In the last season of Qualcomm Stadium, the Padres made a few moves to set themselves up for a successful inaugural run at Petco Park. First, they signed Mark Loretta from free agency before the 2003 season. It would end up being one of the best moves the Padres have made in this millennium. His 2004 campaign will go down as one of the best individual seasons by a Padres player as he batted .335 with a .391 on-base percentage and 6.0 WAR.
Injuries plagued Loretta in 2005, but that didn’t stop him from helping the Padres win the division- in 105 games, he hit .280. The Santa Monica native collected four hits in that season’s postseason series. After his three seasons with the Friars, he is mostly considered one of the franchise’s best second basemen.
In the middle of the 2003 season, the Padres did what they seemingly do better than most teams in baseball, and that is claim a pitcher off of waivers and turn him into a stud. They plucked middle reliever Scott Linebrink from the Astros and inserted him into their bullpen for the remainder of the 2003 season. All he did was post a 2.82 ERA and 141 ERA+ in 43 appearances.
Over the next three and a half seasons, Linebrink became one of the most reliable relievers in baseball. Between 2004 and 2007, he averaged 73 appearances with a 2.51 ERA and 157 ERA+. He was a vital part of setting up the end of the game for Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman.
In 2005, Linebrink put together one of the most impressive seasons by a Padres reliever when he pitched in 73 games with a microscopic 1.83 ERA and 211 ERA+.
Late in the 2003 season, the Friars swung another deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, sending Jason Bay among others in exchange for two-time All-Star Brian Giles. The El Cajon native provided instant juice to the lineup and led that 2005 playoff squad with a 147 OPS+ and 3.9 WAR. The Padres don’t win the division without Giles’ efforts.
Giles ended up playing six and a half seasons in San Diego and totaled 83 home runs with a 122 OPS+ and 17.4 total WAR, leading the team in 2005 and 2008. Giles is on the shortlist of players who directly impacted both division titles for San Diego during the decade.
Long only played in San Diego for that 2004 season, hitting an impressive .295. Hernandez was the key piece of the puzzle. He became the starting catcher for the first two seasons at Petco Park, including that 2005 playoff team. Hitting consistently as a catcher is very difficult to do, and Hernandez did it about as good as any Padres catcher in history. In those two seasons, he hit .283 with a 114 OPS+ and 5.6 WAR between those two campaigns.
The Venezuelan backstop was the standout in the lineup for the Friars during the 2005 Division Series. In the three postseason games, he hit .455 with a home run and a 1.266 OPS.
Another influential move was made that offseason as the Padres signed Japanese pitcher Akinori Otsuka. Right away, he became an invaluable piece to one of the strongest bullpens in Padres history. In 2004, he posted a minuscule 1.75 ERA and a 224 ERA+ in 73 games, earning him third place in voting for National League Rookie of the Year.
Otsuka became Trevor Hoffman’s setup man down the stretch as the Padres won the division in 2005 thanks to his 3.59 ERA in 66 games, finishing his two-year Padres career with 3.3 WAR. He pitched three scoreless innings in the three playoff games in 2005.
The Friars won 87 games in the first season in Petco Park history and finished five games out of the Wild Card spot. This strong season set up the exciting run of the next few years.
The Friars made a flurry of moves before the 2005 season began. They brought back shortstop Damian Jackson, who was a near everyday player for San Diego from 1999-2001. He was the ultimate Swiss Army knife for the 2005 squad, playing six different positions while posting a 1.4 WAR.
Rudy Seanez came aboard to bolster an already lethal bullpen. The 36-year-old boasted a 2.69 ERA and 144 ERA+ in 57 games, and he returned midway through the 2006 season and pitched in that postseason as well.
Woody Williams came back to San Diego in 2005 and 2006 and was a steady presence in that rotation, winning 21 games with a 4.28 ERA in those two years and made a start in each of the Division Series’.
Before the 2005 season started, the Friars made a deal with the recently crowned Red Sox for their hero postseason Dave Roberts. The Vista native became instrumental in both playoff runs for his hometown team.
He posted a .356 on-base percentage with 23 stolen bases in 2005 and homered in the Division Series.
In 2006, he had 3.0 WAR thanks to a .293 batting average and 49 stolen bases and then batted .438 with a triple in that postseason series.
Around the same time, the Friars acquired Roberts; they brought back bench player Mark Sweeney for the third time. The 35-year-old ended up having the best season of his career, playing in 135 games in 2005 with a .294 average, 135 OPS+, and 1.9 WAR. He went 2-for-3 with a double in the Division Series.
The season started with much optimism as the team rattled off 22 wins in May, boasting a 33-20 record heading into June.
Thanks to the rest of the National League West division having a down year, the Padres won the division title despite an underwhelming 82-80 record. Their reward was to face the reigning National League champion St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately, the Cardinals’ offense, led by Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds, was just too much, and the Friars were swept in three games.
Cameron had two successful seasons in San Diego and was a big reason why the Friars won 88 and 89 games during his stay. In 2006, he hit 22 home runs with .837 OPS and 121 OPS+. As an outfielder, Cameron displayed elite skills with the glove and, combined with his bat, posted a 4.4 WAR. He continued his success in 2007 with 3.2 WAR.
Before the 2006 season started, the Friars swung one of the biggest trades in team history. They sent Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka, and a minor leaguer to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Chris Young, outfielder Termel Sledge and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Sledge spent parts of two seasons in San Diego, never grasping an everyday role.
The two other players in the deal became franchise cornerstones for years to come.
First, the 6-foot-10 Young made an immediate impact on the 2006 playoff squad. With a 3.46 ERA and 117 ERA+, he earned a 3.0 WAR in 31 starts. In the playoffs, he turned in the best postseason pitching performance San Diego had seen since Kevin Brown in 1998. In Game 3 of the 2006 Division Series, the Padres were facing elimination at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. Young took the mound and refused to let the Friars be eliminated on his watch, tossing 6 2/3 brilliant innings, not allowing a run and striking out nine in what would be the Padres’ only playoff win to this day since 1998.
The Princeton alum pitched for the Padres for five seasons, totaling 489 strikeouts with a 110 ERA+ and 8.3 WAR.
On the offensive side, Gonzalez became one of the best hitters ever to wear a Padres uniform. The Eastlake High School alum smashed 161 home runs over five seasons, just two shy of the franchise record. His first season in San Diego was a booming success, helping the Friars make the playoffs with his 24 home runs, .304 average, and 127 OPS+. In the Division Series, he hit .357 with a .828 OPS in those four games.
Over his five years in San Diego, Gonzalez averaged 32 home runs and 100 RBI each season, with a 141 OPS+.
One of the most exciting moves the Padres made before the 2006 offseason was signing free agent and now Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza. Many wondered how much the then-37-year-old had left in the tank after 15 seasons behind the plate. It quickly became clear that he had plenty left as he homered in his first at-bat with the Padres and went on to play 126 games for that 2006 squad. He put together a 122 OPS+ with 22 home runs, second-most on the team, good enough for 3.0 WAR.
In the middle of the season, the Padres traded for catcher Josh Bard and reliever Cla Meredith. Meredith ended up being one of the best relievers in baseball with a 1.07 ERA and 382 ERA+ in 45 games down the stretch, helping the Padres steamroll towards the division title.
During the draft, the Friars selected pitcher Mat Latos in the 11th round. He blossomed into a big part of why the Padres won 90 games in 2010. He posted a 2.92 ERA in 31 starts, good enough for a 126 ERA+ and 3.2 WAR. He flamed out in San Diego after the 2011 and was dealt to the Reds for a few role players of the next decade of Padres baseball- Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Edinson Volquez.
The 2006 season was one to remember. The Friars went 88-74, tied with the Dodgers, but won the tiebreaker over L.A.
They met the Cardinals yet again in the playoffs. Thanks to Young’s efforts, the Padres were able to win a game in St. Louis, but once again, the Cardinals were too much to handle, ending a fun-filled season in the Division Series.
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