The San Diego Padres are such an anonymous team that the players aren’t even household names in their own households. Yet the Padres provided one of the primary highlights in one of the biggest event-filled weeks of the season.
Reaching .500 and above for the first time since the first 11 days of the 2011 season, the Padres emerged from seemingly nowhere and snatched second place in the National League West, on one day positioned only one game behind first-place Arizona. They entered Sunday’s games in third with a 38-37 record, three and a half games behind the Diamondbacks.
Another stunning development featured the underachieving Toronto Blue Jays, who mounted a 10-game winning streak, matching Atlanta’s early April run as the longest in the major leagues this season.
The Blue Jays’ 37-36 record before Sunday’s game was their first over .500 since last July 29. Their six-game division deficit was their smallest since April 24, and they had finally begun resembling the contender their flurry of winter activity and ensuing franchise record $118 million payroll made them out to be.
The Kansas City Royals offered another highlight of the week, winning six in a row for their longest winning streak of the season and reaching 34-34 two days before the Padres. The Royals, though, lost their next four games, undermining their surge.
The Padres look like they have the best chance to capitalize on their June burst. If they are part of the race, division or wild card, in the second half of the season, they could trace their turnaround to that week in June.
Their success, however, extends beyond that week. In the 25 days May 28 through June 22, the Padres compiled the best record in the National League, 16-9. They were the only team in their division with a winning record in that time.
And who are these no-name Padres?
Yonder Alonso, Jesus Guzman, Jedd Gyorko, Everth Cabrera, Pedro Ciriaco, Logan Forsythe, Yasmani Grandal, Eric Stults, Kyle Blanks.
OK, maybe these names will be more familiar:
Andrew Cashner, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, Cameron Maybin, Nick Hundley.
All right, one last chance:
Clayton Richard, Huston Street, Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Edinson, Volquez, Jason Marquis.
The Padres have several players on the disabled list, but this would be the starting team when everyone is healthy: Alonso at first, Gyorko at second, Cabrera at short, Headley at third, Quentin in left, Maybin in center, Venable/Donorfia in right, Grandal or Hundley catching.
Many people probably heard of Grandal’s 50-game suspension for a positive steroids test before they knew of him as the Padres catcher. They were most likely more aware of Randy and Todd Hundley as major league catchers than they were of San Diego’s Hundley.
But known or not, the Padres’ anonymous players have produced for them. Ciriaco, their substitute shortstop, for example, was hitting .216 in 28 games when San Diego acquired him from Boston June 14. In his first seven games with the Padres, the 27-year-old Dominican hit .400 (8-for-20) with a triple, a home run and three runs batted in.
When the Padres, with their $72 million payroll, 25th among the 30 teams, need a replacement part, they pick up a Ciriaco, not a Vernon Wells or a Kevin Youkilis, as the $229 million New York Yankees did.
“There are certain players we’re not going to get so we have to do it a different way,” Josh Byrnes, the San Diego general manager, said in a telephone interview Friday. “That’s the story line of baseball. There was a book and movie about that. Teams have to operate differently.”
Billy Beane, the model for “Moneyball,” the book and movie Byrnes referred to, has said he has moved on from his Moneyball days, but his, Oakland team has a $69 million payroll, just behind San Diego’s in the payroll standings, and the Athletics have been first or second in the American League West all season.
“Like a lot of people, we’re trying to figure out how to stay in the race and possibly win the division,” Byrnes said. “Everyone in the division has flaws.”
What does he see are the Padres’ flaws?
“Our starting pitching,” he said, “although ours has been better lately, is still a work in progress. We’ve had guys going deeper and contributing in games. That wasn’t happening earlier in the season.”
Byrnes wasn’t prepared to predict a division winner. “It’s always been a hard division to predict,” he said. But he cited a carryover development from last season that is worth watching.
With manager Bud Black providing leadership and inspiration, the Padres had a 57-46 record in approximately the last two-thirds of last season. In that stretch, only the San Francisco Giants, en route to the division title, had a batter record (61-42) among the division’s five teams.
“We played the last two-thirds of the schedule pretty well,” Byrnes said. “We brought back the same team. Over the last calendar year we have a decent winning formula.”
The Padres have pleased their fans. “One of the most gratifying things I’ve heard recently,” Byrnes said, “is it’s a fun team to watch.”
If Black can inspire the same kind of play in the Padres the remainder of this season, the no-names could provide more fun and gain a name – division champions.
The Padres’ ownership is as anonymous as their players. The team has endured ownership turmoil in recent years.
John Moores, who became the owner at the end of 1994, wanted to sell the team, and Jeff Moorad, a former player agent, wanted to buy it. They entered an agreement under which Moorad and his group would purchase 100 percent of the Padres over several years.
When the time came for Moorad to take control of the club, Major League Baseball blocked the sale, not satisfied apparently with Moorad’s financing.
Ron Fowler, a major figure in the beverage distribution business, is the Padres’ executive chairman. His group of owners assumed control of the team last August.
Included in the ownership group are Brian and Kevin O’Malley, sons of Peter, the former Dodgers’ owner, and Tom and Peter Seidler, sons of Peter O’Malley’s sister, who was also an owner of the Dodgers.
BLUE JAYS READY TO START SEASON
How relatively remarkable was it for the Blue Jays to win 10 games in a row, 10 games in 12 days? They needed 23 days to gain their previous 10 victories.
As satisfying as that streak might be, though, general manager Alex Anthopoulos isn’t letting himself get excited about it and possible ramifications.
“There are 90 games or whatever left,” Anthopoulos said. “That’s a lot of games. All the teams get streaky. You have a 5-game winning streak, or you lose 8 out of 10. Last year we fell apart the last two months after we were in the wild-card race.”
Last season the Blue Jays fells out of the wild-card race almost before it started. On July 28 they were sixth with a 51-49 record, 4 games behind Oakland for the first spot and 3 ½ games behind the Angels for the second spot.
The Blue Jays had plenty of time to catch up but a lot of teams to pass. They were unable to do either, losing their next 6 games and 40 of their last 62.
“I don’t know,” Anthopoulos said when asked in a telephone interview last Friday if he thought the Blue Jays could sustain their newly discovered winning ways. “I don’t even want to try to analyze it.”
I will note for the sake of perspective that the Blue Jays ran their streak to nine and then 10 games subsequent to our conversation.
“Give me a month; then I’ll tell you,” the cautious general manager added. “We’re starting to pitch well. We probably won’t maintain the numbers out of the bullpen and the starters’ 2 e.r.a. We’re not going to sustain that. But I knew we weren’t as bad a team as when we were losing.
I’d just rather wait and see.”
Anthopoulos was right about one thing. The Blue Jays’ bullpen actually gave up an earned run Saturday when Baltimore’s Taylor Teagarden hit a home run against Darren Oliver, but the resulting 0.73 earned run average for the bullpen for the month of June was still the lowest for a month’s worth of relief work in the majors since 1921.
Generally, Anthopoulos hopes he’ll be right about a lot, mainly the moves he made and the money he spent last winter.
He traded for pitchers R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson and shortstop Jose Reyes and signed outfielder Melky Cabrera and infielder Macier Izturis. The pitchers have not produced as advertised: Dickey 6-8, 5.15 earned run average; Buehrle 4-4, 4.60; Johnson 0-2, 4.38 in 7 starts.
“Buehrle started slow, but in his last eight starts he’s been outstanding,” Anthopoulos said of the left-hander’s 3-2 record and 2.65 e.r.a. in those starts.
Dickey, though, hasn’t shown signs of producing his Cy Young consistent performance of last season. He beat Baltimore Friday night but got away with allowing at least six runs for the fourth time in his last six starts.
Besides the winning streak, the best news for the Blue Jays may be the changing status of Reyes, Out since April 12 with a severely sprained ankle, the shortstop is on a minor league rehab assignment and could return to the Blue Jays this week. They would view that as another winning streak.
AND THIS LITTLE PIGGY GOT NONE
This could be baseball’s version of “this little piggy went to market.”
Over the weekend, Max Scherzer of Detroit gained his 11th victory against no defeats with an impressive 7-inning performance against Boston, Patrick Corbin of Arizona failed to get his 10th win without a loss despite a brilliant 8-inning performance against Cincinnati and Clay Buccholz of Boston, also 9-0, didn’t get any because he went on the disabled list with a strained neck muscle.
According to Major League Baseball, this is only the second season dating to at least 1916 that three starting pitchers have begun the same season with a 9-0 record or better.
The other season was 1929. Burleigh Grimes of the Pirates began 10-0 and Tom Zachary of the Yankees and George Uhle of the Tigers each began 9-0.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN WITH COLE
The Pirates’ 6-1 victory over the Angels Saturday night moved them two games behind the division-leading Cardinals and gave them a wild card-leading record of 45-30 (.600). More significantly, it put them at a critical crossroad.
Fifteen games over .500, the Pirates were one win from matching their 2012 high of 16 over .500, which they achieved with a 63-47 record Aug. 8. The end of their notorious run of 19 consecutive losing seasons seemed within their reach.
But their reach fell short. They needed to win 19 of their last 52 games to achieve a winning season for the first time since their division-championship season of 1992, but they won only 16 games and finished with a 79-83 record and losing season No. 20.
They obviously have more games left this year than last when they reached a similar juncture, but they can still finish with a winning season by having a losing record the rest of the season (37-50). But that’s negative thinking, and there’s no room for that in the Pirates’ playbook.
Now it’s possible that the Pirates would need even fewer victories the rest of the way had they called up Gerrit Cole earlier than they did.
Cole was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, and the Pirates promoted him to make his first major league start June 11. He won that one, he won his most recent start last Friday and he won the one in between. He has allowed 7 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings for a 3.44 e.r.a.
Maybe he wouldn’t have won any more games had the Pirates started his major league career sooner, but maybe, just maybe, he would have and maybe the Pirates would now be in first place in the National League Central.
But I forgot. Cole needed more work in the minors before the Pirates called him up at the same time – late May, early June – as a bunch of other good young prospects were promoted. They all needed more work. And their teams needed more time to make sure the players would have their eligibility for salary arbitration delayed a year.
Yes, dear readers, it’s all legal, but the practice of ill repute undermines the integrity of the game and cheats the fans.
You might have read a recent e-mail I printed here from a Pittsburgh reader saying he doesn’t mind having Cole’s eligibility delayed because he’d rather that the team has him for an extra year before he could be a free agent. But eligibility delayed could turn out this year to be playoffs denied.