Yasmani Grandal of the San Diego Padres celebrates his two-run home run with Chase Headley against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Padres will end 2012 with a disappointing record, but there are plenty of positives to take from the season.
Back in 2009, the San Diego Padres won just 75 games. The thing is, considering how the season began, hitting 75 wins was something of a victory. San Diego won 37 of their final 62 contests, after coming away victorious in just 38 of their first 100. They're in a similar situation in 2012, as the Padres sit at 63-74 after a horrific 17-35 start. Since the start of June, the Padres are tied for sixth in the NL in winning percentage -- is this a sign of a successful 2013, just like 2010?
It's not just the similar results that match the two iterations of the Padres up, as how they got to where they ended up looks comparable as well. Back in 2009, it was trading Jody Gerut and the loss of Brian Giles in his final, horrible season that helped get them in a better place. Gerut played in 37 games, posting a .221/./248/.381 line, and the 38-year-old Giles limped to a .191/.277/.271 showing in 254 plate appearances. Will Venable (.256/.323/.440), Kyle Blanks (.250/.355/.514), and Tony Gwynn Jr. (.270/.350/.344) picked up all of the newly available playing time.
Fast-forwarding to 2012 gives us not outfield changes, but the replacement of aging middle infielders. Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson both did their best to drag down the Padres at the start of the year, with Hudson producing a .211/.260/.317 line, and Bartlett the the sixth-worst OPS+ of anyone in the majors with at least as many plate appearances (98) as he compiled. Once again, it's younger, more capable players taking over, this time Logan Forsythe (.280/.358/.378), utility player Alexi Amarista (100 OPS+ in 88 games), and Everth Cabrera (.232/.313/.317). Cabrera has been the worst of the bunch, but when compared to Bartlett, he looks like Troy Tulowitzki.
Return from injuries in the lineup have also contributed to San Diego's success the last three months. Carlos Quentin played his first game of the year on May 28, and has hit .262/.371/.502 with a 145 OPS+ since, with six of his 15 homers coming at pitcher-friendly Petco. Huston Street, whenever he is healthy, has been lights out, posting a 0.75 ERA in 36 innings, courtesy of a 5.6 K/BB.
Most importantly, though -- and where the 2009 and 2012 teams separate -- is that the Padres have prospects and promising young players contributing to the squad on a consistent basis. 25-year-old Yonder Alonso started the year slow, but since late June, is at .293/.368/.442. Yasmani Grandal, who also came over in the Mat Latos trade this off-season, was called up on June 2, and is at .276/.366/.504 despite having to deal with Petco during home games. James Darnell, before he underwent shoulder surgery, posted a 120 OPS+ in his one week in the bigs. While he couldn't contribute much in 2012, there's always 2013.
It's not just new faces getting it done in the lineup. Chase Headley has been a force, posting a .299/.367/.495 line that the Padres just might want to keep around rather than trade in the future. Will Venable is getting things done against right-handers in right (112 split-adjusted OPS+), while Chris Denorfia owns a 123 OPS+, playing wherever he's been needed in the outfield for 109 games.
The pitching has been a bit more patchwork, but that once again likens this team to 2009's. That year, the Padres had just three pitchers cross the 100-inning threshold, with no one hitting the 200 mark. Overall, 33 pitchers took the mound, with 15 different starters getting a turn, from Kevin Correia's 33 outings to Cesar Ramos' two. Injuries have caused much of the same distress in 2012, with San Diego using 30 hurlers and, once again, 15 different starting pitchers. Unlike 2009, though, when the pitching for 2010 looked good, and not great, next year's Padres' rotation has the potential to be notable, once the injured parties return.
San Diego will have Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Anthony Bass, and Casey Kelly at the outset of 2013, while Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland recover from Tommy John surgeries. There's also Andrew Cashner, whom the Padres have moved back to starting after acquiring him for Anthony Rizzo this past winter, and Dustin Moseley and Tim Stauffer also both set to return. They won't have much of this group for the entire year, given Luebke and Wieland didn't have their procedures until late May and late July, respectively, but it's a better situation than the current one, where the zombified careers of Kip Wells, Jeff Suppan, and others have received considerable playing time.
There's no guarantee that the Padres will contend in 2013, but, given the success of a young core that's going to be together for a few years, one would think that they are going to be markedly better going forward than they will end up overall in 2012. In this new league setup, where NL Central clubs can't beat up on the Astros, and a second wild card is in the mix, that kind of change might be just enough to get the Padres into the playoffs, like they nearly were in 2010 after a season that looked an awful lot like this one.