The first round has finished!

The first round of the brutal fight that is the Padres vs. Giants’ 18 contests in 2011 has completed, and it was full of excitement, as the series is always wont to do.

The home opener began with a pregame ceremony celebrating 75 years of professional baseball in San Diego, and featured historic Padre greats such as Randy Jones, Garry Templeton and of course, the legendary Trevor Hoffman, who emerged through the bullpen to his indomitable anthem, “Hell’s Bells,” like he had hundreds of times before. The sellout crowd of 43,000 at Petco, which in and of itself is always a stirring sight for me to see, gave Trevor a grand ovation!

Soon, it was game time, and our Padres played Padre baseball, scraping out a small-ball 3-1 win off of a sac fly, a bases-loaded walk, and an error by Madison Bumgarner scored as an infield hit. As the popular Giants blog “McCovey Chronicles” put it: they got “Padred” (http://www.mccoveychronicles.com/2011/4/5/2093379/post-game-thread-giants-lose-close-game-against-padres-that-didnt).

Aaron Harang was strong in his Padres debut, pitching six solid innings of one-run ball, and pitching his way out of a jam or two. Though he allowed a run in the first inning, he largely settled down after that, allowing only 3 singles after the 3rd inning, when the Giants posed their last real threat during the game. The bullpen, as expected, was dominant- “The Penitentiary” is back! Gregerson, Adams, Bell all worked their magic and the Padres won their 6th home opener in 8 seasons at Petco.

On Wednesday, Tim Stauffer (our new ace until Mat Latos returns to the mound) sought to follow up an excellent opening day start against the Cardinals. He ran into trouble early against Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey, spotting the stingy Tim Lincecum 3 runs of breathing room right off the start. Tim would only last 4 2/3 innings this time, allowing 10 hits and 4 earned runs.

Turning things over to the bullpen to keep the Padres in the game, Pat Neshek and Cory Luebke entered and promptly both gave up 2 runs each, and by the end of the 6th, it was 8-1 in San Francisco’s favor. This game was pretty much over… or was it? The Padres made things interesting in the 9th. When Giants closer Brian Wilson came in for his first appearance in 2011 (receiving a much too enthusiastic welcome from the way too many Giants fans at Petco yesterday), it was clear he still wasn’t quite up to his peak form- allowing a quick run and setting up the Padres to load the bases.

When Chase Headley socked a 2-run double that was only feet away from being a grand slam, he promptly was replaced by Jeremy Affeldt, who proceed to reload the bases, but also get the 2nd out of the inning. Rob Johnson came up with a chance to keep the rally going and… flew out to center, ending the game. It was unrealistic to think the Padres were going to overcome the 7-run deficit, but I was really happy to see the Padres make things interesting when their backs were against the wall.

It goes to show that this team believes in itself and each other. There is no quit in and on the 2011 Padres, and they will be a force to be reckoned with, just as they were last year. Any team that plays the Padres this year needs to realize that they will not be getting easy wins out of us! And on that note, I welcome the first Dodgers series of the season (which I will actually be able to watch up here!!). Let’s sweep the Doyers and get some momentum before facing the white-hot Reds!

2011 Has Begun!

2011 has started well for our San Diego Padres. After a pretty eventful offseason, and an up-and-down spring, our Padres began their campaign in St. Louis, a team that
has always been a thorn in the Padres’ side.

I was extremely excited and very happy that opening day from Busch Stadium was going to be nationally televised, as being from the Inland Empire prevents me from seeing the vast majority of Padres games live. I bought a new Padres shirt for this year’s games and I was ready and raring to go! My team didn’t let me down- they delivered an exciting, thrilling, and typically stressful at times game. We saw contributions from the new players- Bartlett and Hudson showed us their chemistry in the middle of the infield, Maybin was heroic in center and behind the plate, and new pitchers Qualls and Neshek finished off the Cardinals to spoil their home opener.

To describe the feeling I felt as I watched Maybin hit a deep fly ball to center field in the bottom of the 9th, an out away from a one-run loss isn’t very difficult- elation. I jumped, I yelled, I clapped my hands. It was similar to the reaction I had when the Chargers in 2009 beat the Giants with a last second touchdown with only seconds left on the clock (or when the Chargers beat the Colts in the 2008 playoffs with Darren Sproles’ “walk-off” TD run).

The Padres finished the job in the 11th inning, taking advantage of a St. Louis defensive miscue to score the go-ahead runs, and allow Heath Bell to effortlessly close the door like he did 47 times last year.

Saturday’s game showed the offensive potential and the situational hitting abilities of this year’s team, properties that I think will be showing a lot more than they did on last year’s team. The game went back and forth until the 5th, when the Padres exploded for 6 runs. Chase Headley added his 1st home run of the year in the 9th as icing on the cake. 11-3 beatdown final! It kept me in a good mood as I visited the beautiful city of Santa Barbara for the first time to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

Yesterday’s game wasn’t so great, with the Padres getting shut down on 4 hits by Jaime Garcia, who threw a complete game to prevent the sweep. Despite the loss, Dustin Moseley, the offseason acquisition from the Yankees, pitched 7 strong innings of 1-run ball, and excellent defense displayed itself again.

The Padres came away from St. Louis with a very rare series win, their first in that stadium since 2006. The Padres now open their season at home tomorrow against the now-hated San Francisco Giants, the World Series champions. Every fan in Petco Park tomorrow will know in the back of their minds that the Padres opened the door for that unlikely run, and judging from the record turnout at the FanFest back in February, I can tell that our fans in San Diego are fired and ready for Padres baseball! The Padres’ 2011 has begun, and may it not end until they win that 4th game of the Fall Classic in October!

My theory on why San Diego sports teams are “cursed”

Forgive me for the very very long absence since my last entry, life caught up with me after the unfortunate end to the Padres season on October 3rd. I began a new job and my large class load got into full swing about that time, and I had to watch with growing resentment as the Giants pitched their way to a World Series title that we, in a way, opened the door for.

Though it was tough to see that division rival take it all, it was also encouraging because it showed that a team very similar to the Padres could be successful in the postseason and take it all. In my opinion, if the Padres make smart moves this offseason, they will make the playoffs in 2011.

Meanwhile, some guy recently uploaded clips of several key Yankees highlights from the Padres-Yankees 1998 World Series, and something dawned on me as I watched:

Every time the Padres or Chargers make a deep postseason run, they
always compete against the once-in-a-generation brilliant team of the
moment- the ’84 Tigers, the ’98 Yankees, the ’94 49’ers, and the ’07
Patriots.

There was not a better baseball team in the 80s
than the ’84 Tigers, who began their season 35-5, something no other
team has even remotely approached.

There was not a better
baseball team in the 90s than the ’98 Yankees, who won 125 games
(including playoffs) in that season, not to mention a perfect game.

There
was not a better football team in 1994 (Dallas had better teams in the
90s, but not in 1994) than the 49ers with Steve Young hungry to prove
himself and show the doubters that he could win a championship just like
Joe Montana.

There was not a better football team in the
2000s than the ’07 Patriots (as much as I hate to say it), who were
seemingly unbeatable that season (until of course the oh so sweet Super
Bowl loss!).

The Padres and Chargers weren’t playing fluke
teams that got lucky one year, like in Indy, Pittsburgh, and New
England’s recent Super Bowl wins, or the Phillies, Red Sox, and Giants
World Series wins. San Diego’s team had the bad luck of facing the best
team the players would likely face at any point in their careers.

And let it be noted that despite these exceptionally difficult opponents, San Diego held their own and made the games/series competitive, even in the ’98 World Series sweep or the 49-26 defeat in Super Bowl XXIX.

This
isn’t even to mention other “acts of God” that have unfortunately
stopped SD teams in their tracks, most notably in 1981; the Chargers won
the Epic in Miami (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Epic_In_Miami),
considered one of the best (and most oppressively hot and humid) games
of all time, then followed that immediately by playing the coldest game
in NFL history the next week in Cincinnati, where the wind chill was
-59F, and the ball froze several times.

Another example is the excruciating and completely inexplicable 10-game losing streak the Padres suffered in August this year, a blemish on an otherwise great year, but unfortunately a blemish that led to the derailment of a promising season and the strongest Padres team in 3 years.

Will the San Diego Chargers or Padres bring a championship to this great city? Yes, I believe they will, and possibly both will eventually, but until they do, we will, like Cleveland, Chicago and Boston (until 2004) have to speculate about why our city seems so “cursed” and do our best to show our boys at Petco and Qualcomm that we’re here to see them win it all!

This is it- the final battle!

…and the Padres could not have made it more difficult for themselves.

Here’s how the Padres get in: they must sweep the Giants, plain and simple. And the
Braves must lose 2 of 3 to force at best Wild Card tiebreaker, a game 163 like in 2007, which would take place on Monday, October 4th in San Diego.

If
the Padres sweep the Giants and the Braves get swept, they’re not only in, but because the
Padres have won the season series, they’ll be NL West champs.

The most complicated scenario is this: The Padres sweep the Giants and the Braves lose 2 of 3 to the Phillies. If this happens, the Padres, Giants and Braves will all be 91-71, which
would necessitate not one tie-breaker, but TWO- one for the NL West, and
the other for the Wild Card.

If the Padres sweep and the Braves win 2 of 3 from the Phillies, the Padres are out.

ANY loss by the Padres in
this series makes San Francisco NL West champs, and simult
aneously eliminates them, no matter what the Braves do.

So why am I still excited for this series? What is it about me that still clings on to the last thin fiber of hope left? I don’t know honestly. I’ve been a San Diego sports fan for 15 years, this is not the first time I’ve been here before. The 2008 Chargers season and the 2007 Padres season are still fresh in my mind.

I guess it’s because I want it so bad, for myself, and for the players who had busted their butts all season to just have a chance. The Padres proved everyone wrong this year, and to have a chance in the postseason and prove themselves is all anyone who has watched this terrific year wanted.

The team in a way is a microcosm of us- the daily struggles, the triumphs, the incredible frustrations, the emotions, the situations that call for us to show our character and resolve. That’s why we relate and invest into our team(s) so emotionally. Is it rational? Not really. The rational thing would be to always root for the team that wins. But like life, the idea of loyalty is something that is paramount.

I, and thousands of others, will be loyal to the Padres like I would be to a friend or family member. I will wish the Padres success and support them and encourage them like I would friend or family member. It’s a complex relationship- if the worst happens this weekend, I and the other Padres fans will be hurt. But the true fans will forgive, take away tremendous pride from the great season we had, and be optimistic for 2011.

And of course, if the improbable (but NOT impossible) happens, I will be there, watching, hoping, cheering! And of course, mildly scolding for giving me the usual high blood pressure that comes with following San Diego teams.

So I say… let’s make this weekend epic!

Padres Regain Sole Possession of 1st!

The Padres regained sole possession of 1st place in the NL West in just about the most exciting way possible today! The Padres pitching stepped up big time, allowing only three hits and (if I recall correctly) not letting a San Francisco baserunner past 3rd base. The offense, as always, was just enough. Some great defense, especially the double play to end the 6th inning San Francisco threat, was peppered in to make a great game.

The atmosphere was great, with a near sellout of 41,123. The weather was beautiful, and the Padres were pumped up. Let me start by talking about Tim Stauffer. I can not say enough good things about him! Twice in the last week, he has stepped up big time with a spot start and given excellent performances to keep San Diego in the game. Today, there is almost nothing he could have done better, with the exception of the jam he got into in the first inning (but even then, he escaped it completely unscathed, which is the mark of an excellent pitcher!). He’s really stepped up in September as Bud Black has tinkered with the potential postseason rotation.

The bullpen continued the dominance today with 3 no-hit innings from Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, and Heath Bell. And thank god it did, given the state of the Padres offense recently! Things got interesting in the 9th when Bell hit Aubrey Huff with a high inside pitch. Huff had been hit the night before by a Clayton Richard fastball, and eventually came around to score. This time, though, Bruce Bochy subbed in a young man named Darren Ford, who had shown his ability for smart and fast baserunning in a win over the Rockies earlier this month.

Bell quickly ran the count to 0-2 against Buster Posey. Finally, Ford ran. Bell dealt, Posey swung and missed and Yorvit Torreabla made himself the hero of the game by throwing out Ford to end the contest. It was a thing of beauty to see Bell, Torrealba, Tejada, and even Eckstein and Headley all pumped up, jumping and yelling after the last out. This wasn’t just a great victory to put us ahead in the standings, it was a great morale victory.

Now we put our ace Mat Latos on the mound tomorrow against Tim Lincecum. This is likely to be another low-scoring affair, but with Latos on the mound, it is likely to be in the Padres favor. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Congratulations Cory Luebke!

Padres rookie Cory Luebke, called up from AAA Portland on the 1st of this month, won his first major league game tonight with a masterful 6-inning, two hit shutout performance against the Dodgers in San Diego. He struck out seven and did not allow a Dodger baserunner past 3rd base.

While I’m still not sold on Luebke, this was a great case in his favor. Would I want him on our postseason rotation? If he continues pitching like he did tonight, I can see him being the 4th or 5th starter.

So what next for the Padres? The sweep of the Dodgers has been completed, so now we face the Giants, starting with Jon Garland facing Matt Cain. Garland got roughed up in his last start against the Rockies, but I like his chances against the Giants tonight, who are coming in off a weak series win against the Diamondbacks which included a sloppy loss tonight. Three Padres victories in this series is a realistic outcome, and we can end this weekend back to a comfortable 5 games ahead of San Francisco.

Meanwhile, someone please beat the Rockies before San Diego flies out there! I’m a little unnerved that they appear to be sparking one of their characteristic September runs. No matter what happens, can’t wait for tomorrow’s game, and I hope many of you are too! There better be a lot more than 20,000 people at these next four games!

Some Perspective on the Sweep

This weekend was tough to watch, for a lot of reasons. I personally am not in love with the Phillies, having spent my summers raised in a Mets household. These games had a playoff atmosphere, and we were swept, which for the more nervous fan, is not a good sign. Also, this gives hope to those who want to see the Padres fall like they’ve been predicting all year.

That is why I’m going to show some stats that will comfort even the most skittish Padres fan and (in theory) get even the most ardent hater to admit that this sweep meant little in the grand scheme of things. Behold:

Streaks.jpg

What is the common denominator of all of these teams? They are the last five World Series winners. I placed this year’s Padres team with them to show how they compare. What can we learn from these figures?

  1. Teams that are consistent are successful. Streaky teams are flashy, but rarely make it deep in the playoffs, like the 2002 Oakland A’s, who won 20 games in a row at one point in the season (and 16 of 17 at another point), or the 2001 Seattle Mariners (who won 116 games that years on streaks of 15, 9, 8, and 7). Though the Mariners made it to the ALCS, both teams amazing regular seasons ended in a disappointing fashion. All the teams here have been remarkably consistent throughout the regular season, neither winning nor losing large batches of consecutive games.
  2. The Cardinals demonstrated in 2006 that the players are much more important than the win-loss record, when they won the World Series with a record weaker (83-78) than any other championship team in history. David Eckstein of the Padres knows this more than anyone else. Before he went on to be the World Series MVP, he had to endure 9 home sweeps, two separate 8-game losing streaks, another 7-game losing streak and the complete skepticism of the entire league regarding his team’s chances in the postseason.

The Padres have the consistency these other teams have shown. They have depth and considerable talent in the four main aspects- pitching, hitting, baserunning and defense. The Padres have shown themselves to be playing on a level that only the past two NL-pennant winning teams the Padres fielded 12 and 26 years ago respectively have matched.

The Padres hit a rough patch, but that’s all it shall be. A bright September awaits us, the Friar Faithful!

14-1

14-1.

Following today’s 7-3 win over the Brewers in Milwaukee, that stat is the current Padres record in 2010 in games following two consecutive losses. 15 times, the Padres have faced a potential sweep by an opponent, and 14 times, the Padres have spoiled that attempt.

Read that again. It seems weird to read when its August 22nd, but read that again. The Padres have been swept exactly once all season. To put that in perspective, last year’s World Championship New York Yankees (who won 103 games) got swept six times, several by sub-.500 teams. The lone Padres sweep this year seems like a distant memory, and in a way, it is. That lone blemish occurred over three months ago to the rival Dodgers, over three somewhat gloomy afternoons/evenings at Petco. The Padres have not allowed that to happen again.

And there’s no real secret to why or how it’s happening. The Padres just play their brand of fundamentally good baseball- great defense, great pitching (especially after the 6th inning), and timely hitting.

That, to me, is what makes this team special. No team wins 162 games per season. Any team, even the best, is going to encounter adversity and rough patches throughout the season. The way a team handles that adversity and it’s ability to overcome that adversity is the hallmark of a great team. Like Mike Bauman said in his column written today (“Persistent Padres not going away”)-

“The Padres have been in first place in the NL West continuously since
June 18. The distinct impression they are leaving is that this is where
they are supposed to be.”

Dear Jonathan Sanchez: Our bad

On behalf of the Padres, I’d like to say sorry for embarrassing you last night! You’ve gotta feel red in the face after we beat you! I understand your frustration with the Padres though. It’s tough to play a team 4 times, give up 5 runs (including a game where you gave up a single infield hit), and only win one of those games- by throwing a no-hitter.

So, to you Jonathan Sanchez, we (the Padres and the fans) apologize to you for making your life so difficult and for making you look like an idiot.

Oh wait, no we don’t.

PS. Every Giants fan should be thanking whatever deity they believe in that for the first time in several years, the NL East is weak, otherwise they wouldn’t even be dreaming of the wild-card spot.

PPS. Weird play, that interference call on Hairston in the 4th. I had to look up what playing under protest meant, but glad that the Padres pulled the win to render it moot. That play could easily have been called obstruction on the fielder’s part as well, so it would have been interesting to see how that would have played out.

Ludwick, Tejada and the Dodgers!

A very interesting weekend for the Padres ended with a nice 5-4 win. On Thursday, when we walked-off against the Dodgers, we were all wondering whether Jed Hoyer was going to make a move before the deadline after all, and we were debating whether that would be a good or bad thing.

Today, three days later, we have acquired a veteran in Miguel Tejada who is 10 months removed from a 199-hit season and an All-Star berth and a second power threat in Ryan Ludwick that will help protect Adrian Gonzalez.

I was thrilled to hear about both acquisitions, especially Ludwick, for several reasons. First, it’s an awesome feeling in general to know the Padres are finally in a position to add to the team, not subtract. Second, both players have reputations as great players who know how to play the game and who give 100% every day. And finally, these acquisitions inject much-needed potential for offense into our lineup, which (as much as I love the Padres), before this weekend, really scared nobody.

Even better, both men have began to produce from day one. Though Tejada is still without a hit in his first 5 Padres at-bats, he has walked twice and made it count, scoring both times. Ludwick smacked a solid single in his first at-bat (pinch-hitting too!), and scored what ended up being the winning run in the game.

I look forward to more great performances by both of them, and I’m antsy to see who we can pick up from waivers in the next month. Hopefully another good starting pitcher. If we do so, I think we’ll have a great chance at a deep playoff run! The home stretch of the season is upon us- we started it off yesterday on the right foot beating Florida, now let’s knock LA out of the race for good over the next 4 days!!!

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