Everth Cabrera swiped 37 bases in a suspension-shortened 2013 season. (Harry How/Getty Images)
2013 Record and Finish: 76-86, tied for third place in NL West (19th overall)
2014 Projected Record: 84-78, third place in NL West
The Case For
The Padres lack stars, but they have a good distribution of talent around the diamond and a manager who knows how to mix and match his lineups to exploit small advantages and keep his bench active. The Padres also have the potential for considerable improvement in their rotation with the addition of free agent Josh Johnson, a full season of Ian Kennedy, the potential maturation of Opening Day starter Andrew Cashner, the potential early-season returns from Tommy John rehab of Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland, and the depth provided by Eric Stults, Tyson Ross, and sophomore Robbie Erlin. They also have catcher Yasmani Grandal set to return from a season marred by a performance-enhancing drug suspension and injury, looking to deliver on the promise of his strong debut in 2012.
The Case Against
The Padres have had a lousy record when it comes to keeping players healthy in recent seasons. Grandal, Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Kyle Blanks and Huston Street are all disabled list regulars, and a rash of Tommy John surgeries tore through San Diego's young starters (as well as outfield prospect Rymer Liriano) in late 2012 and early 2013. Cory Luebke’s return from Tommy John surgery this spring was cut short by a second Tommy John surgery mere days after camp opened, and Maybin ruptured his left bicep making a diving catch early in the exhibition schedule (the team is hoping he can return in April). Johnson is already on the DL thanks to a flexor strain in his right forearm that will sideline him for at least a month. That doesn’t bode well for the Padres as a whole, given that even a completely healthy version of this team would be a long-shot for contention. Did I mention their first baseman has slugged .384 over the last two seasons (or .410 using Baseball-Reference's neutralized stats)?
X-Factor: Their weak division
The National League West was the only division in baseball with just one winning team in 2013, and in the second half of the season, there were only two teams in the west who posted winning records: The Dodgers and the Padres. The Giants should bounce back from their lousy 2013, but they’re hardly a juggernaut, and there are plenty of red flags on the Diamondbacks and even the Dodgers, as we’ll see. If the Padres hit the high-end of their projection in terms of player health and performance, they could fatten up on intra-division games and surprise some people. True contention is unlikely, but a second-place finish isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
Number To Know: 0
That’s the number of games in 2013 in which Bud Black ran out a batting order he had already used that season. If you leave out the pitcher's spot, Black used 145 different combinations, tied with the Dodgers' Don Mattingly in the National League and second only to the Rays' Joe Maddon (147) in the majors. Include pitchers, and Maddon used 149 lineups and Mattingly 160. Black used 162 completely distinct batting orders. Two-thirds of the non-pitchers in Black’s lineups had the platoon advantage against the opposing starting pitcher; that 66 percent led the National League.
Most overrated: Yonder Alonso
"He is not a dynamic player at first base. He’s nothing more than a doubles hitter, and he looks heavy every time I see him—he's barely an average fielder, he doesn't run well, he's going to clog the bases, and he's got this arrogance to him—if he hits the ball hard, he flips the bat like he just hit a 500-foot home run."
Most underrated: Everth Cabrera
"He is one of the underrated players in the game. He used to swing wild, but he's improved his discipine and he'll steal 50 bases atop that lineup. I don't think him coming back from a PED suspension is going to change his game. He's not a power guy, and he's always from a young age showed the same tools that he shows today."
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