The new guy

Tidbits on pitcher Cory Luebke:

* If the Padres reach the playoffs, he could pitch for them. He can replace anyone who's on the disabled list at the time the Padres submit their roster for each series.

* I enjoyed watching Luebke at the Cal League All-Star Game last year. Like the Tattoed One, he is a tall pitcher who throws at a sharp downward angle. He throws a little harder than Wade LeBlanc but doesn't have as good of a changeup.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Seamhead stuff

* I wonder if Bud Black regrets not subbing David Eckstein for Everth Cabrera tonight after the Padres went ahead 2-1 in the seventh inning. Eckstein is having a sharp year defensively. I'm told he was available and had no calf issues. I'm hedging my comments here because I wasn't at the game. Was a bit odd to see though. Black tends to favor defensive moves. Baseball being baseball, the ball found Cabrera twice in the inning.

* Don't put all of the defeat on Cabrera's two miscues (plus, shortstop Miguel Tejada blamed himself for not catching Cabrera's hot, slightly wide throw). Luke Gregerson threw a fat slider to a hitter with slider-batspeed, and there went the grand slam. Hard to fault Gregerson for using his slider a lot, the pitch has been unhittable for most of the year, but his fastball may be suffering from underuse. The trouble began with a leadoff walk to Mark Reynolds, who saw five sliders in the at-bat.

* The Tattoed One has become must-see TV, unless you can get to the game in person. Wow.

* The only hitter who seemed to scare Latos at all is the only hitter who hurt him. Latos was wary of giving Chris Young a decent fastball in their two earlier duels, then misplaced a 3-1 fastball in their third meeting. Great praise Young for the home run. It was the only decent pitch he saw, and it was 95 mph.

* Best at-bat by the Padres may have been Matt Stairs' pinch single, off the sixth pitch of the at-bat.

* Nifty game defensively by Arizona's outfielders, who played well throughout the series. The Phillies played a great series defensively in sweeping the Padres last weekend.

* If you've read this blog regularly, you know I criticized the Padres' baserunning even when they were winning. We saw another blunder tonight when Chase Headley was trapped off first base. Then Nick Hundley took an 0-2 cookie for strike three.

* The injuries are starting to take a toll. Hundley is playing more because Yorvit Torrealba's back is ailing. Hundley had a tough game tonight. Jerry Hairston Jr.'s absence also has hurt.

* Arizona's starting pitcher, Barry Enright, gave up several blasts but kept throwing strikes. All of his pitches appear to be fringe average or below average. Afraid, he isn't.

* Just a guess here, but it looks like interim manager Kirk Gibson has smartened and toughened the Diamondbacks. Wrote about him two months ago and would like to see the Diamondbacks keep him in the job.

* The Rockies' schedule this month is tougher than the Padres', and includes Thursday's game in Denver against the Phillies, preceded by tonight's game in San Francisco. So, the Rockies will be tired when they face the Padres and rookie Cory Luebke on Friday.