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March 16, 2011

On the Beat

Unfinished Business in San Diego

by John Perrotto

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PEORIA, Arizona—Chase Headley normally watches most of Major League Baseball's postseason. However, the Padres' third baseman had a hard time watching playoff games last fall. It became even more difficult for him to watch as the postseason progressed.

The Giants made a surprising run to a World Series title and it tore at Headley.

"I kept thinking it could have been us," he said.

The Padres lost the National League West to the Giants on the last day of the season. They squandered a 6 ½-game lead on August 25 by going on a 10-game losing streak. Furthermore, the Padres held a 12-6 advantage over the Giants in the teams' season series.

"We had a lot of success against them and that was toughest part of seeing them win it all," Headley said. "I know we stumbled in September but I really believe that we could have done what the Giants done in the postseason. We were as good as they were. We had the pitching staff to do it."

If anything positive came from missing the postseason in such frustrating fashion, it's that the Padres' competitive edge has grown sharper. Getting the postseason door slammed in their face in the final seconds of the season makes them want to kick the door in this year.

However, there is one catch to the Padres' attempt to go one step further than last season. They no longer have first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, having traded him to the Red Sox last December because they knew they would be unable to afford to re-sign him as a free agent after this season.

With Gonzalez last season, the Padres managed just 4.10 runs a game, which ranked 12th in the NL and 22nd in the majors. Gonzalez put up a .324 TAv and hit 31 home runs in 693 plate appearances. His 6.5 WARP was nearly double any other Padres hitter, as Headley was second with a 3.4 mark.

It would seem impossible for the Padres to have a better offense without Gonzalez. However, they believe their lineup is better balanced following an offseason in which they added first basemen Jorge Cantu and Brad Hawpe, second baseman Orlando Hudson, shortstop Jason Bartlett, and center fielder Cameron Maybin.

"There are very few players who could provide the type of production Adrian Gonzalez gave us," Headley said. "However, I think we're much more solid one to eight in the batting order than last season. We're deeper and that's going to make us a better offense."

That is somewhat of a leap of faith. While Hudson (3.6 WARP last season) and Bartlett (3.2) should be a good middle-infield duo, Maybin (1.0), Hawpe (0.5), and Cantu (0.4) were barely better than replacement level in 2010. Of course, there was only so much general manager Jed Hoyer could do with a $44 million payroll.

"We feel Hudson and Bartlett will give us a very good middle-infield defensive combination, and Maybin has the tools necessary to be a plus defender in center field," Padres manager Bud Black said. "We're banking on Hawpe and Cantu playing like they have in the past instead of how they played last season. It's a gamble, but teams in our situation have to take a few gambles and hope they work out."

The Padres believe their pitching can carry them a long way, just as it did last season. They led the major leagues by allowing just 3.59 runs a game, which is why they were sixth in the NL and 10th in the majors with a run differential of 0.51 runs a game.

The Padres are hopeful that right-hander Mat Latos (6.5 SNLVAR) and left-hander Clayton Richard (5.0) are ready to take another step forward at the top of the rotation. They will again count heavily on the late-inning relief triumvirate of closer Heath Bell (6.5 WXRL) and set-up men Mike Adams (4.1) and Luke Gregerson (2.6) turning a lot of games into six-inning affairs.

"We have a lot of young pitchers who are still learning," Black said. "It's a process, and most of them have made good strides, especially last season. I feel like there is still upside for this pitching staff. I feel we can pitch just as well or better this season."

"The pitching is something no one in this clubhouse has any concerns about," Headley said. "The pitching is going to be there. We just have to score enough runs to support them."

Many of the Padres experienced a pennant race for the first time last season. They believe the experience, which included a 10-game losing streak from August 26 to September 5, will make them stronger this season.

"There's no question our guys are going to be better for the experience," Black said. "It was disappointing that it ended the way it did, but they really learned what it's like to play games where the pressure is really on."

"It's like playing in the major leagues for the first time," Headley said. "You can talk to people about what it feels like. You can kind of guess what it feels like. But you don't really know what it feels like until you've done it. It's the same thing with a pennant race. Now we've done it and we know what to expect."

Headley smiled and added, "And we want to get into another one this season and see how we can do this time."

Rumors and Rumblings:

The Rays decided to send top pitching prospect Chris Archer to Triple-A to start rather than relieve in the majors, which gets the seal of approval from one scout, who said, "He has a chance to be real special as a starter if he can keep developing his curveball. He'd help their bullpen right now but they are doing what's best for the long haul." … The Mets may wind up starting light-hitting Luis Hernandez at second base, as no one among the foursome of Luis Castillo, Brad Emaus, Daniel Murphy, and Justin Turner has performed well this spring … The only reason Oliver Perez remains in the Mets' camp is because pitching coach Dan Warthen has convinced management he can fix the mercurial left-hander … Right-hander John Maine has opened some eyes in Rockies' camp, with one scout saying, "He looks healthy and the sink is back in his sinker. The Rockies might have something in him." … Rangers manager Ron Washington says Julio Borbon's chances of being the Opening Day center fielder hinge on one thing: "He's got to run down the balls out there. That's what we need from our center fielder more than anything else." … One scout who has been watching Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta this spring doesn’t know what to think: "He's got good stuff, but he just isn't consistent with it. He could turn out to be a really good big-league pitcher, but I could just as easily see him washing out in a couple of years."

One scout on struggling Nationals rookie reliever Drew Storen: "He wants to win that closer's job so badly that he's trying to throw every pitch 110 mph and everything is flattening out. He's got the talent to close. He just needs to relax." … Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton has looked much better this spring following a horrid 2010, but one scout has a warning: "You fall in love with the guy every spring but let's see what happens once the games start to count in April." … Meanwhile, Pirates left-hander Daniel Moskos continued to regain some of the lost luster surrounding his prospect status by making a good impression in major-league camp. Said one scout: "He needs to get ahead in the count. If he does that then he can bury hitters with his slider." … Look for Ty Wigginton to begin the season as the Rockies' third baseman if Ian Stewart isn't ready after injuring his knee in the Cactus League opener … Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan is being pushed for his spot in the starting lineup by Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel … The door has opened for right-hander Barry Enright to be the Diamondbacks' fifth starter, as Zach Duke will miss the first six weeks of the season with a broken hand.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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