Two weeks ago in this spot, I wrote the following about the San Diego Padres:
"The midseason anarchy in the NL West has made for perhaps the most interesting division in the entire league right now. … The team to watch is the Padres, however. They're the only NL West team that's over .500 so far in June, going 14-11, with the Dodgers at 12-12 going into Thursday's action. There may be problems with the Padres sustaining this moving forward due to injuries, however. "
Ah, what a difference two weeks can make.
That Friday, the Padres beat the Miami Marlins 9-2 … and then didn't win another game until this Tuesday when they managed to squeak out a 2-1 win against the Colorado Rockies behind Eric Stults. It's hard to call this season a career resurgence for Stults; even though it's his seventh year in the league, this is the first time he's ever broken 100 innings pitched, although he came very close last year. After the last couple weeks, it's hard to call it much of a breakout, either.
Stults, Andrew Cashner and Jason Marquis have been unlikely stalwarts in the rotation for the Padres so far this year; as they've gone, so has the team for the most part, and over the past two weeks they've all found themselves frustrated on the mound. Stults and Cashner each have allowed 11 runs, in 17 and 13 innings pitched respectively, and while Jason Marquis's 2.19 ERA in 12 1/3 innings pitched is very shiny -- that's only 3 earned runs allowed, after all -- there's another 4 unearned runs not counted in that number, which he still allowed with a sizeable bit of help from his defense behind him.
When the Padres were winning in June, they were playing fantastic defense in the field -- and when the losses started piling up in July, they came in part due to mistakes at very inopportune times. Errors are a poor measure of defense by themselves, but only because they tell an incomplete story. The specific plays they describe are almost always bad, with very few exceptions, and of the 7 errors the Padres committed over the past two weeks, five of them resulted in at least one run, and three of them each led to more than one run. Seven errors in 12 games isn't an undue amount; for reference, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had 11 errors in their past 12 games (though it should be noted that the Pirates have been one of the most error-prone teams in baseball this year). The Pirates' 11 errors, however, only led to three runs that otherwise wouldn't have scored; the Padres' seven errors, by comparison, led to eight unearned runs. That's the sort of worst possible outcome at the worst possible time that happens to a team that's snake-bitten; over the next few weeks, the team hopefully will see that even out a little bit.
Getting back injured players should help, but some of them are a ways off from returning, and others won't be back this year at all. Shortstop Everth Cabrera has returned from his injury, but for the first part of the losing streak, the Padres were playing utility men Logan Forsythe at second and Pedro Ciriaco at short every day. The team's ideal starting middle infield won't be reunited until Jedd Gyorko is done with his rehab stint for a groin injury, a process that's already seen setbacks; Gyorko hasn't played in a MLB game since June 9. Kyle Blanks had done an admirable job filling Yonder Alonso's shoes while the first baseman recovers from a broken hand, but Blanks recently was shuffled out to make room for Jesus Guzman, despite leading Guzman in every statistical category. Chris Denorfia isn't a great centerfielder, but he's capable of handling the position, and a Quentin/Denorfia/Blanks outfield has a bit more pop to it than a Quentin/Alexi Amarista/Denorfia arrangement. Luckily for San Diego, Alonso is finishing up a rehab assignment in the minors and may even return before the All-Star Break.
Far less encouraging is the news about Yasmani Grandal, the team's promising young catcher; Grandal tore his ACL last Saturday during a collision at the plate and will need reconstructive surgery on the torn ligament. He will not be back this season, nor will he likely be ready for spring training next year, as the estimated recovery time for a knee injury of that sort is around a year. Grandal, who already has been suspended for PED use once, has had his name circulated as one of MLB's possible targets in the Biogenesis scandal for a while now; the only potential "good" news that might come out of this for the Padres is his ability to serve any new suspension on the disabled list. Unfortunately for the Padres, Grandal isn't the only major contributor that could be lost to that investigation; Cabrera's name has been connected as well.
There's been something of a shake-up in the front office as well; Padres president and CEO Tom Garfinkel resigned on Tuesday. Garfinkel oversaw non-baseball operations, and his departure was perhaps not the most unexpected move in the world, as he followed former Padres CEO Jeff Moorad from the Diamondbacks to the Padres. With Ron Fowler, chairman of the current ownership group, taking over Garfinkel's duties on an interim basis, this could be nothing more than the new regime solidifying control of their own front office. With that sort of turmoil on the non-baseball side, it's possible the ownership group would have reservations about taking on salary at the deadline, but it's more likely that general manager Josh Byrnes will feel no real pressure to trade off his young assets to do so.
Byrnes impressed the new ownership group with his vision when they took over the club, and he should have another year or two to execute it. While I doubt the Padres will be heavy buyers, I doubt they'll do a full-scale sell either. Prior to Thursday night's game, the Padres were only 6.5 games out -- roughly the same position the Los Angeles Dodgers were in before they went on their recent tear, fueled by Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez -- and the pressure isn't on San Diego to perform the way it is on the Dodgers. That can be a good thing, in some ways; it can stop you from doing something stupid, just for the sake of doing something. But if Byrnes hasn't decided what to do already, he'd better do so quickly. With the trade deadline approaching, the Padres are running out of time to figure out what kind of team they are.