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Praying for Hits: A San Diego Padres preview

A look ahead at our third NL West Opponent

"Baseball teams...they're supposed to score runs, right?"
"Baseball teams...they're supposed to score runs, right?"
Denis Poroy

Offense: Everth Cabrera - SS, Seth Smith - RF, Chase Headley - 3B, Carlos Quentin - DH, Yonder Alonso - 1B,Tommy Medica - LF, Jedd Gyorko - 2B, Cameron Maybin - CF, Yasmani Grandal - C

This offense has been a pretty major disaster.  The Friars' home park plays into the lack of runs, but they've scored the fewest runs in baseball this season.  There are a lot of reasons for this, and it all starts with Everth Cabrera.  Cabrera has hit .242/.268/.328 this season and has led off the vast majority of Padres games because believe it or not, there are worse options.  Cabrera had a decent walk rate last year and that allowed him to use his considerable speed to be a threat on the bases, but the old "you can't steal first" adage certainly applies here.

The one guy who's really produced for the Padres this season is Seth Smith.  Smith has never been a star-caliber player; you generally don't want "Pinch-Hitter" listed as one of your positions on Baseball Reference. For his career, he's a strict righty-masher that can't handle same-handed pitchers and Bud Black has done a great job of limiting his exposure to lefties.  The results have been outstanding.  As of this writing, Smith is hitting .309/.409/.557 while playing home games at Petco.  He's responsible for about 70 percent of the position player bWAR for the Padres this season despite the fact that he's more of a designated hitter than a guy who should be patrolling the outfield in a spacious park.

Remember when Chase Headley was a superstar and it was a great idea for every team in the league to trade for him?  Turns out, it was the Padres who could have made a killing selling high.  There's nothing wrong with Headley as a player, but when you put up a .900 OPS and belt out 31 home runs in a season while playing in Petco Park, people tend to notice and expect great things from you.  Headley wasn't able to follow up that great 2012 performance last season, as he only hit 13 homers.  The complete package was still a good offensive player that was also highly regarded by defensive metrics.  He's hitting kind of poorly this season, but there are multiple current Padres that would give their right leg to be hitting "kind of poorly".

Since we last saw Carlos Quentin, he's had two modes: hitting and hurting.  This is nothing new, as TCQ, Qperman, or just "Q!" has always been a force at the plate when healthy; it's just that this necessary condition is seldom-met.  He should be a much-needed source of right-handed power for the Padres in this series, provided he doesn't re-aggravate his wrist, foot, shoulder, or knee in the next seven hours.

Brace yourselves, folks, this is where things start to get ugly.  Yonder Alonso was acquired from the Reds in the Mat Latos trade.  Latos has spent the entire 2014 season to-date on the disabled list, and it's safe to say he's been the better player this season.  Alonso was once a well-regarded prospect for Cincinnati, but the power has yet to show up on the big stage.  He's offset that deficiency in prior seasons by getting on base at good clips, but his current OBP sits below .250.  Alonso doesn't strike out much and owns a .219 BABIP, so there's a great chance that a rebound is coming.

I have to express my frustration at Will Venable right now, because if he hadn't come down with a foot injury and otherwise played indescribably terrible so far this season, I wouldn't have to go and learn about obscure guys like Tommy Medica literally hours before this went to press.  Medica is a masher who's hit very well in the minors but has usually been old for his level (he's 26 now).  At some point, you need to give a guy like this a chance, especially when you've scored the fewest runs in Major League baseball.  Venable will likely be healthy enough to play this weekend, but if I'm Bud Black, I'm going to have a tough time sitting Medica, who's 7-10 with two doubles, a triple, and a home run in his last three games.  This contrasts with the ice-cold Venable, who is hitting .170/.270/.263 with just one home run on the entire season.

Jedd Gyorko had a fine rookie season, belting out 23 home runs while playing second base for the Padres. San Diego rightfully thought that second base was taken care of for the forseeable future, but Gyorko has collapsed this season beyond anyone's imagination.  He's been one of the very worst players in the major leagues, hitting .173/.218/.288 as of this writing.  Gyorko has one of the lowest BABIPs in the league, but it's clearly because he's not squaring up the ball much at all, as evidenced by his low line drive and doubles rates.

Cameron Maybin looked like he had put it all together a few years ago upon arrival in San Diego, with two seasons of competent offense backed by great defense in center field.  Since 2012, injuries to his wrist (which required surgery), knee, and left biceps have kept him mostly off of the field.  Maybin never developed into the superstar that many thought he could be when the Marlins acquired him in the Miguel Cabrera trade, but he's a pretty good player when healthy.  In a limited sample this season, he's hit close to .300, which has been a sight for sore eyes in this lineup.

Yasmani Grandal looks likely to roughly split catching duties with the hacktastic Rene Rivera now that Nick Hundley has been traded out of town.  Grandal has lost time in his young career to an ACL tear and a PED suspension.  He's a good source of patience and power, but contact has been an issue this season.  Scouting reports seem mixed on his defense, but metrics indicate that he is good at framing and receiving.  Robin Ventura would be wise to run like wild on Grandal, as he's only thrown out two base thieves in 447 innings between this season and last.

Bench: Rene Rivera - C, Will Venable - OF, Chris Denorfia - OF, Alexi Amarista - UTIL

Pitching: Starting Rotation -  Ian Kennedy - RHP, Tyson Ross - RHP, Eric Stults - LHP; Closer - Huston Street - RHP

Is Ian Kennedy a front-end starter or a back-end starter?  The answer to that question has been debated many times over the course of Kennedy's career.  It's no surprise, as he's been as inconsistent as they come from season to season.  Once a well-regarded Yankees prospect, injuries hampered his playing time and effectiveness in New York until he was traded to Arizona.  He emerged as a staff ace in 2011, but has been significantly worse in every season since (to varying degrees, of course).  So far, 2014 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for Kennedy, as he's throwing a bit harder and getting more strikeouts than usual while limiting free passes.  So, is he a front-end starter or a back-end starter?  Yes.

What's odd about Tyson Ross as a starter is that he's had a good amount of success as a guy who essentially throws just fastballs and sliders.  He's an extreme groundball pitcher that isn't necessarily a pitch-to-contact guy, as he can miss some bats.  That profile suggests that maybe pitching home games in Petco wouldn't be as big of a deal for Ross as it would be for some pitchers (and maybe it's not), but his rosy 2.97 ERA exists in spite of the .304/.378/.473 line hitters have against him away from San Diego this season.  You can appropriately choose to believe this is a small-sample fluke, or optimistically get ready for a slugfest on Saturday.  Take your pick.

Yes, this is the same Eric Stults the White Sox used to have, and no, you shouldn't lose any sleep over the fact that like Clayton Richard before him, Stults has been able to masquerade as a competent starting pitcher in San Diego.  The one special thing about him is that he doesn't walk many hitters.  Otherwise, he's a pitch-to-contact guy that doesn't keep the ball on the ground.  He throws in the mid-high 80s and gets shellacked on the road. Given that Sunday's game is at The Cell, this is one soft-tossing lefty the White Sox should be able to handle.

Huston Street is on his way to his third consecutive effective season as the closer in San Diego.  Street is a fly ball pitcher, so he's well-suited to Petco Park.  He's not your typical closer as he doesn't throw particularly hard.  His average fastball (which PITCHf/x classifies as a sinker) is just under 90 mph, so Street is pretty reliant on his biting slider and circle changeup to beat hitters.  He's striking out over a batter per inning this season, so this arsenal is getting the job done.

Outlook & Prediction: The gap between the fifth-place Diamondbacks and the Padres has narrowed of late and while there's reason to believe each team is a little better than what they've shown so far, these two are probably going to be battling in the NL West cellar for the remainder of the season.  Predicted record and finish: 73-89, fourth place, NL West.