San Diego Padres: A Team on Friar

On May 1, the San Diego Padres were 10-17, good enough for last place in the National League West. They had allowed a NL worst 129 runs while scoring just 103. The team’s run differential of -26 was the second worst in the National League, ahead of only the Miami Marlins. 

Since losing that night to the Chicago Cubs, the Padres have gone 30-23 (15-11 in June, as of Friday night’s victory over the Marlins) and sit just three games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the division lead, tied with the Colorado Rockies, and ahead of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

How is a team that finished 76-86 last season looking like a competitor? There must be a reason why Sports Illustrated’s Joe Sheehan picked the Padres to win the NL West when no one else did. What did he see?

At first guess, you’d probably figure the Padres third baseman, Chase Headley, who finished fifth in MVP voting last season was the one leading the team back to respectability. But, not so much. Headley has, to this point, put up his worst numbers since he became a full time player at the Major League level. His .227/.325/.355 line is a far cry from last year’s .286/.376/.498 mark and the nearly identical, aside from slugging, numbers he put up in 2011: .289/.374/.399.

One Padres player, Everth Cabrera, is hitting .300. Unfortunately, he’s also on the disabled list right now. Regardless, Cabrera has been a revelation for the Friars. At 26, in his fifth season in the majors, the shortstop was in the midst of a breakout before subcuming to injury. His entire triple slash line, .305/.382/.418, would represent career highs by at least 58 points per category. Just 69 games into the season, Cabrera already hit more triples (4) than in any year since his rookie season in 2009 when he recorded eight three-baggers. 

His four home runs are already a career high, while his 24 RBI ties his 2012 production. Did I mention Cabrera can run? Even with a week on the DL, he’s leading the senior circuit in steals (31) and is on pace to shatter last year’s league-leading 44 stolen bases. Typically, you imagine a player having a breakout and “carrying” his team to be a slugger, but for the Padres, it has been their table setter.

The Padres aren’t without other offensive sources. Carlos Quentin, who was hitting just .169 with two home runs on May 8, has rebounded for a .319/.412/.534 line with six homers since his nadir. The slugging outfielder has a 22:15 strikeout to walk ratio over this stretch and has exposed himself to four hit by pitches. When the Padres signed Quentin to an extension rather than looking to move him in a trade, it raised a few eyebrows, but in a tight division, having another good player on the roster is looking pretty smart.

Quentin is joined in this journey with a revitalized Kyle Blanks. Injury and ineffectiveness have diminished Blanks’ stock over the last year, and the outfielder/first baseman was a non-entity entering this season. But, when called on, Blanks has come through.

In his first big league experience in 2009, Blanks launched ten home runs in 54 games. Through 56 games this season, he has 8 home runs. The similarity between the two seasons, separated by three lost years, is shocking. Runs: 24 in 2009, 25 in 2013. Doubles: 9 in each season. Walks: 18 in 2009, 16 in 2013. Strikeouts: 55 in 2009, and just 47 in 2013. His triple slash was .250/.355/.514 in 2009 and stands this year at .278/.350/.472 through approximately the same number of games this year. This is the guy who looked like a slugger whose power would play anywhere, even Petco Park, and San Diego fans are finally seeing him perform.

And that’s what’s amazing about this Padres team: the offense is where the talent lies. The rotation is the promising flamethrower Andrew Cashner and castoffs from the Island of Misfit Toys. Eric Stults, Jason Marquis, Edinson Volquez, and Clayton Richard round out a rotation without a big name.

While there are rumors of a trade with the Cubs for Matt Garza, so far the Friars have put together a run without anyone even approaching an ace to lead the rotation. Which take us to the last point: the Padres run isn’t a mirage built upon a weak schedule. They’ve won seven of their last nine games against teams with records over .500 and are performing against winning teams better than they have in either of the past two seasons.

In a division with a flawed Dodgers team, a Giants rotation that isn’t what it has been the last few years, and a Rockies club without Troy Tulowitzki, the Padres can’t be counted out.

Cross-posted at The Sports Post

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