The San Diego Padres never recovered from a slow start last season and when they did play well, it was too late.
Despite a quiet offseason, the Padres are hoping 2013 brings better results.
The Padres will be hard-pressed to find much success playing in a division with the World Series champion San Francisco Giants and the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers. The Padres may not even give the Arizona Diamondbacks a run for their money and will most likely trade last-place tags with the Colorado Rockies throughout the season.
San Diego, which went 42-33 after the All-Star break last summer, is averaging 78 wins over the last four seasons and went 76-86 in 2012, missing the playoffs for a sixth consecutive year.
The offseason was quite boring for a Padres club that will be relying on some veterans, a handful of young prospects and for a rotation to return healthy after an injury-filled 2012 season.
Clayton Richard, the ace of the staff, agreed to a one-year contract on Feb. 17 and started 33 games for San Diego in 2012, posting a 14-14 record with a 3.99 earned run average and 107 strikeouts over 218 2/3 innings. Edinson Volquez is back for another season with the Friars and went 11-11 with a 4.14 ERA and a team-best 174 K's in 32 starts.
Richard and Volquez were the only hurlers who managed to stay healthy for the majority of the season. Jason Marquis made 15 starts after seven with the Minnesota Twins earlier in the season. Marquis, though, will be fighting for a spot in the rotation, which could have Eric Stults, Tyson Ross, Casey Kelly and Anthony Bass following Richard and Volquez in the rotation. Freddy Garcia is another option for the Padres and signed a minor league deal in the offseason.
The only two members of the pitching staff to exceed 180 innings were Richard and Volquez.
Perhaps manager Bud Black could care less who makes the five-man system since health is a priority after what he suffered through a year ago.
"We've got to pitch better," Black said in February. "Teams that are successful and have good seasons pitch well."
Padres third baseman Chase Headley is the club's returning offensive star and was arguably the MVP of the second half last summer. Headley led the team with a .286 batting average, 31 homers and 115 RBI. Yonder Alonso, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable and Cameron Maybin will provide Black's lineup with pop, while youngster Jedd Gyorko could be a sleeper at second base.
Headley, though, will miss the start of the season with a thumb injury.
The Padres altered the dimensions of what used to be pitcher friendly Petco Park, but are giving their hitters an added advantage at the plate. Imagine what Headley could have achieved had the fenced been brought in a year ago.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Padres, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
RHP Cory Burns, LHP Josh Spence, LHP Andrew Werner, RHP Ross Ohlendorf
CAN THE PADRES COUNT ON HEADLEY'S END OF 2012 TO CARRY OVER?
The Padres' lineup depends on Headley to produce and he will need even more help in the lineup from the likes of Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin, as he is expected to miss the first two weeks. of the season
Perhaps infielder Jedd Gyorko, who had 30 homers and 100 RBI in the minor leagues, will have a breakout campaign after his second big league camp to add another device to the lineup. Gyorko will start the season at second, while Logan Forsythe mans the hot corner in Headley's absence.
San Diego agreed to terms with Headley on one-year contract in January and the NL Player of the Month for in both August and September hit 286 with 31 doubles, 31 home runs, 115 runs batted in and 95 runs scored. He showcased his durability (playing in 161 games) and joined Dave Winfield as the only Padres to lead the NL in RBI for an entire campaign. He also captured the first Gold Glove in his career to go along with a Louisville Silver Slugger award.
The Padres' mainstay on the hot corner asked for $10.3 million in arbitration and eventually got $8.575. Headley batted .314 with 19 homers and 61 RBI in August and September combined.
An improved season for Maybin and a more productive campaign from Quentin is what San Diego needs. And so does Headley.
WHAT CAN SAN DIEGO EXPECT FROM ITS ROTATION?
Part of San Diego's rebuilding project is its pitchers.
Starting with the rotation, Richard and Volquez are safe with a spot. Coming over in a trade from Cincinnati, Volquez dazzled at times for the Padres and logged the second-highest inning total in his career (182 2/3). The right- hander rebounded from three straight subpar outings with the Reds to give the Friars a solid 1-2 punch with Richard.
Marquis picked the brain of former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman in hopes of improving his chances as a starter. The gritty righty has hopped around the league the last few years and is excited about the season.
"Things are starting off on a good note. I'm excited about the season. I'm glad to be back here," Marquis said. "It's always nice to be closer to home, especially when you have three kids, but it's also nice to be somewhere I'm wanted and appreciated."
Anthony Bass, Casey Kelly, Tyson Ross, Cory Luebke, Andrew Cashner and Eric Stults are legitimate candidates to round out the rest of the rotation. Freddy Garcia is another option, but he's getting a bit long in the tooth. The Padres could have made a splash in the free agent market and even tried to lure Edwin Jackson to the west coast, but they're stuck with what they have.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR THE PADRES TO START HOT?
Some believe World Series are won in April and May. Some believe after the All-Star break clubs can make a run despite a shaky start.
The Padres went 7-17 in April and 10-18 in May, and they're strong final two months went to the wayside. Black's club must produce better results out of the gates to even have a chance to compete with the Giants and Dodgers. There's usually a common denominator as to why players have a rough start, but all teams go through it.
"Because of how we played (in the second half), we feel that we can do it again," Black said. "And that's the challenge. Instead of doing it for three months, we've got to do it for six.
"That's what all teams that are good and contend do; they're consistent, from start to finish. We had a bad start, but we finished well. Now we have to do it for six months."
Getting off to a hot start without Headley, though, may be difficult.
X-FACTOR: NICK HUNDLEY: Hundley hopes to put a disappointing 2012 campaign behind him and will get the majority of playing time at catcher with Yasmani Grandal suspended for the first 50 games of the season. Hundley played to a .157 batting average and a .245 slugging percentage in 58 games before he was sent to Triple-A Tucson. Hundley, who missed time with a knee injury in April and was shelved after back surgery in August, adjusted his mechanics at the plate in the offseason, lowering his hands and tinkering with his stance. Whether it helps or not remains to be seen, but he'll have at least 50 games to prove he can remain at the big league level. If not, the Padres wouldn't be doing themselves an injustice by putting him on the bench. San Diego has plenty of depth, which will come in handy after the first few months.
The word on the streets is that uncertainty and lack of offensive firepower will keep the Padres out of the playoffs once again. That may be true unless injuries subside, the rotation finds it niche and Headley isn't left carrying the offensive load. The Padres won 90 games back in 2010 and hope to revert back to those days, when pitching and timely hitting came often. Every ballclub has its share of questions, but not every team answers them. The solid core of youth will need some time to jell and perhaps 2014 looks better. A fourth or fifth place finish in the NL West seems realistic.