FriarBall: September 2007

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Trevor hands D-backs NL West

Most Pads fans will attest to the fact that when it's Trevor Time, it's not necessarily and 3-and-out event. More than any other closer in history, Trevor Hoffman has come in to close out games and assure SD a notch in the win column. But we all know that there is usually some excitement in the process.

Well Hoffman made things interesting Saturday and instead of the Padres clinching a playoff spot, the blown save in the ninth lead to a Milwaukee win and Arizona winning the division. Luckily for SD they still only have to win the final game of the season to lock up the playoffs, but it still would be nice to have that part of the season wrapped up. What irony is it that Tony Gwynn Jr. hit the game-tying triple?

While Arizona has played well above expectations and has earned its playoff spot, the thing that frustrates me is that because the entire NL is mediocre this year, the D-hacks have the best record and have secured home field advantage until the World Series. Nothing like helping out your enemy.

Things still stay dicey if the Pads can't win tomorrow, with a potential four-team playoff a possibility to sort out the wild card. Despite the fact he is ineligible for the playoff roster, Brett Tomko will play the biggest role for multiple teams. Let's hope his role is that of heartbreaker - to the other teams still hoping to get in.

Friday, September 28, 2007

True playoff excitement

While listening to ESPN Radio on my drive home last night, an interesting scenario was brought up. Apparently, if the Pads, D-hacks, Mets, Phils and Rockies all finish the season with the same record, it would extend the season until Oct. 4 because it would take that long to play enough games to sort out the mess. Now that's what I call playoff fever!

Another big win for SD on Thursday (of course every win is huge at this point) but the best part was that Jack Cassel went a whole 4 2/3 in his start. Amazingly he only gave up two runs before he was pulled but it seems like when Cassel starts, it's more of a bullpen start. Hopefully there is only one more of those in our immediate future.

With the final three games also in Milwaukee, this will be the series that defines the season. The Pads have maintained their lead in the wild card up to this point but that is no guarantee as we are facing a Brewers squad that is also fighting desperately to keep its playoff aspirations alive. Should make for a tough end to the season but as the saying goes: "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." Hopefully we're strong enough to survive this.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The race is not over yet

Just when you think "settling" for a wild card spot was the best the Pads could do, a two-game win streak over San Fran (thanks in part to a big home run by Brian Giles) has us back to within one of the NL West lead.

Now I know that the lead is still really two games because AZ holds the tie breaker, but apparently these guys still want to win after all, even if we will have no OFs to play once we get to the playoffs. Does anyone else think its weird we picked up Jason Lane to play for us for a week this season?

This is what makes baseball exciting this time of year and it will be great to see how all of this plays out. So remain on the edge of your seat and keep sending your good vibes towards the Friars. They're going to need it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The pack has finally caught up

Wow, it's time to get off this runaway train before it hits a burning building.

What seemed like an almost sure thing in July and even August has become a possibility as the Pads are no longer solely on top in the NL wild card race. What happened to this team that was at one point a trendy pick by writers to be in the World Series? Is there one moment this season that set the stage for the collapse that has taken place since?

Despite the late struggles of the rotation, the Pads are still the best in the NL in terms of pitching. They are the only team with a collective ERA under 4.00 (3.63) and have compiled 20 shut outs this season. Offensively SD is towards the bottom of the league but runs have been coming a lot easier lately - and so are the losses.

The talent on this team now, I feel, is a lot better than what we started the season off with but it doesn't seem to have made a huge impact. Did Chris Young's injury really affect the race that much? I don't want to say our season has come down to one player's oblique but things haven't been the same, with Young or the team, since that injury occurred.

Kevin Towers released David Wells because he was too taxing on the pen but look at what's happened since then. Not only have the Pads been able to find a successful No. 5 starter but Justin Germano has been ineffective too. It makes me feel like if Boomer was still here at least we wouldn't be worried about two starters making it to the second. We could be comfortable until the fourth.

But the struggles are related to more than just the pitching staff. I would say Milton Bradley's constant health battles have also kept the team inconsistent. I still think this was a great pickup (yes, even after he blew up and Bud Black had to put on a WWE clinic to restrain him, injuring him in the process) but if he could have stayed on the field the Pads may still have a small cushion in the wild card. But again, one injury does not a team's struggles make.

SD seemed to make it through two month's of Adrian Gonzalez struggling but what about the fact that Josh Bard, Marcus Giles, Michael Barrett and a third outfielder have not been every day players like we need. I'm not bagging on Bard, he has played far better than I think we've expected, but Barrett was brought in so we wouldn't have to use Bard every day and Giles can't keep Geoff Blum off the field.

Looking at this club, it seems that injuries and season-long slumps - along with stellar play by a young Arizona club that wasn't supposed to contend this year - have finally caught up to the Padres and unless some real playoff magic happens, they could be at home in October for the first time since 2004.

I'm not one to loose faith in my team but right now it's hard to fight the urge to say 2007 was fun while it lasted, let's hope 2008 is finally the year. So instead let's start praying for a playoff miracle.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Winning clutch games

Between watching the chases for the various division pennants and with the start of football season, it has occurred to me - and maybe that's just because I'm slow - that there are certain franchises that just win clutch games.

The most obvious example of this for me is an NFL one (sorry guys), the New England Patriots (sorry again). It doesn't seem to matter what hype is surrounding what upstart team, the Pats just seem to get the job done and are a constant contender for the Super Bowl.

The best examples of this in baseball come from the AL East (here's the third apology) and you guys know who they are. But what about in the NL? It seems there has been a changing of the guard of some sort in the NL with no team really establishing itself like Atlanta had done for about 14 years.

All three division leaders are struggling towards the postseason and the biggest opening is for the Pads, only a 1/2 game behind Arizona. We've been a playoff team a few times the last decade but now is the time for the Padres. With 10 games left it's time to see how clutch this group is and if they can put it all together, they could establish themselves as the team to beat in the NL in 2008 and beyond.

Obviously looking that far ahead is a little far reaching at this point but this organization seems to be on the verge of doing something special and my only plea is for these guys to focus the rest of the way. When these guys are on they can beat the best teams in the league but they have struggled against teams like tonight's opponent Colorado.

This is the point of the season where legendary tales begin and SD is in the position to write a true epic. It all comes down to how bad these guys want it and how well they are willing to play for it. If I am Arizona I am peeing my pants right now because the Pads are in the best spot they can be in. I smell the playoffs and a division title.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How the West is being won

It's been a week since my last post and the first thing I wanted to say is that I am still here. As I have been scurrying through the week trying to get things done for my real job, I have been reflecting on my blogging journey so far this year.

When I started blogging I wanted to try and post at least once a day and while I have had stretches where I have posted day after day, I have also gone a couple of days between posts too. It's amazing how simple something as writing a couple of sentences every day about the Padres can seem until you actually sit down to do it. It just makes me admire the guys who actually post multiple times a day even more.

I have had other struggles along the way too and as I sit and think about this I can't help but think about how similar my path has been to the Padres. There have been ups-and-downs for both of us all year and hopefully when the end of the regular season comes, we will both be preparing for the postseason.

Speaking of the Pads, once again they are closing in on the NL West title. Just when you think we have to settle for the wild card the Padres sweep the Giants and get right back into things.

At this moment the Padres are trying to close out a second straight win against the Pirates and it doesn't help but remind me of how the Pads have been playing lately. When they face the best competition, they play at the top of their game but when they get the "easy" games, they seem to fall flat on their faces. They have done better in September, but with only a handful of games left, you have to beat the teams you are supposed to beat.

This is the time of year when we see the true character of a team and depending on how the Padres make the playoffs should tell us a lot about what to expect when they get there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rocked in Colorado

It's a good thing the Friars had an off day because their performance in Colorado is not what you want to see out of a team fighting for the playoffs. And if it wasn't for Greg Maddux the Pads would really be hurting.

If these guys expect to make it further than the first round in the playoffs (or even make the playoffs at the rate they are going), they need to win games, especially against teams that are trying to get ahead of them in the Wild Card race. It's hard to believe that earlier in the week a NL West title was still a possibility. Now I am just hoping we aren't witnessing a monumental collapse. It's hard to believe that it was only June when SD had the best record in baseball.

We should be relieved that Jake Peavy will take the hill to open a 3-game set in LA (especially since he is pitching on normal rest), but with the way this season has been going, nothing surprises me anymore. This LA series is just as important as the last two (Arizona and Colorado) so let's hope our boys don't choke.

If you squint hard enough, the playoffs are still in sight.

Friday, September 7, 2007

You definitely need a scorecard to tell these guys apart

I spent today's off day transferring files from my old computer to my new one and while doing so I came across the San Diego Union-Tribune's "Meet your 2007 Padres" page and realized that this team is nothing like it was back in April.

Of the 25 players on the opening day roster, seven players are currently not on the roster (two have spent most of the season in the minors but are on the 40-man roster), one has shuttled back and forth all season between the minors and the Padres and two of the starters have lost their jobs.

As fans we all applaud the job Kevin Towers has done as the season goes along, but looking at these changes wholesale, the job he has done seems even better. Replacing guys like Jose Cruz Jr., Rob Bowen, Russell Branyan, David Wells and Scott Linebrink with Milton Bradley, Michael Barrett, Morgan Ensburg, Rob Mackowiak and Justin Germano may not sound like much (and we may be missing Wells as we search for a No. 5 starter) but these moves have kept the Padres within striking distances while the Diamondbacks seem to be having a "team of destiny" type season playing well beyond their talent. Personally I would much rather be battling for the division title to the wire than sitting here trying to determine what happened to the promising season the Padres appeared to be having at the end of May.

No matter how much we want it to happen, not every move made by Towers will work out in our favor but with his track record, chances are the moves will work out more often than not. The same goes for wins - the Pads may not win them all but they need to be winning more games than they lose at this point. And if that happens, we should be enjoying another postseason.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The old college try

I hand it to Jake Peavy for trying to help out the team by starting on short rest and keep the Padres in first in the division.

It's just too bad he had his worst outing of the season while trying to be the hero. I didn't see the game live but it looked on Gameday Live that Peavy had some location issues. It looked for a while that he might have been ok with the Padres up 5-3 going into the fifth inning but then he and Doug Brocail surrendered the lead and SD lost ground.

Obviously this loss isn't the end of the season but it sure stings. The offense should stay hot with a trip to Colorado up next but it seems what the Pads really need now is for its starters to get hot. Justin Germano is next up while the Rockies throw out Elmer Dessens and his 8.10 ERA.

These next few weeks are key (as if it wasn't obvious) and right now the Pads need as many wins as they can get. Hopefully the rotation will hold together long enough to get to the postseason.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Looking for any degree of seperation

It's time for that roller coaster feeling again. After a great Monday in which SD took a lead on Arizona, the Diamondbacks tied things right back up on Tuesday, their offense the one that exploded for 9 runs.

Wednesday's game is the last meeting between the two teams for the rest of the season and it's a good things too as I am tired of seeing these guys make mediocre Doug Davis look like Roger Clemens.

The most interesting part about the Pads lately is that it seems the team's biggest strength is now a concern. I would never have imagined that the losses of David Wells and Scott Linebrink would punch so many holes in the pitching staff but apparently Kevin Towers is looking for solutions in the form of callups and retreads like Brett Tomko. Tomko actually has Davis-like numbers for his career with a record of 91-91 and a 4.62 ERA.

Regardless of the outcome, the NL West will be fun to watch down the stretch and hopefully Lady Luck will shine on the Friars.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Padres take another from D-backs, Maddux on way to 400 wins?

Winning 2 of 3 from the Dodgers and picking up another win from Arizona is just how I want to see this team head into the playoffs.

All of the worrying we did in July seems to be going away now and despite the fact we have no permanent fixture in the No. 5 starter hole doesn't seem to be stopping the Pads, who have finally woken up this season offensively. Did they really hit 5 home runs against the Diamondbacks Monday? And where did Brian Giles get all that power from? I thought his power hitting days were over.

Even though we got another great performance from Greg Maddux, I saw this article on the Padres official Web site and thought it was a tad premature. I mean, does picking up win No. 344 at age 41 really warrant a story on going for 400 wins?

I would love to see Maddux hit this milestone but with the way he has tired around the sixth inning in about half of his starts this season, I think it is unrealistic to think Maddux will pitch more than two more years, picking up 56 wins in the process.

As a working member of the media, I am embarrassed when stuff like this happens but I guess it always seems to happen. At this point in the season, whether Maddux will make it to 400 wins is irrelevant, but his pitching of late has been anything but.

Let's hope this battle for the NL West continues to go well and that the Padres can keep picking up these key wins. And if Maddux - or anyone else - reaches a milestone in the process, that will make these wins that much more exciting.