As the regular season winds down, many teams are already facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Up next in our series is Brian Polk, a fanatical Friars fan who wrote the 10 best things about being a Padres fan for the Stew earlier this year.
My fellow Padres fans,
When they write about our 2012 campaign in the history books, when your children look you in the eye and ask you if the 2012 Padres were contenders, tell them not that the Padres lost. Tell them, my friends, that the Padres just ran out of time.
Yes. it's been a remarkable journey, ladies and gentlemen. The season was certainly hard to watch at times, but we still have a lot of which to be proud. I, for one, love our team. I love our stadium. I love its seats. Its foul poles are just the right height. And despite being out of contention from nearly the beginning of the season, the Padres showed some second-half flashes of brilliance, even going 18-10 in August, up there with the best squads in the league.
Indeed, this team of mavericks is very different from the one we knew at the beginning of the season. We knew coming into 2012 we didn't have much in the way of star power or a pitching ace. We thought, at least, we had a solid starting rotation anchored by Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, and, well, you know there was... uh... well... Oops. (*Rick Perry face*)
Yes, before we could blink, Corey Luebke, Dustin Moseley, and Tim Stauffer were out for the season. Ten players went on the DL in the first six weeks. Padres fans grasped quickly that this might not be our year. The pitchers we moved into the starting rotation as replacements? Well, they got injured. And then the pitchers we brought up to replace THOSE pitchers got injured. When Casey Kelly (he of the Adrian Gonzalez trade) first took the mound in late August, he became the Pads' 15th different starting pitcher this year. They say a team needs consistency, dependability, and a little luck to have a winning campaign. Well, we lacked all three.
Surely, the spring of 2012 was a dark time for Padres baseball. We were 20-41 in our first 61 games. We entered the All-Star Break with one of the worst records in the majors and with only one All-Star representative!
Now, now, please... Don't boo. Vote! (for Chase Headley ... on your All-Star ballots ... next year.)
The Turnaround Team: Right around the break, we had a turnaround, a resurrection, a true Etch A Sketch Moment! Perhaps it began a bit earlier, with Carlos Quentin's first full month back from injury in June, or with the sweep of the Diamondbacks that culminated in a slugfest on July 4. Whatever the reason, the post-All-Star break Padres and their .591 winning percentage made the pre-All-Star break Padres look like an Evil Mirror Twin who had escaped from his Evil Mirror World and was terrible at baseball.
Sadly, the dismal first half was too much to recover from. In hindsight, some front office mistakes were admittedly made. The guys in charge told us in spring training that the fundamentals of our team were strong. But they began the season with Orlando Hudson at second base. They called signing Jeff Suppan to a minor league deal "depth." They signed Nick Hundley to a contract extension only to see him slide further and further into irrelevance. But hey, we like being able to fire people. And fire them we did (sort of). And now San Diego and the world are safer with O-Dog far away, back in the AL where he belongs.
Once the Padres did a little bit of cleaning house, they could make way for some of those GOOD front-office decisions. A big hand to our youngsters from the Mat Latos trade: Yonder Alonso (who leads major league rookies in doubles) and Yasmani Grandal! Three cheers for Carlos Quentin, whom we locked up for three seasons, and Chris Denorfia, everyone's favorite fourth outfielder who quietly had a great year! Yeeeeah!! (*Howard Dean scream*)
Forward: My fellow Friar Faithful, we must build a bridge to spring training, to the thousand points of light on the horizon. Our team is improving because We Built It . From the inside, from our farm system which has depth on the mound and at every position. And some of our highest rated prospects are still waiting in the wings! THEY are the change we've been waiting for!
The Padres have a new TV deal and new owners, and, who knows, next year they might just be willing to toss a few more coins into the Padres payroll. At the very least, the new ownership hasn't done anything stupid, like firing Bud Black when things were bad. In all seriousness, the man knows how to run a baseball team. When it comes to measuring the effect of a manager, I point to the stat that really counts: this season the Padres were once again near the top of the league in stolen bases. In fact, only the Brewers have been more efficient on the basepaths in 2012.
Padres fans, I see your solemn, purposeful applause and your head-nodding. I see on your faces that you too believe that better things await us in 2013. I know you remember how the Padres surged late in 2009 and then nearly made it in 2010. At this point, you're seriously wondering why baseball can't start in July and end the following June. If it did, perhaps the Pads would be world champions. Oh, curse the 23° axial tilt of the Earth that causes seasons!
Let me be clear, I have no illusions about our losing efforts, nor about our offseason needs. We struggled against the top teams and against the rest of the NL West, and, while improved, our pitching is still a shadow of its former glory, settling into the middle of the pack in ERA and quality starts. But take heart, Padres fans! This week, for us, the campaign ended. But for the baseball players who have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
So, yes, basically I'm betting we're in contention next year. Anyone? $10,000 bet?
Brian Polk is a writer and lifelong Padres fan living in New York. You can follow him on Twitter.