BUD BLACK firstseason with Padres

FEW CONTENDINGteams, never mind a two-time defending division champion, operate on as thin amargin of success as the Padres. The club is doubly challenged by a farm systemout of The Grapes of Wrath (no homegrown player has hit 20 home runs for SanDiego since first baseman John Kruk in 1987) and a cavernous stadium that onlya pitcher could love (over the last three years Petco Park ranks worst inbaseball for facilitating runs and next-to-last for being home-runfriendly).

The Padres havemade an art of finding players and runs wherever they can--and have largelydone well at the task. Over the past two years, for instance, San Diego playedmore games decided by one or two runs (163) than any other NL team; at the sametime the Padres won the most games by one run (59) and by two or fewer (87) andhad the highest winning percentage in one-run games (.584).

The 2007 clubwill again be living on the edge, hoping to get low-scoring games into thehands of a solid bullpen that is led by righthanded closer Trevor Hoffman.General manager Kevin Towers, who opened camp with only four homegrown positionplayers on his 40-man roster (shortstop Khalil Greene is the only suchstarter), has built another slightly above-average offense with under-the-radartrades. His most productive deal came on Jan. 4, 2006, when he swiped astarting first baseman (Adrian Gonzalez), a starting leftfielder (TerrmelSledge) and a No. 2 starting pitcher (Chris Young) from the Rangers for anexpendable set-up reliever (Akinori Otsuka) and an injury-prone starter in hiswalk year (Adam Eaton). "The guys we really wanted were Gonzalez andSledge, and they wound up offering Young," Towers says. "We neededbats, and Gonzalez was a guy who always hit, whatever level he played on, buthad not been given a regular chance in Florida or Texas."

The 24-year-oldGonzalez, who grew up in the San Diego area as a Padres fan wearing the number19 on his amateur teams (the number of his favorite player, Tony Gwynn), hadonly 192 major league at bats when the Padres acquired him. "I was happyjust to get out of Texas because that was a frustrating time for me," saysGonzalez. "The Padres gave me an opportunity to play, and I'm grateful forthe confidence that they had in me." Gonzalez wound up hitting .304 with 24homers and 82 RBIs--numbers that may not sound spectacular but made him thefirst lefthanded hitter in franchise history to reach those Triple Crownthresholds in the same year.

Now that36-year-old rightfielder Brian Giles, a longtime number 3 hitter coming off acareer-worst .397 slugging percentage, appears to have diminished into a number2 hitter, Gonzalez has become an offensive cornerstone for San Diego, typicallybatting fourth between two other modest trade acquisitions in recent years,centerfielder Mike Cameron and catcher Josh Bard. His bat is now a necessity."I don't think there is such a thing as a 40-home-run guy at PetcoPark," first-year manager Bud Black says. "We don't have the superstarplayer, the Vlad Guerrero, the Albert Pujols. We've got a bunch of goodplayers--from one through eight--which is the strength of our team."

Indeed, whenTowers commissioned his statistical analysts to project how good the team lookson paper, they valued the Padres at 92 wins, a four-game improvement over lastyear. The most obvious concern is that San Diego doesn't have enough depthbeyond its modest core players, which means injuries could be especiallytroublesome. Recent history, however, suggests that the Padres will find away--just barely--to stay in games and the NL West race.

CONSIDER THIS

a modest proposal...

As thereplacement for fast-rising second baseman Josh Barfield, who was traded to theIndians in November, free-agent newcomer Marcus Giles has to be more productivethan he's been in recent years. That won't be easy for the 28-year-old Giles(left), who needs to become more aggressive at the plate. Since 2003--when hebanged 21 homers and had a .916 on-base plus slugging mark, fantastic numbersfor a second baseman--he has gone from seeing 3.49 pitches per plate appearanceto 3.88 last season, while his slugging percentage has declined from .526 to.387. That's no accident; over the past three seasons, in at bats that lastedfive or more pitches, Giles hit only .214 and slugged .355. Baseball Prospectuswas touting the importance of on-base percentage and plate discipline longbefore it became fashionable, but some hitters take the message too far.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

THE LINEUP
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS

MARCUS GILES* 2B        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 174 .262 11 60 10
BRIAN GILES RF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 146 .263 14 83 9
MIKE CAMERON CF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 32 .268 22 83 25
ADRIAN GONZALEZ 1B        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 102 .304 24 82 0
JOSH BARD C        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 157 .333 9 40 1
KHALIL GREENE SS        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 152 .245 15 55 5
KEVIN KOUZMANOFF (R)* 3B    
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 186 .214 3 11 0
TERRMEL SLEDGE LF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 189 .229 2 7 0

 

BENCH          
TODD WALKER INF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 286 .278 9 53 2
RUSSELL BRANYAN OF-INF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 262 .228 18 36 2
ROB BOWEN C        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 316 .245 3 13 0

 

ROTATION              
PITCHER   PVR W L K WHIP ERA
RH Jake Peavy 9 11 14 215 1.23 4.09
RH Chris Young 28 11 5 164 1.13 3.46
RH Clay Hensley 100 11 12 122 1.34 3.71
RH Greg Maddux* 75 15 14 117 1.22 4.20
LH David Wells 128 3 5 38 1.45 4.42

 

BULLPEN              
PITCHER   PVR W L SV WHIP ERA
RH Trevor Hoffman 12 0 2 46 0.97 2.14
RH Scott Linebrink 150 7 4 2 1.22 3.57
RH Cla Meredith 146 5 1 0 0.72 1.07


* New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)

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THE NUMBERS

LIE

4.09

ERA ofrighthander Jake Peavy last season, a career high but also a number that wasinflated by three poor starts in which he gave up a total of 22 earned runs. Abetter indicator of Peavy's performance can be found in his 21 quality starts,which ranked ninth in the league. He also suffered from a lack of runsupport--4.45 runs per game, which was 31st among the 41 NL pitchers whoqualified for the ERA title.

PHOTOSCOTT CUNNINGHAM/GETTY IMAGESCLEANING UP Coming off a big year in his first season as a regular, Gonzalez provides pop in the four hole for a historically power-challenged franchise. PHOTOLISA BLUMENFELD/GETTY IMAGES (GILES) PHOTOROBERT BECK (PEAVY)Peavy
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)