Only if the team makes it to October, that is. As of September 1, The San Diego Padres share first place in the National League West with the Arizona Diamondbacks. With one month to go in the regular season, anything can happen, especially considering the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies are still within reach as well (five and six games back respectively). I will ignore the cellar-dwelling San Francisco Giants.
But pitching rules the playoffs. It always has, and San Diego sports the best 1-2 punch (sorry Kelvin Escobar and John Lackey) in all of baseball with Jake Peavy (who also might just be the best pitcher in baseball, sorry Johan Santana) and Chris Young. Peavy and Young are first and second in the major leagues in ERA at 2.10 and 2.38 respectively (and by the way, Young flirted with under-2.00 for much of the season).
In a five-game divisional series format, having those two possibly pitch four of those games (if manager Bud Black chooses a three-man rotation) is absolute overkill. In a seven-game series, Peavy and Young could pitch five. And let’s not forget the playoff-experienced veteran Greg Maddux as the No. 3 starter.
Here are a few interesting statistics regarding the Padres aces. Hitters are batting .202 and .182 against Peavy and Young, respectively, over 184.2 and 140 innings. That’s ridiculous. To break it down, Peavy embarrasses right-handed hitters while Young dominates both righties and lefties. Right-handed hitters are hitting only .164 and slugging .225 against Peavy (although left-handed hitters have had better luck, batting .251 while slugging .352). Young is consistent in his handling of hitters, with righties managing .171 and .233 and lefties faring better at .195 and .307 (in average and slugging respectively).
But there are two things currently hurting the Padres. One, Young might not be 100% given his recent back injury and trip to the disabled list in late July. In his last two starts, Young has allowed nine earned runs in 9.1 innings, raising his then major league leading ERA from 1.93 to his current 2.38. Although his strikeout total was eight during that span, his walk total was eight as well.
The second problem is that the team can’t give Young the rest he needs. With the D-backs fighting just as hard, the Padres need Young in the rotation to win games down the stretch. But if he’s going to pitch like he did in his last two outings, the team will probably be better off skipping him in the rotation.
And the Padres need Young healthy in October. Look at his outing against the Boston Red Sox during interleague play. On June 23, Young pitched seven scoreless innings, giving up only one hit, and striking out eleven while walking two against a heavily loaded Boston lineup. On the flipside, Peavy didn’t fare as well the next day, allowing three earned runs on nine hits in five innings. If the Padres want to win the World Series, they might have to knock off the Red Sox (who are heavily favored to win the American League pennant) to do so.
A glaring weakness of the Padres is their somewhat average lineup, with Adrian Gonzalez leading the team in home runs (24) and RBIs (78). Hardly scary, considering Brian Giles has their highest batting average with .294. Well, Milton Bradley actually leads the team in average, at .336, but he’s only played 35 games with the team since being traded, and I thought it’d be funnier to mention Giles (who has played in 94 games this year) considering everyone thinks him to be regressing considerably at age 36.
But the team features the game’s best bullpen. Cla Meredith (3.44 ERA), Heath Bell (2.33), Justin Hampson (3.21), Doug Brocail (3.69), Kevin Cameron (1.39), and Trevor Hoffman (2.76) can easily dominate the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. With that kind of pitching, I don’t see how the Pads can’t dominate in October.
Very cool photo at the 2007 U.S. Open with Nikolay Davydenko serving to Tommy Haas on Sept. 5. Davydenko eventually won in three sets.