Padres positioned to make big noise in NL West after whirlwind winter
These should be the big, bold, brash San Diego Padres.
They always could pitch. Now they can hit. Now they can win.
You do not import an entire outfield of sluggers — Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton — and talk gingerly of hoping to compete. The Padres are playing to win now.
“We’ve got to catch the Dodgers and Giants,” Manager Bud Black said.
Got to catch them? How about going to catch them? How about guaranteeing October?
“You want me to go Joe Namath?” Black asked.
How about you, Mr. Kemp?
“I feel we should make the playoffs this year,” he said.
The Padres have not made the playoffs since 2006. They have not won a home playoff game since 1998 — when home was Qualcomm Stadium, Kevin Brown was the ace, and the Padres were in the World Series.
“I haven’t seen this kind of excitement and energy since 1998,” said Padres coach Dave Roberts, a former outfielder for the Dodgers and Padres. “For me, it’s special, because I was a Padres fan going to Qualcomm.
“We’re the talk of the town.”
No better time. The Chargers are flirting with Carson, and there is nothing that unites San Diego more than a hatred of all things Los Angeles.
The Padres never have won a championship. Neither have the Chargers, but at least the Padres aren’t threatening to, well, bolt.
In a whirlwind winter under new General Manager A.J. Preller, the Padres added Kemp, Myers, Upton, All-Star catcher Derek Norris and — as something of a grand finale — spent $75 million on pitcher James Shields.
The Padres won’t say exactly how many tickets they have sold, but they did say sales of season seats shot up 600% from last winter to this winter.
“The city of San Diego has been waiting for a long time to get that first championship,” Shields said. “I definitely get that feeling.”
Shields last season helped the Kansas City Royals get their first postseason appearance in 29 years. In the National League West, where the Dodgers are the biggest spenders in sports history and the Giants have won the World Series three times in the last five years, does Shields believe the Padres can get back to the postseason?
“We definitely have a good shot,” Shields said. “We’ve got all the right pieces.
“I don’t care if you won three championships in the last five years or not. It’s difficult to make the playoffs.”
The Dodgers could be vulnerable, with starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and closer Kenley Jansen starting the season on the disabled list.
The Giants could be dreadful, with Madison Bumgarner throwing 270 innings last season, surrounded in the rotation by thirty-somethings Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Jake Peavy at varying levels of ineffectiveness. And, with outfielder Hunter Pence on the disabled list, third baseman Pablo Sandoval in Boston and outfielder Mike Morse in Miami, the Giants open the season without three of their top four home-run hitters last year.
The Colorado Rockies lost 96 games last season, second-most in the majors. The only team with more defeats: the Arizona Diamondbacks, with 98. Not much competition there.
The Padres scored the fewest runs in the NL last year and gave up the second-fewest. Only two players return from last season’s opening-day lineup: first baseman Yonder Alonso and second baseman Jedd Gyorko.
Preller said the Padres’ owners did not hire him with a mandate to win now. He said he is looking at this year as the first of a “three- to four-year window” to compete. If the Padres stay healthy, he said they can compete with the Dodgers and Giants.
“They set the bar high,” Preller said. “If you’re going to come out of the National League West, you’ll be battle-tested, and you’ll be a pretty good club.”
The Padres open the season Monday, at Dodger Stadium. No one around their training camp would declare the Padres would topple the Dodgers. But the words Preller used to describe his own club could describe the Dodgers as well.
“There are no perfect teams in baseball,” he said.
Shields had a strong interest in signing with the Dodgers, but the Dodgers had only a tepid interest in signing him. He attended Hart High in Newhall, and the Dodgers were his team back then.
“The Dodgers were the only team on TV growing up,” Shields said.
Those were the days.
“Now,” he laughed, “they’re not on TV at all.”
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