Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Bandwagoners Are Back

I can't say that I didn't see this coming. Prior to the start of the 2009 season, fans were complaining, screaming and yelling about the Padres' payroll being cut and fielding a "minor league" team as a lot of people called them.

As soon as the Padres start coming back and winning games in dramatic fashion, those same fans are starting to come out of the woodwork and act like they knew this was possible the whole time.

No dis-respect to us fans who are the eternal optimists and show up to the ballpark every chance we get, but I just don't get people who jump off the bandwagon before they've even played a single game.

I can somewhat understand the impatience of some of the fans, getting a taste of celebrating an NL West Championship and the first round of the playoffs where anything is possible, but when you get beat by a better team, you just have to dust yourself off and get ready for next season.

This season was a little different than the past few off seasons. The team was coming off 99 losses, Trevor Hoffman was no longer a Padre, there were rumors that Jake Peavy was on his way out and Khalil Greene was traded to St. Louis, not exactly the kind of off season I was expecting.

Still, the Padres have a guy like Heath Bell that can step in and fill the closer's role nicely and has done just that in dominating fashion, closing out his first seven saves in seven chances. Then you bring in a new guy like Duaner Sanchez and between him and submariner Cla Meredith, you have two guys that can dominant setup men in the eighth inning.

On the offensive side of things, you add a spark plug in David Eckstein, a guy who plays his heart out and leaves everything on the field. A guy like that just gives your whole team a boost just being around him.

You know what you're going to get from Adrian Gonzalez, you know that guy can carry an offense on any given day. You're getting a full season from Jody Gerut, Chase Headley is a more mature player and from talking to people who saw him during spring training they say he just looks stronger than he did last season and he's starting to show that.

One new addition that we've yet to see is former Mets' outfielder Cliff Floyd who's been nursing a shoulder injury that he suffered during spring training. You get that guy a few spot starts here and there, set him behind Adrian Gonzalez with Chase Headley or Kevin Kouzmanoff following him and you've got a much better offense than this team had in 2008.

One player I've been disappointed with is right-fielder Brian Giles. In fourteen games, Giles is hitting just .172 (10/58) and has yet to hit his first home run of the 2009 season. His home run numbers have declined every year since his first full season in San Diego (2004). He hit twenty-four home runs in 2004, fifteen in 2005, fourteen in 2006, thirteen in 2007 and twelve in 2008 while he had his third highest number of at bats (559) since joining the team, so you can't tell me that it's due to fewer at bats.

The two biggest question marks for this team that still remain are the starting rotation and the bullpen. Staff ace Jake Peavy struggled last night against San Francisco, giving up six runs through six innings, Chris Young struggled his last outing giving up seven runs through just three and two-third innings. After them you have Kevin Correia and Shawn Hill while Josh Geer fills in for Walter Silva who's on the 15-day disabled list.

The problem with both Correia and Hill is, neither has pitched more than five innings in each of their first two starts. The Padres need to have both pitchers extend themselves into the sixth and seventh innings to keep from overworking their bullpen which has already started to happen.

Speaking of their bullpen, with names that most people have never heard of, that "overworking" has started to wear on them. Luke Gregerson, Edward Mujica and Edwin Moreno have all struggled over their last few appearances, Moreno more recently giving up a walk-off home run to Phillies' outfielder Raul Ibanez just this past week in a game the Padres led the whole way.

Gregerson started off fast, having a couple of dominant outings before a wild outing against Philadelphia brought his "stuff" into question, but he made a few adjustments and has been ok recently.

Mujica has also struggled to keep runners off base, giving up a pinch hit home run to Phillies' short stop Jimmy Rollins to pull the Phillies to within one run (4-3), the game that ended up getting away from San Diego in a 5-4 Phillies victory.

It's not exactly the bullpen's fault, especially if they can't get their starters into the sixth and seventh innings, it will put a whole lot less stress on them to perform night in and night out.

One last thing for you fans to remember from last season. Jake Peavy and Chris Young missed a significant number of games due to injury, that had a lot to do with the team's struggles. If those two guys can stay healthy, they won't get close to 100 losses, and with a different look to their offense, they will win games they didn't win last year.

So for all of those Padre fans that jumped off the bandwagon and were quick to call this a "100+ loss season," you probably should have looked at what contributed to their struggles last season and looked at the changes that were made for this season.

What ever happened to the mantra "We Believe?" This San Diego Padres team will surprise a lot of people, so for those of you who have jumped back on the bandwagon, I'm glad to have you back. Enjoy the ride, it will be a better season than we saw in 2008.

Believe it!

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