The San Diego Padres are coming off a 76-86 season in 2013 but seem to be going in the right direction. What I like most about the Padres is their starting pitching, led by Andrew Cashner, who has taken over as the team's ace. RHPs Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy should be solid, but if free agent RHP Josh Johnson comes close to what he did when he was the Marlins ace, the rotation can match up with anybody not named the Dodgers in the NL West. 2012 was the year where 3B Chase Headley became a star (.286, 36, 115 with a Gold Glove at 3B). While the Padres started to put a team around him with Jed Gyorko (.249, 23, 63 in 2013) and Will Venable (.268, 22, 53, 22 SB), Headley was not the same hitter, finishing 2013 with 13 HR in only 20 less games. It also did not help that 1B Yonder Alonso, who hit .273, 9, 62 in 155 games in 2012, played in just 97 games in 2013. Carlos Quentin played in just 82 games and was known for starting fights for no reason and Cameron Maybin, who was the opening day CF, was in the lineup for 14 games before his season ended.
The spotlight should be on the pitching, as the Padres have quietly put themselves together an improved rotation. Cashner (10-9, 3.06 in 31 games, 26 starts) nearly threw a no hitter in his last start in 2013. Though he had to settle for a 1-hit shutout, it is clear he has become the pitcher the Padres expected him to be after he was acquired from the Cubs for 1B Anthony Rizzo. RHP Tyson Ross (3-8, 3.17, 35 games, 16 starts) is another who can be counted on this year, with Kennedy (7-10, 4.91 in 31 starts) expected to pitch well after his trade from Arizona. Their most dependable starter all season in 2013 was LHP Eric Stults (11-13, 3.93 in 33 starts and a team high 203 IP), who could be the team's 5th starter in 2014. Johnson is much better than his 2-8, 6.20 attempt in Toronto. I expect him to be better if healthy, but how healthy will he be? RHPs Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland and even Max Fried could all contribute this season if needed. If any or all three are ready, the Padres may have some ammo to address a need in another part of the ballclub.
The lineup will already be without Maybin for the first two months of the season. Alexi Amarista (.236, 5, 32 in 146 games) will probably fill in like he did in 2013. The OF should be solid with Maybin, Quentin (.275, 13, 44) and Venable. Alonso (.281, 6, 45), Gyorko, Headley and Evereth Cabrera .283, 4, 31, 37 SB before he was suspended for his role in Biogenesis) will make up the infield. Nick Hundley (.233, 13, 44) had a good season as the starting catcher but Yasmani Grandal is likely to be the starting catcher at some point in 2014. Grandal played in just 28 games last year and has already served a suspension for PED use. I'd line the Padres up like this: Cabrera SS, Venable RF, Headley 3B, Alonso 1B, Quentin RF, Gyorko 2B, Grandal/ Hundley C, Amarista CF. Headley will be the key to this lineup while I also think Grandal can be an instant offensive weapon. Seth Smith, Kyle Blanks and Amarista (after Maybin returns) make up the San Diego bench.
The bullpen will once again be headed by RHP Huston Street (2-5, 33 saves, 2.70). This year, he is joined by former Detroit Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit (4-1, 24, 2.01), who replaces RHP Luke Gregorson (6-8, 2.71 in 73 games), traded to Oakland for Seth Smith. LHP Alex Torres (4-2, 1.71 in 39 games) is the primary LOOGY after being acquired from Tampa Bay for infielder Logan Forsythe. Tim Stauffer (3-1, 3.45 in 43 games) can still be a decent starter, but it is interesting to see if he makes the transition to a late game reliever. He has a great arm. RHP Dale Thayer and Anthony Carter are also expected to have major roles. If Street stumbles, I expect to see either Benoit or Stauffer getting a shot to close. At this stage, I think Benoit can be more dominant than street, in spite of his struggles in last year's postseason.
The Padres finished last year at 76-86, and I can see them being a sleeper team this season (I felt the same way last season). While I would not be surprised if that was the case, I have lowered my expectations with the feelings that this team is another year away. I think the future will be great, both in the field and on the mound. The O/U was 78.5, but I'm going with the under at 73-89, 4th place in the NL West. I believe Bud Black is the man to lead the squad. I hope he is not the scapegoat for this team not making it this year.