As the regular season winds down, more and more teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategery.
Meanwhile, the fans of those squads are looking at the prospect of spending the winter without the warmth of a postseason appearance. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're asking a blogger from each team to write a cathartic missive to their disappointing 2010 lineups.
Dear San Diego Padres,
Why must you toy with my emotions so much? No one gave you a chance this season, but after going to spring training, I thought otherwise and said so.
My optimism wasn't received very well. I was called a homer and told I knew nothing about baseball. Some even said I was ugly and my mother dressed me funny. Then the season started and something magical happened. You were in first place for most of the year! You were scrapping together wins left and right. "See! I told you to believe!" I said to all of the preseason naysayers.
But alas, it turned out that all of those non-believers were ultimately right. In the end you let me down and now game 162 of 2010 will join the likes of game 163 in 2007 as a black cloud in my mind that I will refuse to talk about ever again.
Thanks a lot, Padres.
This season could have been special.
The Good Times: Despite my apparent bitterness towards you — come on, it's only been a couple days, I still need some time — we did have quite a few good times this season.
After starting the season on the road and going 2-4 while scoring 19 runs total, you came home and proceeded to beat up on the eventual wild card-winning Atlanta Braves 17-2. The ballpark was packed, the weather was awesome — like always here in San Diego — and the offense put on a display that us fans wished we could have seen a few more times during the season. A couple days later you'd take over the top spot in the NL West and sit a top for over 80 percent of the season.
Mat Latos(notes), a 22-year-old starting pitcher, emerged as one of the top arms in all of baseball this season. From June 10 to Sept. 7, Latos gave up two runs or less in 15 consecutive starts, a MLB record. Despite being skipped over in the rotation a few times to keep his innings down and a DL stint from a devastating "sneezing" injury that could have taken down a bear, he still struck out 189 batters, won 14 games and had a 2.92 ERA.
Meanwhile, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez(notes) was pretty much the only bright spot on offense this season. He racked up his third straight All-Star appearance and slugged over 30 homers for the fourth consecutive season despite playing half his games in the pitcher friendly confines of Petco Park.
A couple other players who played a huge role in your success this season were utility man Jerry Hairston Jr.(notes) and outfielder Chris Denorfia(notes). On paper most people would look at Hairstons' numbers and scoff at my claim. But you and I know that he not only did he fill in admirably at five different positions this season, but he also provided a spark that this team desperately needed. At the time of his signing, Denorfia was nothing more than outfield depth. Fast forward to May 17, when outfielders Kyle Blanks(notes), Tony Gwynn(notes) Jr. and Will Venable(notes) were all struggling badly at the plate or injured, and he got his big chance. Denorfia was on the MLB roster the rest of the way. Apart from Gonzalez, he was your most productive offensive player this season.
The bullpen was absolutely phenomenal this season posting a major league leading 2.81 ERA while holding hitters to a .220 BAA. Led by All-Star closer Heath Bell(notes) (47 saves), setup man Mike Adams(notes) and the new MLB single-season holds leader Luke Gregerson(notes) (40), this bullpen easily ranks as the best in your history. Add to the mix guys like Joe Thatcher(notes), Ernesto Frieri(notes), Tim Stauffer(notes) and Ryan Webb(notes) and you were completely dominant for most of the season. To make things even better, baring a trade, all of them appear to be returning next season.
The Bad Times: Oh, we have to go here, don't we? On Aug. 25, you were 6.5 games up in the NL West and had the best record in the NL by four games. Fast forward to Sept. 5 where you were only one game up in the NL West and would never see the top NL spot again. What happened? You lost 10 straight to Arizona (4), Philadelphia (3) and Colorado (3). Look, every team is allowed a slump during the season but losing four to the last place Diamondbacks?? Come on!
Then there was the offense. Let's face it, without the strong performance of the entire pitching staff, you wouldn't have been anywhere near 90 wins. You were shut out a whopping 12 times this season. Five of which were in the final 23 games!
It also hurt not signing your No. 1 draft pick in Karsten Whitson. Don't get me wrong, I believe you did the right thing by refusing to give in to his outrageous demands after he verbally agreed to a deal. But it still hurts being a team that can't go out and spend top dollar on free agents and has to build through the draft.
Game 162. I don't need to say anymore.
It's Not All You: Unfortunately Kyle Blanks and shortstop Everth Cabrera(notes) struggled early on and ended up missing most of the season due to injuries. Not only were those two 40 percent of this year's bobblehead set, but they were also expected to play huge roles in the starting lineup this season. Other guys like second baseman David Eckstein(notes), starting pitcher Chris Young, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Tony Gwynn Jr. also missed a significant amount of time on the DL this year. I understand it's hard when you have to replace your starters with other players, especially for huge chunks of the season.
Shape Up or Ship Out: With starters Latos, Clayton Richard(notes), Tim Stauffer, Cory Luebke(notes) and perhaps even Jon Garland(notes) (has a 2011 option) or Wade LeBlanc(notes) (who started out the year solid but appeared to have fatigued towards the end), you have the arms to lead you to the playoffs in 2011. The magnificent bullpen appears to be returning fully intact next season as well. So perhaps bring in another arm or two to give you that depth just in case injury strikes again and you will be looking pretty good on the pitching front.
You and I both know the offense is a complete mess though. Padres owner Jeff Moorad promised us fans that Adrian Gonzalez WOULD NOT be traded before the start of next season. So I guess we have that going for us. Recently acquired outfielder Ryan Ludwick(notes) is arbitration eligible but didn't show he could play in Petco Park in his short time here. His defense was shaky and his bat was even shakier. I would think he gets a shot to prove he belongs in San Diego, though and will return in 2011. Guys like third baseman Chase Headley(notes), catcher Nick Hundley(notes) and Will Venable all showed signs of life this season, but need to be more consistent next year. They all have the talent but were either really hot or extremely cold this season and over the course of 162 games they need to learn to balance that a bit better.
Do you bring back Mr. Scrappy, David Eckstein? With nothing in the minors and an extremely weak free agent crop, I think there is a pretty solid chance he returns at a cost efficient one-year deal. The other trade deadline acquisition Miguel Tejada(notes) is also a free agent. When he was brought in everyone assumed he wouldn't provide much. Turns out without Miggy,, it would have never even came down to game 162. That said I wouldn't expect him to return though. I think he could get more money with another team and with his career winding down will probably opt to earn every penny he can. (I'd also like to see you give outfielder Aaron Cunningham(notes) a chance to start too. Not only did he once sell his car to Ice-T, but he's shown flashes of brilliance in the few opportunities he's been given at the major league level.)
All that said, it was a semi-successful year. No one gave you a chance before the season and you proved the experts wrong. Just please just don't choke down the stretch next year. The black cloud in my mind can't afford to get any bigger.
(Get any bigger ... Get any bigger ... Get any bigger ... See what I mean?)
See you next April,
* * *
Follow SDPads1 on Twitter — @RJsFro
Read Big League Stew's previous Dear John letters here.
NOTE: We've had trouble finding someone to admit that they're an A's fan. If you bleed green and you're interested in penning Oakland's letter, email us to volunteer.