How to Play the Foul Ball

As a Fan

Last night a man, a fan in the stands down the right field line, wearing a San Diego Padres hat made the perfect play on a foul ball off the bat of Aaron Cunningham in the ninth inning of a game against the Diamondbacks. The lazy foul ball hit by Cunningham, and pursued by superstar outfield Justin Upton, was aiming for the stands but found itself right about where the railing is when the man with the Padre hat reached out and snatches the ball right out of the glove of Upton. This, folks, is how you as a true fan play the foul territory. The best part then comes afterwards as the fan who looks back at a perplexed Upton points to his hat and defiantly takes his seat back down in the stands where he awaits his removal. But the staff at the stadium, possibly because of it being so late in the game, leave the man where he sits with his somewhat scarred and embarrassed looking female accompanier.

Sir, who ever you are, bravo! You played this ball perfectly, and who knows if the fates had intervened differently may have been the difference in the game. As it was the Padres lost 3-1, sending them to their third defeat in a row, and third game with their bats falling silent, after a five game winning streak.

Also remember, if you are on the other side then you should be clearing the way for the player. I cannot stress this enough, and it is not seen nearly enough, greedy people who want a $5 baseball like Steve Bartman are far too prevalent. I have always said you have to use like a police type tactic and clear people out of the way, the best thing about baseball is that the people in the stands truly are in play. Using this to an advantage can mean the game. Playing your part in the stands is part of your duty as a fan!

Where is the Offense Coming From?

The offense has finally come around, led by many of the young guys that are going to be here for the foreseeable future the San Diego Padres rank near the top in almost every offensive category for the month of August, and really since the All-Star break. Hold on to your hats and glasses these stats my cause motion sickness, or extreme jubilation, I’m not sure. The Padres are second in runs with 109 to the Yankees with 112 in the month of August, they are third behind the Yankees and Rangers since the All-Star break with 188, ahead of offensive stalwarts such as the Red Sox, the Rockies, and the Phillies. Hold on though it gets better, the Padres rank 12th in the ML in batting average since the All-Star break with a team mark of .266 (remember before the All-Star break they were mired at the bottom of both leagues with a .231 team average with only the Seattle Mariners ranked lower), and since the beginning of August they are ranked fifth in the ML, second in the NL, with a .286 team average. And it’s not just dinkers and dunkers the Padres have been hitting, they are ranked third in team slugging percentage, .449, behind of the Yankees and Cubs in the month of August; since the All-Star break, excluding home runs, only the Oakland Athletics have more extra-base hits than the Padres’ 79. Also, post All-Star break they have stolen 59 bases, only being caught 10 times, which we knew would happen but perhaps the most inspiring event is they have cut the strikeouts down, with only 145 team SOs in August. They have cut the per game SO down from about 9-10 to 7.5, and while that may not sound great, it is much better getting a few extra outs from balls in play, 9 SOs in a game is three whole innings of nothing when you put it together, that equals low production – cutting that down just a little leads to extra runs through moving runners along with outs. It’s important and they are showing improvement up and down the lineup.

What has been faulty is the pitching, with a 4.01 team ERA in August it explains why they aren’t putting ups the wins that should be coming when the hitting improves this much. But the bullpen, with the loss of Mike Adams, seems to be reeling a little, Heath hasn’t been his sharpest, Josh Spence has shown he is in fact a human being. But now they have a lot of young guns down there and they will all need seasoning before they are thrown into the spotlight, which should be coming with the up and coming hitters in this lineup. Hopefully the pitching can come around in time to make a run next year.

.250 in Philly

The San Diego Padres were only able to win one game out four in Philadelphia after sweeping through Florida earlier in the week having little trouble with the Marlins. It is very apparent sometimes that if the Padres played in one of these little league parks that have become so common place around the Major League Baseball recently that their pitching would be far worse than it is being able to play 81 games a year in spacious PetCo. The Phillies were able to exploit Chad Qualls on Saturday and hit three home runs against him in one-third of an inning, they were able to hit four home runs that game for eight runs. All but one were fence scrapers, they wouldn’t even have been warning track length in PetCo, or a number of other fields. It is very frustrating knowing that six runs pretty much wins every other game, just not at that stupid bandbox, I guess it is just tradition here in Philly.

On another note, Kyle Blanks is back in the Padre uniform after raking in Tucson. He has not been quite as lucky yet on the big club, I’m beginning to think that maybe the ballpark that the AAA Padres play in is helping these numbers of these guys quite a bit. Kyle is now only 2 for 13 since joining the team, both singles, and has 1 walk and 7 strike outs, looks like Anthony Rizzo’s numbers when he came up. I still think though we just have to stick with these guys, they seem to be really pressing though, I don’t think either of them (if/when Rizzo comes back) should be anywhere near the middle of the lineup, hitting 7th and 8th is really best for these types of developing players. When they feel that they have to win the game every at bat thats when they start striking out and not seeing pitches well, which of course leads to bad at bats which become unproductive. This is one of my only gripes with Bud Black, he puts way to much faith into some of these young guys, Blanks is 25 and needs more conditioning at the Major League level it won’t do any good sending him back down. He needs to adjust to the league, which has already found his weaknesses, he needs to tighten up the swing, stop fishing for the balls at his feet and at his eyes and develop a more mature understanding of the strike zone. There is a good bat in there somewhere, I really think we could see it emerge sometime in the next few years. Rizzo is only 21, he will be good, maybe great, leave him in AAA till September and them give him back his spot, I’m sure Blanks would be able to move to the outfield by then.

The Padres can start playing spoiler tomorrow as Arizona is coming to town as the Padres return home, I guess now we just wait for the trades to hit, hopefully we can get some steals in return.

No Luck and Bad Play

Make the Padres a dull team

Could the Padres be any worse at getting all those little crucial things that happen during a game to go their way? It doesn’t seem like it. On Thursday night the San Diego Padres with Heath Bell at the helm held a 1-0 lead going into the ninth, it should have struck me then that they rarely win those games so something bad was bound to happen. It did, in the form of an Aubrey Huff home run into the seats right behind PetCo Porch. Since I wrote my last blog the Padres have gone 1-5 against the Giants, and have gone 1-8 overall, having also been swept at the Chavez Ravine right before the All-Star break. And while I will not stop watching it seems the season is basically over, the pieces will begin moving as the calender slowly turns towards the end of July and the trade deadline. It’s just so frustrating that the club looked like they had turned the corner, they were 10 for 13 before this disastrous skid, they were only seven games below .500 and right around the same behind the division leading Giants. Now they are back in last place, and 14 games back of the Giants and the same number below .500, I have been saying that if they could get back to .500 before the last week or so in July they could potentially be buyers and not sellers at the deadline, they have clearly labeled themselves as buyers in the last week and a half.

The games have all been close, of course, with that illusive hit or that illusive defensive play being the decider in the game nearly every time; the most frustrating thing I think is they could easily be 8-1 in their last last nine. It seems they have lost their mojo and I think it is time to bring up the young guys and just let them play, see what they can do.

On a side note, although I really like Kyle Phillips it really seems that there is a huge chink in that armor when it comes to throwing runners out, the Giants were able to win the game by exploiting that. He had a pretty good average for throwing out runners before this game, but 5 for 5 brings his numbers to 8 caught stealing and 25 stolen bases. It didn’t seem that they were running on the pitchers, even with pitch outs they were still beating the throws. Curious, and definitely needs to be fixed, Kyle looks like he needs to be quicker out of the glove and to his throwing motion.

Giant Domination

Why can the San Diego Padres always find a way to beat the San Francisco Giants? They have already had two 5-3 victories in this 4-game series and are poised to win (at least) and sweep (at best) the series before moving into Los Angeles, to face the Dodgers in the last series before the All-Star break. This year the Padres are 3-1 against the Giants, so far on their way to replicating their record last year when they went 12-6 against the NL West foes. Unfortunately the Padres were unable to win the series in Seattle and could be going for their fifth strait series win if they had been able to pull that out.
I am really tired, on a side note, of playing the Seattle Mariners, they are not a rival of any sense, just because they happen to play their spring training games at the same facility does not make them our “natural rival,” it is the most inane rivalry ever! And the Padres can never beat that team even when they aren’t that good (although this year they are doing well, but this goes back a long time). One of the reasons I am not in favor at all of league readjustment, which I will get to later.

Back to the Giants though, what is it that makes them so susceptible to the Padres, I think it boils down to the similarity of styles of play. The Giants and the Padres both rely on pitching, defense, clutch hitting, and speed (though not in that order for each team). The Padres this year thought they were going to improve the defense, which has been shaky at best this year being 14 of 16 NL clubs in fielding percentage at .982. (Last year they had a .988 fielding percentage, which I know doesn’t sound like a lot but it equates to 71 E all the entire 2010 season, this year they have 61 E already. However, if you want to look at positives the range factor has improved, last year per 9-innings the range factor was 4.12, this year is is 4.21, that means the Padres are now getting to more balls than they were last season.) The Giants are in the same boat however, without as much speed to make it even worse, the Giants have 56 E this year, so aren’t much worse than the Padres, unfortunately they are playing about where they should while the Padres have had a pretty bad first half in the field. This should only improve, and if the Padres can continue to win series they will have to play better defense, which they are more than capable of.
The Giants and Padres also both rely on pitching, the Padres have a 3.27 team ERA, the Giants have a 3.26 – the Padres have a better bullpen, the Giants a better rotation. However, what’s odd is the Giants don’t hit well with runners in scoring position (.228) nor with RISP and 2-out (.189), the Padres do equal or better than that with a .227 in both categories. However the Giants do best the Padres two crucial areas, extra-base hits which the Giants have 229 to the Padres 186; and strikeouts, where the Padres have an Major League worse 699 the Giants have almost 100 less at 602 (thats 8.03 team SO/game for the Pads and 6.91 team SO/game for the Giants). That all equates to 315 runs to the Padres 297, which again does not seem like a lot but the Giants have eight more wins, so they are doing something right and while the Padres make up for a lot with the their speed they need to improve in these areas.
(If the Padres can score 4 four runs or more, which I have been saying for years, they win the game, last they were 61-16 in games they scored 4 or more runs, this year they 29-8. In fact the Padres have only won 11 games with less than 4 runs, despite their great pitching they still need to score.)
The Giants and Padres playing similar style just seems to play into the Padres hands, it is almost uncanny how the Giants can do it against every other club in the ML and the Padres have trouble, but the Padres can do it against the Giants. Funny, this game of baseball.

One to Nothing

Padres win and better their 1-0 games record to 2-3

Things have been going well recently for the San Diego Padres as evidenced by a run 1-0 victory against Seattle in which the only run of the game came on a 3-ball walk. A few weeks ago they went on the road (usually a reprieve from the bizarrely baffling baseball they play at PetCo Park) and after losing a series in Colorado and then getting swept in Minnesota, they were poised to end their season in Boston. The first game of the series did not go well as they got thumped by a nasty ten-run inning orchestrated by Ernesto Frieri’s complete lack of control in the first game and lost big, which made it appear all the more that they would succumb to mediocrity and remain cellar bound the rest of the season. Then they actually came and won the next two games and the series with patience at the plate and a few big innings which has translated into three strait series victories, one over a Braves club which has only lost two of their last twelve games, both to the Padres. The last two series were actually at home, which has been an abyss of horrible play for the club all season, going 5-1 during the homestand. They can go for four series in a row today at Safeco Field in Seattle against the Mariners, before they play four against the Giants starting Monday. If they can win today and win that series that could potentially put them in a position to actually get back to only a few games under .500 by the All-Star break.

If Heath Bell wants to stay with the club this year then he better rally the troops and make sure they get back in it by the end of the month. However, he has said that he would like to come back next year even if he does get traded which would be a real coup for the Padres, though that is going to diminish his trade potential, maybe it was a purposeful sabotage by Heath, maybe I am just seeing the intrigue in everything because I have been playing too much Total War: Shogun 2, its nice to be off of school!

Home Woes Continue

At least the Padres are back on the road

One of several long road trips this year begins today for the San Diego Padres and with the way they finished up the homestand, losing three strait to the Washington Nationals, they are probably seeking the comfort of the hotel beds right about now. The Padres were only able to go 5-6 on the longest homestand of the year, however they are a better road team anyways, and maybe they can take some positives from the last three home series and produce some wins on this nine-game road trip. Starting in Colorado, where any team can awaken their bats, they go on to Minnesota who probably the second hottest team in baseball despite their .400 winning percentage, and then on to Boston to play the hottest team in the Majors right now.

The Colorado Rockies have been scuffling going 5-5 in their last ten, they have been hitting well but not pitching so great, they just took a series in PetCo Park last week however. The Padres need to find a way to win the Rockies series, as the two after are going to be tough. The Minnesota Twins have a team ERA of 2.02 in July, they have given up only 24 runs in 12 games, scoring 59 runs in that same time. And thats nothing compared to the tear the Boston Red Sox have been on, in July they are hitting .322 as a team and have scored 87 runs. The Pads are going to have their work cut out for them, but I think, as they play so good on the road, they will be able to win four or five games. Having a positive road trip in the win column would be a huge team victory for this club. They come home for another tough series against the Atlanta Braves, who are going to want some vengeance for the series the Padres took in their home park a few weeks ago, and then more Interleague play when the Kansas City Royals come into PetCo.

Another good thing is it looks like Cameron Maybin is back in the lineup (courtesy of Padreknowsbest, the best blog for behind the scenes Pads info and lineup cards two hours before each game!) hopefully he can stay healthy the rest of the year. With Orlando Hudson coming back soon hopefully and Maybin and Nick Hundley back, along with the recent addition of prospect Anthony Rizzo, maybe the Padres could get something going before the inevitable trades that will come towards the end of next month.

So Far, Almost So Good

Well before this homestand started I said that I would like to see eight or nine wins and get back in this thing, looks like that isn’t going to exactly happen. But the San Diego Padres won the first series taking three of four from the Houston Astros, however due to a rare bad outing by Heath Bell they were not able to take the series with the Colorado Rockies, though the play has been improved. They are still making too many errors (mental and the ones that get recorded in the books, which included a three error inning which lost them the first game of the homestand), striking out too much, not hitting productively, nor with runners in scoring position; despite all this though they are currently 4-3 since getting back in PetCo Park. All of this looks promising, as the Padres could easily be 6-1 right now if not for two bad innings in two games, maybe even though they haven’t gotten the numbers in the win column at least they look like they are making strides. The Padres have won three of their last four series going 8-5 during those 13 games, not great but at least there is some definite improvement. Take another series from the Washington Nationals and they would have a nice 7-4 or 8-3 homestand, which would probably be enough to pull them out of the cellar.

Another development is Nick Hundley is back from his rehab assignment in Tucson and he apparently brought Anthony Rizzo with him, who is going to start tonight. Both of them have to know they are not going to be the saviors of the season or the team, hopefully Buddy puts both of them in the 5-7 region in the batting order (which he did with Hundley last night hitting 6th). Rizzo of course has been killing it in the Minors and has deserved this promotion to the big club, hitting .365, slugging .715, with a .444 OBP; in 52 games he has 73 hits, 20 2B, 16 HR, 63 RBI, and 42 R. One chink in the armor however is 48 strikeouts in 200 ABs, that is about 1 SO/game, which will go up in the majors. Hopefully though he can fight through some of the inevitable growing pains and be a productive part of this lineup.

Coming Home…

The San Diego Padres are coming home for a long homestand and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit worried that they may very well win only a few (as in three or four) of these next 11 games. I really hope I’m wrong.

Of course it wouldn’t be hard to bring the game that the Padres have been playing recently in Washington and Atlanta back home, smart baseball where they are not beating themsleves, pushing the other team into making mistakes and capitalizing on them, hitting the gaps and then being able to bring that runner at second around to score, getting three hits in an inning, playing good defense, pitching smart and effectively. Now all they have to do is bring that to PetCo Park. Easier said than done however as far as this year has been progressing. Strikeouts are a key, being able to keep those down is the most important thing for this lineup, it has to produce 1-9 and that is hard to do when the team is striking out more than 10 times in a game (that is nearly half of the 27 outs in a 9 inning game), which has happened several times this year.

Hopefully this will be a productive homestand, basically if the Padres want to be in this thing this year they are going to have to turn that home record around and this is the best shot they are going to have. Eight or nine wins would be nice, maybe I’m reaching…

Three Wins in a Row, Let’s Play Some More Day Games!

Three wins in a row, someone pinch me.

I can’t say enough about the pitching, it has been so solid from starters to relievers, up and down the whole staff has been great all year. The offense is starting to come together as well though especially in terms of being able to string together more than two hits in an inning. On Saturday against the Washington Nationals they did it in the fourth with a Chase Headley single, Blake Tekotte’s triple, and Kyle Phillips’ single; in the top of the ninth they got another single by Headley, a walk from Tekotte, and a single from Logan Forsythe (except Headley was throw out at home). On Sunday in the fifth they were able to string together a Forsythe single, two walks by Bartlett and Ryan Ludwick, a single from Brad Hawpe, and a Headley double, which was good for three runs – they hadn’t put together a three-run inning since May 16th. A double and a single constituted both of the other runs, one in the fourth and one int he ninth. Then on Monday against the Atlanta Braves in the third they had three singles from Rob Johnson, Aaron Harang, and Eric Patterson good for a run (aided by a poor throw from Jordan Schafer, the young Atlanta center fielder who is in the bigs because of the injury to Nate McLouth, who was trying to double Harang at second after he strayed too far from the bag on a liner to center). That is four innings in the last three games where the San Diego Padres have actually looked like the team that I thought they could be for the last two years – a team that strings together hits, doesn’t try to do too much each at bat, and collectively gets enough runs in for the phenomenal pitching staff to do their job. I have really enjoyed watching the Padre players go the other way, hit the ball where it is pitched, and also being able to take advantage of some mistakes: Phillips’ game winner on Monday, Jorge Cantu’s nice double on Sunday, and Jason Bartlett’s homer on Friday.

Are these positive signs that the Padres are going to turn the conner, or is it just the day games?

A few side notes:

First, what was Patterson doing holding onto that ball in the bottom of the third against the Braves today? Throw the ball on a line, hit the cutoff man and at least try to get the guy at home, it wasn’t like Rickey Henderson was running the bases out there, it was Martin Prado. And what’s more, Brian McCann got the hit, was Patterson really worried about his speed if he threw the ball plate-ward? I understand keeping the double play in tact, but you have to throw the ball on that play, just hit the cutoff.

Second, someone should tell the guys at ESPN and FOX that Bard Hawpe was a first baseman his entire playing career till he got blocked by Todd Helton and was then converted to an outfielder, I am really getting tired of people calling him a “converted first baseman.” Maybe someone should actually check their facts every once in awhile (they also called Brooks Conrad, who was filling in at thrid base today, Chipper Jones, apparently didn’t get the memo he took the day today). I don’t even know why I watch that drivel on the “East coast SPorts Network.”