SAN DIEGO – Kevin Towers leaned against a wall just off the home clubhouse here, wearing shorts, loafers and a golfer's tan. No socks, of course.
The San Diego Padres, the roster he assembled – the lineup, the rotation, the bullpen – had been horrible again, this time in a six-run loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. They've won 16 times in seven weeks, scored two runs or fewer in almost half their games, and are – inch by dreadful, agonizing inch – being run out of the weak National League West before summer arrives.
So, Towers, an amiable guy most of the time, a baseball man who has seen enough summers, won enough games, had his faith rewarded enough times to understand that six months is six months and not seven weeks, also knows a potential disaster when he sees it. When he's, you know, built it.
The Padres lost their ace, Jake Peavy, for at least a couple weeks and probably more because of a strained right elbow Monday evening, and if that hadn't completely fouled Towers' mood, the ensuing nine innings finished him off. More clumsy defense. More fat pitches. More casual at-bats. And, ultimately, another half-game gone in the standings. The deficit is 13.
"We're bad, no question about it," Towers said. "There comes a point in time we can't say, 'It's early.' There's nothing to lead me to believe – or the fans to believe – we're going to turn this thing around."
He promised changes. "Wholesale," he said. And he waved his hands at the clubhouse, meaning most of the players in it, he had little use for right now.
"I'm certainly not going to watch this for another four months," he said.
Judging by the stands at Petco Park on Monday night, he's not alone in that.
"If you hear the word that morale is good in this clubhouse, we've got major issues," he said. "The morale should be horrible. For winning-type players, morale should be horrible. I know it's horrible in the coaches' office. And it's horrible upstairs."
The results are one thing, Towers said. But, damn, he sat and watched the Padres get down by five runs, and then in the final three innings his hitters saw a total of 31 pitches. They're overmatched by talent, and then outworked, which is no way to run a baseball season.
"We really grind pretty good," Towers insisted, "until we get behind."
They've been behind a lot.
"That's the way it's been all year," Towers said.
Hours earlier, the major league standings were just sitting there on the Padres' bench, typed out nice and neat, not six inches from manager Bud Black's right thigh.
"These?" Black asked.
"Uh," he began, "the thing that I look at there, what's that add up to, 45?"
The Padres had played 45 games, yes, and won 16 of them.
"That means we have how many left?"
"That's what I look at," he said. "Needless to say, we haven't played our best baseball as a group."
They have played the worst baseball in the game. As a group.
The starting pitching, Black said, has been OK "in stretches." The bullpen OK in "flashes." The offense rolls "a couple guys at a time."
Put it all together, you get 16 wins and last place in a flagging division with three teams carrying a winning percentage under .400.
"I'll tell you, it is what it is," he said. "It's not good. I hear you. I'm hoping the next 45, we reverse that and see where we are then."
He's a good man, Bud Black, a good fit for a franchise that will be built around its pitching staffs for as long as Petco Park is operating, and for as long as the farm system refuses to generate much in the way of impact position players.
Management took its flier on aging center fielder Jim Edmonds, which ended up costing the Padres about $6 million, or going on 10 percent of the payroll. It entrusted left field to a mixed bag of Paul McAnulty, Scott Hairston and Justin Huber, which thus far has netted 10 RBI and a .203 batting average. Meanwhile, Chase Headley, a switch-hitting left-fielder with some power potential (and who just turned 24), toils at Triple-A Portland. When the changes come – and they will come – Headley will be the first one at the airport.
Granted, the pitching staff hasn't been what the Padres expected – and won't be as long as Peavy is resting his achy elbow, or as long as the bullpen tanks – but the offense is beneath even the Padres' lowly standards. Remember, this franchise won NL West titles in 2005 and 2006 while finishing 13th in the league in runs scored. Partly, it's the ballpark. That said, it's as if the Padres have given up entirely on building anything like an offense.
The No. 5 hitters? Batting .199. With, uh, 14 RBI. A good portion of that, still, lies with Edmonds, but it's a wonder cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez ever sees a strike.
Opposing left-handers? They've struck out 94 Padres in 378 at-bats. Lefties Erik Bedard and Ted Lilly, pitching three days apart against the Padres last week, struck out 21 of the 54 batters they faced.
Generally speaking, the Padres don't hit for power or average, don't get on base and don't steal bases, presumably because there's rarely anyone at first base. They do, however, hit a ton of fly balls and strike out much of the time, neither of which plays particularly well at Petco.
Then, over consecutive days last weekend that concluded their road trip, the whole of the Padres' offense against the Seattle Mariners was fourth-inning, two-run home runs by Gonzalez.
Sandy Alderson and Towers are – so far – waiting on shortstop Khalil Greene (.212, three home runs, .265 on-base percentage), third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff (three home runs, .676 OPS), catcher Josh Bard (.208 batting average, .138 against lefties) and Hairston (.273 OBP), along with any volunteers to bat fifth, to break free from an epidemic funk that has seized the season.
And now it's already reaching a time the Padres will have to think about trading for the future, even parting with players Towers likes, such as Greg Maddux (who has a full no-trade clause but might consider finishing what could be his last season for a contender), Randy Wolf, Giles, whomever.
"I just hope we all have the same feeling when we wake up in the morning and look at the box score, look at the standings," Towers said. "It should. If it doesn't, we all shouldn't be here. It's the way you play the game. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see body language, the way you play and approach the game. Hey, you're going to lose games. It's the way you play this game from the first pitch to the last pitch. They way you carry yourself."
Albert Pujols hit two home runs Monday night and beat the Padres almost by himself. One of the most decorated players in the game. And on his home runs, Towers pointed out, Pujols raced around the basepaths.
"Baseball player," Towers said. "That's a friggin' baseball player right there. No cockiness. No 'Look at me.' Play the game right."
As he spoke, the clubhouse cleared, Padres players passing and pretending not to hear.
"(Shoot)," Towers spat, "I'm not enjoying watching this. I'm looking for a little bit of progress, just to have some hope. It becomes like Groundhog Day, over and over."
- Kevin Towers