Yesterday, I went down to San Diego to take in the Padres/Rockies game. As I've mentioned many times, I love day baseball, and really enjoy taking the opportunity to catch a game on a weekday afternoon.
As as been the case with each game I've attended this year, this one didn't have much going for it. Bobby J. Jones allowed the first five hitters to reach base, the last of whom, Greg Norton, roped a grand slam to give the Rockies a 4-0 lead they wouldn't lose in a 4-2 win. The second through seventh innings were played at a travel-day pace, and only a couple of aborted Padres rallies in the eighth and ninth produced any tension.
Those of you expecting to see some blue-sky discussion of the Padres, the team I picked to win the NL West, are going to be disappointed. I think they're done, short their second-best player for the next six weeks and not getting any offense from about six lineup spots. Even with a healthy Phil Nevin, the Padres were going to have a hard time overcoming the lousy performance of their three young infielders (AVG/OBP/SLG):
That's awful, and a big reason why the Padres are 15th in the league in runs and 11th in Equivalent Average.
Burroughs is now on the DL with a shoulder injury, and you can expect him to go on a rehab stint once he's healthy. He was on the brink of a demotion as it was. The injuries will allow Jimenez to keep his second-base job, at least for now, while Vazquez will battle Jimenez and Deivi Cruz, who has a bit of a halo around him right now, for playing time.
The Padres aren't going to win anything without Nevin, so it's time for them to focus on 2003. That means getting what they can for Cruz, Jones, Ron Gant, and Ray Lankford and creating room and playing time for Jake Peavy, Ben Howard, and Xavier Nady. The Pads have some good talent at the upper levels, although their system isn't terribly deep. They have to decide where they're going to play Nady, Taggert Bozied, and Jake Gautreau, and what they want the lineup and rotation to look like come next season.
It's not fun, and it makes for a dreary four months—and the nasty aftertaste that my own words leave in my mouth—but it's time for the Padres to shift their focus. They can win the West in 2003, and I can't say that anymore about 2002.
- The Rockies have played very well under Clint Hurdle, thanks to some good pitching by the non-Mike Hampton members of the rotation. Their OBP issues at the top of the lineup are a definite concern, and their middle-infield defense is bad. Keep in mind, too, that they have been relatively untouched by injuries, and you have to expect Larry Walker to miss 20-25 games somewhere along the line. I think they can hang around .500, but not get much higher.
Bruce Bochy has a track record that ranks him among the best managers in the game, so it was very strange to see him handle yesterday's game so poorly. Down four runs in the second, he allowed Bobby Jones to bat with two men on and two outs. Jones struck out.
That might have been understandable, given that the Padres had used Jason Middlebrook for seven innings Wednesday night following a two-inning start by Brian Tollberg. But in the fourth inning, the exact same situation arose, and Bochy again allowed Jones to bat. Another strikeout, another wasted opportunity.
Then, in the eighth inning, Bochy allowed Ron Gant, Bubba Trammell, and Wiki Gonzalez to face Todd Jones with runners on base, leaving left-handed pinch-hitters Ray Lankford and Tom Lampkin on the bench. The Rockies had no lefty up in the pen, so no countermove was in play. He simply elected to allow all three players—none of whom has a 500 OPS against righties—to bat. All three made outs, snuffing the rally.
It might have just been one game, but Bochy's reluctance to pinch-hit—coupled with Tuesday night's refusal to pinch-run for the glacially slow Lampkin in extra innings, a move that probably cost him that game—is a bad sign. If this is what carrying 12 pitchers is going to do to a manager, there is no way that the extra arm outweighs the loss—the giveaway—of in-game tactical options.
Probably the best part of the trip for me was meeting Ted Uhlaender, a former major-leaguer who is now working as an advance scout for the San Francisco Giants. He's a great storyteller and a friendly guy, and the half-hour we spent talking was a blast for me.
For my part, I was nice enough to mix up Uhlaender with Jim Walewander, the Tigers' infielder from the 1980s. Let's see…Uhlaender played eight seasons, six as a regular. Walewander played four seasons, zero as a regular. Walewander had 242 career at-bats, Uhlaender exceeded that total in six different seasons.
If Bill Simmons had been there, I would have had him light me on fire.