The Dodgers are off to a sweltering start, but their opening schedule should be taken into account when evaluating the team.
The Weekend Takeaway
There’s magic in the air at Dodger Stadium. No, not Magic Johnson—though his group’s purchase of the team was approved by a court on Friday. I mean the kind of magic that leads to a 9-1 start for a team that was expected to flirt with the .500 mark this season.
Matt Kemp, perhaps still smarting from Ryan Braun’s upset in the NL MVP race, has hit six homers in the first 10 games. Chad Billingsley, looking to bounce back from a rough 2011 campaign, has compiled a 15-to-1 K/BB over his first two starts, to go with a pair of victories and a 0.63 ERA. Dee Gordon is just 8-for-40 with 10 strikeouts, but he has nonetheless found a way to steal seven bases. And Aaron Harang, who struck out just 124 batters in 170 2/3 innings last season, somehow fanned nine consecutive Padres, en route to a career-high 13 punchouts, on Friday.
The Padres and Dodgers met for their opening series last week, bringing to mind their intertwined histories.
Every now and then, someone not from these parts makes the mistake of calling San Diego a suburb of Los Angeles. I'm not very familiar with the East Coast, but my guess based on relative proximity is that this would be like calling Philadelphia a suburb of New York. We are a gentle people, and so just as folks from Hawai'i bristle but remain silent when some guy with a comb-over nursing an umbrella-laden drink loudly proclaims his intent to “go back to the States,” we blink and smile while being offended in a manner that might cause a riot were that same guy to refer to a person from Philadelphia as a New Yorker.
That being said, when the Padres first joined the National League in 1969 they were, in many respects, an offshoot of the Dodgers to the north. Not quite “The Jeffersons” to “All in the Family,” more like “After M*A*S*H” to “M*A*S*H.”
News and notes on NL West prospects to keep an eye on.
Arizona Diamondbacks Affiliate To Watch: This one is a no-brainer, as in order to keep them from pitching in the pinball machine that is Triple-A Reno, the Diamondbacks sent Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Pat Corbin to Double-A to make up one of the best minor league rotations. Trade Bait: With so much young pitching and a full big league rotation, the Diamondbacks can deal from a position of strength. The question is: do they deal prospects, or make room for them? Breakout Candidate: While it might seem foolish to call the seventh overall pick a breakout candidate, few prospects created more spring buzz than Archie Bradley, who impressed as much as any 2011 draftee. Don't Be Surprised If He Gets To The Big Leagues: A fourth-round pick last June, reliever Evan Marshall got to Double-A in his brief pro debut; he’ll begin there this year with a chance to reach the big leagues thanks to impressive control of a plus fastball/slider combination. Fans Are Too Excited About: While outfielder A.J. Pollock hit .300/.357/.444 at Double-A last year and could put up some massive numbers at Reno, scouts don't see star tools in him, and his best projection might be as a good fourth outfielder.
What are some of the nagging questions up and down the West Coast?
Continuing the saga I started last week, I've identified one nagging question about each team coming out of spring training, one loose thread that I can't resist tugging upon. Last Friday began with some East Coast bias, on Monday we got Centralized, and today we run out of real estate on the Western shore.
Will Venable is entering his prime years, but his career numbers leave people guessing as to whether he is extremely overrated or underrated.
There is some sentiment in the analyst community that Padres outfielder Will Venable ranks among the most underrated players in baseball. The theory is that Petco Park stifles his offensive game, while Cameron Maybin's presence in center field pushes Venable to right field, depressing his value further.
Is this a fair assessment of Venable? Is he a miscast corner outfielder whose abilities aren't being maximized due to external factors? Or is he a gifted athlete whose baseball skills never developed as well as they might have if he'd committed to the sport earlier in life?
Why the Royals and Padres will win their divisions, and four questions with Dustin Ackley.
The emails and tweets have been most interesting in the days since our staff predictions were posted on the website. Most people think I am nuts for picking the Royals to win the American League Central and the Padres to win the National League West. Perhaps they will be proven right. After all, I was the only one of 27 staff members to pick either team to win its division. Remember, though, that 29 of the 30 people who were on the staff at this time last season picked the Red Sox to win the AL East. The one person who predicted the Red Sox not only wouldn't win the division but also fail to qualify for the postseason? Well, I was a taught at an early age that it's impolite to brag.
Which hitters and pitchers were helped or hurt most by their ballparks last season?
Along with its 162-game schedule, lack of a clock, and structure as a series of one-on-one player match-ups, baseball’s embrace of non-standardized surfaces sets it apart from the other major American team sports. Not only are some fields at sea level and others at altitude, some outdoors and others in domes, some made of natural grass and others of turf, but the depth of the outfields, the heights of the walls, and the sizes of foul territory vary by ballpark. These differences aren’t only aesthetic: they also make a significant impact on players’ statistics. To determine how good a given player is, we need to separate his own performance from the effects of his park.
That’s not always easy to do. Some of the players ranked between 301 and 350 on ESPN’s top 500 list have seen their superficial statistics significantly boosted or burdened by their ballparks. Justin Smoak’s first full season in the majors looks disappointing no matter what adjustments you make, but the 316th-place player’s line appears slightly worse because he spent so much time in spacious Safeco Field. It’s extremely hard for right-handed pull hitters to hit home runs in Seattle—as Adrian Beltre discovered before flourishing in more forgiving offensive environments in Boston and Arlington—but Safeco isn’t an easy assignment for slugging southpaws, either.
Jason's had a busy 48 hours, and shows us what he's been up to by giving us a peek at his notebook.
“Baseball is my stereo, and this is how you set it up and this is how you make it play.” –George Washington
I spend every day of my life standing on a field watching somebody with talent do something talented, and the past two days might have been the best so far in my journey towards enlightenment. The following is going to be a no frills breakdown of the action I’ve witnessed over the past 48 hours, starting with notes on several prospects in the Padres system, and a few notes on the Dominican Prospect League’s elite travel team, a roster stacked with future July 2nd players. Many of these players will command six-figure bonuses, and a few top-tier prospects could (and perhaps should) command signing bonuses in excess of seven-figures. These are notes as they appear in my notebooks, free from the charm and bitterness of my tongue, or the context of a proper narrative. This is baseball in the raw.
With Carlos Quentin booked for surgery, who should the Padres turn to?
The Padres’ marquee big-league addition this offseason was outfielder Carlos Quentin, who was expected to add thump to the offense in his final year before free agency. Some thought the deal with the White Sox on December 31 was odd, considering that San Diego is likely to be a fourth-place team in the NL West this season, Quentin is an iffy defensive outfielder, and his arbitration salary was projected to be in the $6-8 million range (he settled for $7.025 million). But he only cost two middling pitching prospects—Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez—so general manager Josh Byrnes saw little risk and pulled the trigger.
Unfortunately, among Quentin’s many flaws, proneness to injuries may be the greatest. He has never played more than 131 games in a season, has landed on the disabled list four times since his 2006 debut, and has had surgeries on his elbow, shoulder, and wrist. On Sunday, we learned that his right knee is next in line, and the recovery will likely cost Quentin at least the first month of the season.
Offering at least one reason to tune in to each potentially talent-challenged team when you're flipping through your MLB.tv options this season.
Bad teams have been much on my mind lately. Blame it on being an A's fan, blame it on marrying into a Mets family, blame it on my generally sour personality. Irrespective of the cause, I find myself less intrigued by the powerhouses or the teams in tight races for the playoffs than by the squads that will come out of the gate slow, dawdle through the dog days, and finish in a muddle of obscure Triple-A players crowding the expanded September rosters as they fight for 2013 jobs on what will likely be yet another mediocre team.
If you're a fan of one of these franchises, you'll probably watch them whatever happens. But what will the rest of you watch on the nights when your team is off, or long, lazy weekend afternoons? You can always tune in to see the Yankees and Rays face off in a game with playoff implications for the umpteenth time, but if you're like me, you get a little bored seeing the same (really good) players over and over. Let me present, then, a team-by-team list of reasons to tune into a game at which more casual fans might turn up their noses. Call it the Every Team is Special list.
On Monday, Cumberland informed the Padres that he is retiring from baseball. The neurological disorder, known as bilateral vestibulopathy, had taken its toll, and—combined with Cumberland’s history of concussions—proved to be too much to overcome.