Thursday, August 13, 2009

Series Preview - San Diego

The Cardinals have played every National League team this year but one. That would be the Padres, who come to town for a three-game set. Last year they came in having lost 6 of their last 10 and got swept (4 games). This year they come in having won 11 of 16. Last time they were that hot heading into STL was 2006; they’d won 14 of 20, and took 3 of 4 from the Cardinals. We had the last laugh in the post-season, however.

Mostly well-known tidbit: San Diego had a Pacific Coast League franchise called the Padres, which existed from 1936-1968. Ted Williams played for the Padres in 1936 and 1937.

Trivia Time: The Padres are the only team to trade a player away after a 50 HR season. Who was he, and where did he go?

Current snapshot

St Louis: 64-52, 1st NL Central, 4.5 games ahead of Chicago. Holliday is still hitting over .450 as a Cardinal. They won 2 of 3 from the Reds and have won 7 of 10 overall. They are playing well, and Chicago picked a fantastic time to go into a funk.

San Diego: 49-66, last in NL West, 20 games behind Los Angeles. Ah, the Nine closest to me. Despite the current hot streak (as mentioned above), only the Nationals and Pirates are worse than the Padres. That said, they now feature a lineup which has speed, plays decent defense, and has Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of it. And they just beat up on the Brewers, winning 2 of 3 in Milwaukee. St Louis misses San Diego’s best pitcher this season (Kevin Correia) in this series.

Key Padres

Adrian Gonzalez. Easily the best hitter in baseball getting no notoriety at all nationally. This is a function of the lousy team he currently plays for, and their location. People don’t come to San Diego to watch the Padres, even when they don’t suck. Gonzo reduced Miller Park to a smoking pile of rubble while going 10-16 with 3 doubles, a home run, and 6 RBI in the recently completed series. Suffice it to day the Brewers pitchers are happy to see him leave. He is now the first Padre ever to hit 30 home runs in 3 straight seasons. He can hurt you at any time. Although my fantasy team will cry foul, there is no reason to pitch to him with runners in scoring position in this series.

Heath Bell. Closer. Leads the NL in saves with 29. 51 K in 46 and a third. K/BB ratio of 3.19. He’s pretty good.

David Eckstein. You remember him? Clubhouse leader for the Padres. Brings all those lovely intangibles to the table, and is still (a) fairly clutch with the bat, and (b) is a mean bunter.

Mike Adams. Set-up guy. Filthy. 30 K in 25 IP, K/BB ratio of 6.00. And you’ve never heard of him.

Anthony Gwynn, Jr. I defer to Ted Leitner on how to say the man’s name, also to not confuse him with his rather well-known dad. Gwynn was acquired in a mid-season trade with the Brewers, and has been average at the plate (105 OPS+) and good in CF (5.7 UZR). He’s been worth 1.8 WAR, and he hits leadoff for this team.

Everth Cabrera/William Venable/Kyle Blanks. Much like the Pirates, the Padres have mixed and matched a lot this season. These 3 guys represent the youth movement on the team, and they have played well. Cabrera has great speed and the best arm on the club, at least among position players. He plays shortstop. Venable has been hot in August (hitting .351), and has homered in 6 of his last 12 games. He currently mans RF. Kyle Blanks is a work in progress, but he has ridiculous power. I mean Willy Mo Pena/Dave Kingman sized power. He typically plays left.

Chase Headley. Chase has been something of a disappointment to the Padres. He was a can’t miss prospect the fans begged Kevin Towers to call up early in 2008, but hasn’t hit like everyone thought. However, over his last 14 games the light seems to have gone on. He’s hitting a tick under .400 (.396), and is reaching base in almost half his plate appearances. He’s currently hitting 4th in the Padre order. He has power, but hasn’t displayed it consistently at the major league level. During this current streak, he has 5 doubles, a triple, and no homers.

Pitching Matchups:

14 August: Mat Latos (4-1, 2.43) vs Wainwright.
Latos started 2009 in A-ball, was promoted to AA on 23 May, and to the Padres on 9 July. He will probably not pitch in September as the Padres try to protect his arm from a lot of innings this season. He features 98 mile per hour gas, and a slider/changeup as his off-speed options. He’s won his last 4 starts (Cincinnati, Washington, Atlanta, Mets) and is 2-0 on the road in his short career. He’s good, has the potential to be great, but isn’t there yet. The lineup he will face Friday is the best one he’s seen since his ML debut against Colorado, which he lost 6-1.

15 August: Tim Stauffer (1-4, 2.90) vs Piniero. Stauffer was the 4th overall pick in the 2003 draft, and has bounced between the Padres and their AAA affiliate (Portland Oregon) a lot in the interim. He missed all of the 2008 season with arm surgery. His 1-4 record is a function of run support. In his lone win the Padres scored 7 runs. In his other 5 starts they’ve scored a total of seven runs. He’s not easy to categorize as a ground ball/fly ball pitcher (his GB/FB is 0.95), and he features a fastball (90 MPH) and slider as his primary pitches. He also has a curve ball and changeup.

16 August: Clayton Richard (6-3 overall, 2-0, 4.15 with San Diego) vs Lohse. Richard is one of the key pieces of the 31 July Jake Peavy trade (Poreda is the other). He’s pitched well in his 3 starts with the Padres, but he runs out of gas in the sixth. To wit: he’s allowed 9 runs in those 3 starts, and 7 of them in the sixth inning. He’s very beatable if the Cardinals can keep it close through 5. He throws a fastball/slider/changeup combination mostly, and although the data says he has a cutter and curve, he rarely uses them.

Prognosis/prediction. Because they’re playing well, the Padres will give St Louis a sterner test than the Reds or Pirates did. But that doesn’t mean the Padres will win this series; the Cardinals are playing well, too. Do not pitch to Adrian Gonzalez with runners in scoring position under any circumstances. I cannot emphasize this enough. Cy Young candidate Wainwright has the goods to silence San Diego’s bats, as does Piniero, and so long as Lohse keeps them close they have a good shot to win on Sunday. We’ll predict 2 of 3 for the Redbirds, but there is sweep potential here.

Go Cards!

Answer: Greg Vaughn, 1998, Cincinnati.

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