As the Padres stumbled through the worst first half of a season
in franchise history, even general manager Kevin Towers, one of
the team's most vocal cheerleaders, was expecting the worst. "May
was awful," says Towers of his team's 6-23 record that month,
which led to a National League-worst 35-61 mark at the All-Star
break. "I remember telling my wife that this team could make a
run at the '62 Mets [for most losses in a season, 120]."
At week's end the Padres (58-84) still had the worst record in
the league, but lately they had provided an optimistic preview of
the future. Sparked by the emergence of 23-year-old third baseman
Sean Burroughs and the recent arrival of leftfielder Brian Giles,
the Padres were playoff spoilers in winning four straight
series--against the Expos, the Diamondbacks (twice) and the
Astros--between Aug. 22 and Sept. 3.
"There's nothing last place about that team," says Houston
reliever Brad Lidge after the Astros split six games with the
Padres over the last two weeks. "They're playing hard, as if the
season just started. Top to bottom, the lineup they have now is
as good as any out there."
The recent run of success coincides with manager Bruce Bochy's
Aug. 22 decision to move Burroughs from fifth or sixth in the
batting order to the leadoff spot. Though the 6'2", 200-pound
Burroughs isn't your typical leadoff man--he had five stolen
bases in six attempts in 129 games--he was hitting .389 as a
leadoff hitter and had a .492 on-base percentage, and the Padres
were scoring nearly two more runs per game with Burroughs batting
first. "The main thing for a leadoff guy is to get on base, and
that's what Sean does," says Padres hitting coach Dave Magadan.
"He doesn't steal bases, yet he looks like he's tailor-made for
In Giles, who arrived in a trade on Aug. 26 with the Pirates for
lefthander Oliver Perez, outfielder Jason Bay and a player to be
named, San Diego got one of the most overlooked stars in the
game. The lefthanded power hitter is the only major leaguer to
hit .298 or higher with at least 35 home runs in each of the last
four seasons. Through Sunday Giles was batting .364 with seven
RBIs and 10 runs scored through his first nine games for the
Padres. "It's always been my dream to play for this
organization," says Giles, who has an off-season home in San
Diego and grew up in the area. "It's especially exciting to be
here now because this team can be very good very soon."
With a $294 million ballpark opening in the downtown area next
spring, San Diego management is now willing to boost its $47.9
million payroll (second lowest in the league) to improve the
team. In addition to dealing for the 32-year-old Giles, who has
two years remaining on a five-year, $45 million contract, Towers
has been told by owner John Moores that he will likely be able to
add one or two marquee free agents this winter. The general
manager plans to pursue a frontline starting catcher (the Braves'
Javy Lopez, the Marlins' Ivan Rodriguez and the Red Sox' Jason
Varitek could be available) as well as a No. 1 starter (the
Braves' Greg Maddux, the White Sox' Bartolo Colon and the
Phillies' Kevin Millwood are among those expected to be on the
The pieces are falling into place for the Padres, who play 14 of
their final 20 games against contending teams, including seven
against the Dodgers, who are in the wild-card chase. "There's a
lot to be excited about for next year, with the new stadium and
the momentum we'll have going in," says San Diego centerfielder
Mark Kotsay, "but until then, we've still got games to win."