Baseball's surprise team surprises even themselves at deadline
LOS ANGELES -- When
For four months the Padres have been baseball's cute little engine that could, grabbing the best record in the National League and holding on with a $38 million payroll that ranked second-lowest in the major leagues, a pop-gun offense ranked 25th in batting average, and an outfield where none of the starters hit over .235. Bell did not expect the Padres to improve appreciably at the deadline because, well, they are usually so cheap they would ask for discounts at a 10-cent store. When a friend asked Bell last month if the Padres were truly a championship team, Bell said: "We'll see. Championship teams go out and get that extra piece."
Ludwick is not just a piece but a pillar, the kind the Padres have been missing for about five years, a power-hitting outfielder in his prime who is athletic enough to cover the open spaces at Petco Park and feared enough to protect
He was not implying that he went unwanted in St. Louis, but the emergence of
Perhaps they, like so many others, did not believe San Diego would last. Sure, the Padres have the best ERA in the majors. They have lost three games in a row only once. Their bullpen is deeper than the ones anchored by alltime saves leader
Ludwick also helps mend the divide that existed between clubhouse and front office. In May, one player said: "If we're still in this thing in July, some people in the front office are going to be saying: 'Uh-oh.'" The implication was that the Padres wanted to fall out of the race so they could trade Bell and Gonzalez, thereby keeping the payroll down. But when the same player was asked Monday about the Ludwick trade, he said: "
Hoyer is the Padres first-year general manager, who turned a few fringe prospects into Ludwick and Tejada. Much of the credit for the Padres success rightly goes to former general manager
The Padres have a chance this week, in a four-game series at Dodger Stadium, to put away the team they hate most. The Dodgers are coming off consecutive division titles, but seem poisoned by the divorce between owners
On Monday, for instance, Torre held a team meeting to make sure the Dodgers understood the significance of this series. Then in the first inning, he watched
While the Dodgers are still dealing with their divorce, the Padres may finally be pulling out of theirs. Since former owners
"I only had to be here one day to see why they are where they are," Ludwick said. "They play hard and have fun."
In 2008, baseball audiences took until September to accept that the Rays were not going to fade. These Padres are not nearly as talented as those Rays, but they also don't have the Yankees and Red Sox in their division. They can win the NL West with the same old things that got them this far -- low scores and an excellent bullpen -- and, with a thumper they never thought would arrive, a new thing they hope can take them even farther.