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Punchless Padres struggling in NL West

Punchless Padres struggling in NL West
In case you haven't noticed, the San Diego Padres have been particularly bad thus far in 2008.

The Pads, under the expert leadership of GM Kevin Towers, have reeled off four straight winning seasons — a franchise record — and last year they came within a hairsbreadth of making a third consecutive playoff appearance. However, in the months since Matt Holliday touched (read: failed to touch) home plate to end the Padres' 2007 season, their fortunes have worsened.

At this writing, San Diego is in last place in the NL West (yes, behind even the comically bad San Francisco Giants), and they've dropped eight of their last 10. Specifically, the problem is the offense: the Pads are tied with the Giants for fewest runs scored in all of baseball. Indeed, it's hard to win many ballgames when you're averaging 3.2 runs per game.

To be sure, Petco Park, the most severe run-suppressing environment in the game, tends to make the San Diego offense look worse than it really is (and, by extension, make the pitching staff look better than it really is), but the Padres attack this season is lousing things up in any context. In fact, they rank 12th in the NL in runs-per-game on the road, so there's nothing illusory about their struggles. The question is whether things will get better.

This season, the Padres have hit line drives at a reasonable rate, and they're putting the ball in the air — both good things. What they're not doing, however, is getting the hits to fall. In fact, when it comes to Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), just the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals have been worse than San Diego thus far. To some extent, though, BABIP is a function of luck, so the Padres may improve in this regard.

It's also worth examining the personnel changes. Over the winter, the Padres lost, among others, Mike Cameron and Milton Bradley. Cameron, once you adjust for home-park and positional standards, had a tolerably productive season, and Bradley was the team's best hitter after being acquired from the A's before the All-Star break. So those losses hurt.

What's worse is that the Padres haven't been able to replace them. In center, veteran Jim Edmonds, who's very much in his decline phase, thus far is "hitting" .172 AVG/.264 OBP/.250 SLG, and Padre left fielders have combined for a batting line of .220 AVG/.327 OBP/.374 SLG.

Elsewhere, core hitters like Adrian Gonzalez and Brian Giles are roughly living up to expectations. As for those who can reasonably be expected to improve, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Khalil Greene and Josh Bard should all get better going forward. However, the Padres, as currently constructed, aren't going to get adequate production from left field, and to date they've been absolutely miserable against left-handed pitching.

As for the first problem, the Padres may be in trouble. Scott Hairston isn't going to produce enough to be an every-day corner outfielder at the highest level, and Paul McAnulty has yet to hit in the majors and, once you adjust for age, doesn't have a particularly impressive minor-league track record.

In spring training, there was loose talk of giving top prospect Chase Headley the job, but that didn't happen. Now, Headley is struggling badly in Triple-A, so he's not looking like a solution. Barring a trade — and the Padres aren't well-positioned to make one — left field is going remain a sinkhole for them. On the other hand, Barry Bonds is still looking for work ...

As for their struggles against lefties, giving Justin Huber regular platoon duty will help, but the depth of their problems (.179 AVG/.264 OBP/.291 SLG against left-handers) is such that there's no such thing as a quick and easy answer. But, hey, that's to be expected when your most consistent right-handed bat has been Jake Peavy.

Overall, the Pads have the starting pitching thing down — Peavy is among the best hurlers in baseball, most of the rotation behind him is strong and the bullpen figures to improve drastically in the coming weeks. However, they're simply not going to put enough runs on the board to contend. That's especially the case since the NL West houses the Arizona Diamondbacks, the best team in baseball at the moment.

So it's the offense that's going to keep the Padres out of the postseason in 2008. For the next couple of years, though, the aging roster and thin farm system are going to prevent San Diego from contending. The front office remains one of the best in the game, so things will get better. However, the Padres are facing some thin times ahead.

Then again, at least they're not the Giants.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 29, 2008

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