So the Major League Baseball season ended about 48 hours ago. Big Deal. It is never too early to look ahead. For baseball fans like you and me, the offseason wheeling and dealing is just as fun as watching the games and their highlights. So here goes the first prediction for the 2013 season.
Watch out for the San Diego Padres.
OK, so you look at the final 2012 standings and see the team finished 76-86, fourth place in the National League West. Plus, you know that this team has not won a playoff series since 1998. You would be missing some important details about the Friars. Their record was 17-35 on May 31st; from that point on they were 59-51, including 18-10 in August. As a blogger for the Arizona Diamondbacks, they were more than a nuisance; the Pads have some really good young players. San Diego will need all of them as their division boasts the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, the big money Los Angeles Dodger$ and the aforementioned D’Backs.
If you haven’t heard the name Chase Headley get used to hearing about him. All he did was establish himself as one of the best if not the best third basemen in the National League batting .286 and leading all NL 3B’s in home runs with 31 and RBI’s with 115. All of these numbers came with him playing in notoriously pitcher-friendly Petco Park, which is scheduled to have its fences moved in next year. First baseman Yonder Alonso excelled during his first full season in San Diego and will be helped by the shorter dimensions. Turning 26 in April, expect him to put up more than the nine homers he hit in 2012. Catcher will belong to Nick Hundley or Yasmani Grandal, a rookie last year who homered four times in his first six at-bats, including both sides of the plate in the same game. Two-thirds of the outfield is set with Carlos Quentin in left field and Cameron Maybin in center. Quinten, when healthy, is a force as he proved with 16 HR’s in only 284 at-bats. Maybin is a highlight reel every night and he too, will benefit from the move of the fences. He also hit one of the longest home runs in 2012.
As for the pitching, I kept telling friends that play fantasy baseball that if Clayton Richard was available, they should grab him. Vastly underrated because of where he plays, he has registered two 14 win seasons on teams that have finished below .500. Last season, the ERA was a little on the high side at 3.99 but he did throw almost 220 innings. He is not a bona fide ace but that does not mean he will not be a consistent 15 game winner the next five years or so. People forget that Edinson Volquez started the All Star Game for the National League in 2008 mainly because an arm injury derailed his career shortly after that season. He won 11 games last season and may not reach the heights that seemed possible five years ago. Still he has good stuff as his 176 strikeouts in 188 inning can attest. The bullpen will be anchored by Huston Street who saved 23 games in 24 opportunities last season with a tidy 1.85 ERA. Injury is always a concern for Street who did notch his 200th career save on September 23rd. Fortuantely, the Padres also have Luke Gregerson coming back in case Street falters. The righty pitched in 77 games and had nine saves in Street’s absence to ago along with a 2.39 ERA.
These will not be the same old Padres. The nucleus is promosing and unlike in the past, they seem willing to spend money. Extensions last season were given to Qunetin, Maybin and Street. Headley is arbitration-eligible so don’t be surprised if the team does try to avoid that by giving him a long-term deal. Starting pitching is a must and there aren’t many pitching parks better than Petco. I am not prediciting a division title for the team, just a vast improvement over their 76 wins a year ago.
Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com