Padres Editorial: Hope & Despair Wearing the Padres Uniforms Once More
CAST your mind back to April 21. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning at Coors Field and the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies have been trading runs all night. Former San Diego backstop Nick Hundley has just clubbed a solo dinger of Padres closer Craig Kimbrel making it a nerve-shredding one run game. But soon after, the Padres’ new fireman gets Colorado infielder Daniel Descalso to pop out to shortstop Alexi Amarista saving the game as San Diego hold on for a narrow 7-6 success.
It is newcomer Kimbrel’s fifth save in a Padres uniform while three other off-season signings all made key contributions in the game: Matt Kemp made a great catch, Wil Myers hit an RBI single and Derek Norris clubbed a go-ahead two-run double. In their 15th contest of the season, it is the Padres’ 10th win against five losses, and at the end of proceedings that Tuesday they are joint-top of the National League West trailing the 9-4 Los Angeles Dodgers only on percentage points.
Flip the calendar forward and some 75 games later, things aren’t so rosy for the Friars. Their position atop of the division has long gone, and since that date in April, their winning percentage has plummeted from .667 to .456. In that spell of 75 games, the team lost 44 games – and their long-serving manager, Bud Black – and were in the ‘W’ column just 31 times for a winning percentage only a small bit north of 41%.
The traditional break for the Midsummer Classic is now upon us, and for Padres fans everywhere it appears to be another season – of many – to realize the fact that it ain’t going to be our year, once more. It’s really difficult to put my finger on why this seems to be the scenario. In seasons gone by, the quality of the roster made it pretty certain we wouldn’t be challenging for the division title, let alone a shot at a wild card birth.
Winters are traditionally grim, but for Padres fans this one was different. Suddenly, out of nowhere, General Manager A.J. Preller emerged bringing gifts that made many supporters wonder whether he was really Santa Claus in disguise. Over the months prior to the start of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, ballplayers of the caliber of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, James Shields, Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel were all of a sudden pictured wearing the colors of the San Diego Padres.
This collection of proven, top-notch players was extraordinary to behold – and the fact they were all going to play for San Diego really was something akin to all the fans’ Christmases coming at once. With Shields leading the impressive rotation of Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy, Norris providing great nous behind the plate as well as powerful bat when in front of it, an outfield of class and power led by Myers and Kemp and an absolute lights-out closer in Kimbrel, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, somehow, between that 10th win on April 21 and July 12, it just has. After a rapid start when he went 7-0, Shields has since found victories and run support in very short supply; Ross, Cash and Kennedy all have losing records; Myers has been cruelly sidelined through injury for weeks; Upton has sparkled enough to get him the nod as the Padres’ sole (again) representative on the National League’s All-Star roster, but he can bat better; and Kemp has taken far longer to settle than all of us would have wanted with a string of missed opportunities at the plate.
For me, it’s really just Norris and Kimbrel who have delivered what we all hoped for. The catcher has been a beast throwing out would-be base-stealers while having plenty of key hits earning him the nickname Norrisaurus Rex while the closer has converted all but one of his 24 save opportunities.
And therein lies the answer. The players, despite the fact they are in most cases a class above what we have been used to for most seasons, simply haven’t delivered when they have needed to. In addition, you can have a whole raft of superstar players banded together, but if they fail to gel, you don’t get a team. Of course, I have no knowledge of what the team spirit is like in the Padres’ clubhouse, but after the shambolic home series against the Seattle Mariners a couple of weeks ago, I had serious doubts about its health.
Leadership appeared conspicuous by its absence as the side were blanked over two consecutive games prior to a tough road trip to St Louis, Pittsburgh and Texas. As expected the Padres emerged out of those 10 games with a losing mark of 4-6; nevertheless, and maybe I’m being a touch optimistic, I did sense that one or two green shoots of recovery were starting to emerge and maybe there is team spirit after all.
Yes, they were swept by the excellent Pirates, but all three contests were very close; a four-game showdown with the Senior Circuit’s best team, the Cardinals, was split; and the Rangers were beaten two out of three times in Arlington, Sunday’s success one for the ages with Kimbrel earning his first four-out save for San Diego.
However, with the July 31 trade deadline almost upon us and the Padres still double-digits behind the Dodgers, it’s difficult to argue with the fact that we’re likely to be selling some of our stars once more. It’s a grim thought for all of us, but I guess this will be what will happen over the next week or so. And then it’s a case of seeing out the season with some respectability and look ahead to the next set of trades Preller will try to come up with.
At least there’s one event we can all look forward to next year – the Midsummer Classic at Petco Park. Mind you, whether the likes of Shields, Myers, Upton, Norris and Kimbrel will be there – and sporting Padres livery – is more difficult to answer.
I hope we somehow do manage to turn things around between now and October, but to go 40-32 for the remaining 72 contests is a big ask. And that would only take us to .500 at the season’s end.
But the way things stand right now, I’d gladly take it.
It’s simply up to the players. Whoever we’re left with.
Dad, husband, sports fan, journalist, partaker of the odd glass of wine, music & film lover. Yep, that’ll do for starters.