48 and 36. Those are the two numbers that give San Diego fans hope entering 2013.
48 wins and 36 losses - The Padres record in their final 84 games last season. It flew largely under the radar as the team began the 2012 season with a dismal 28-50 record, but there were absolutely signs that this team was improving as the year went on. The last time the Padres did this in a down year was 2009. That season, they went 37 - 25 in their final 62 games and ended up with 75 wins; an almost identical number to the 76 wins they had in 2012.
San Diego's strong 2009 finish was mostly ignored, but to the surprise of many, it helped spark a 90 win season in 2010. Not only that, but if it wasn't for a spectacular collapse down the stretch (14-23 from late August on) in which they gift wrapped the division to the Giants, they could have easily won 95 or more games.
So now we must ask, is history about to repeat itself? The Padres certainly were getting better in the second half last year, and nowhere was that more evident than in their offensive production by month.
The Padres don't have a star-studded lineup, and the productive players they do have constantly see their numbers squashed by the cavernous park they call home. (Look no further than San Diego's home / road home run splits from last season to see this in action. The Padres launched 74 bombs away from Petco, but just 47 at home.) However, when you start to break down their lineup position by position, it's really not bad at all.
Chase Headley leads the way as he's quietly become one of the best in the game at the hot corner, and if he can duplicate his 2012 numbers, he might start being considered one of the top 15 players in the game period. (In 2012, Headley hit 31 home runs, drove in a league leading 115 runs, posted a 145 wRC+, and a 7.5 fWAR)
Beyond that, the Padres have a whole host of solid bats that shouldn't give away many easy outs. Yonder Alonso is still just 25 and has high upside potential after a decent rookie year in 2012, Carlos Quentin is productive when he's healthy, Will Venable and Chris Denorfia should make an excellent platoon in right field, Logan Forsythe possesses a real knack for getting on base (even if his power is lacking), and both Everth Cabrera and Cameron Maybin are middle of the road bats when you compare them against others who play their positions.
In fact, their biggest problem offensively is catcher now that their young star Yosmani Grandal is suspended for the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Once he's inserted back into the lineup, the Padres may actually have an offense that ranks in the top half of the league.
This won't be the only reason for an increase in Padre runs at Petco this season. The club is also brought in the fences in the gaps, in left center field by 12 feet (402' to 390') and in right center field by 11 feet (402' to 391') in an attempt to balance the way the park plays.
San Diego executive Ron Fowler explained the club's thoughts earlier in the off season.
"Our goal is to move Petco Park away from being the most extreme run suppressing ballpark in Major League Baseball. After an extensive study, it became clear to all of us that some change was needed. Petco will still be a pitcher's park; however, it will no longer be the extreme outlier."
So everything's looking good for this team right? They are about to shock the world again right?
Well, not exactly. Unlike 2010, this team's starting pitching is a mess. Right now, their projected rotation is expected to be the very hittable Clayton Richard, the very walk prone Edinson Volquez, the very bad on the road Anthony Bass, and some combination of Eric Stults, Andrew Cashner, Jason Marquis, and Casey Kelly. All of these arms were below average in 2012 with the exception of Stults, and I wouldn't expect him to repeat the 2.92 ERA he put up a year ago.
In conclusion, this team actually has several similarities to the Rockies (They're just difficult to see because the parks they play in are such opposites.) Both clubs should have a solid offense, both clubs have major question marks in the starting rotation, both clubs have a solid back half of the bullpen, and both clubs did very little this off season in hopes that improvement will come from within. It should be interesting to see which club comes out ahead using this strategy in 2013.
I'll leave you now with a list of San Diego's very uneventful additions and subtractions this winter.
RHP Wilfredo Boscan
OF Travis Buck
RHP Brandon Kloess
IF Cody Ransom
LHP Chris Rearick
RHP Tyson Ross
RHP Cory Burns
1B Nate Freiman
RHP Dustin Moseley
RHP Micah Owings
IF Andy Parrino
LHP Andrew Werner