Am still waiting for the motivational fee the Padres owe me. Loveable Kook, also known as closer Heath Bell, says the team was really ticked off when it read my prediction in May that the Padres would fall into third come summer.
Before the season I picked the Padres to finish fourth with 79 wins. Looks like I'll be getting a motivational fee for that one, too. Here's what I wrote about the club going into tonight's showdown in Atlanta -- http://tinyurl.com/2c6rk3s.
A few thoughts:
* The Padres are 91-62 since the end of last July. Still nine more games to go to make it a full 162 games. Let's say the Padres win five of those games. That's a 96-66 mark.
* A lot has been written and said about the team's improved footspeed and running game. I've given Bud Black and Rick Renteria credit for changing the team's culture from station-to-station to take-the-extra-base, while noting that the 2006 team was speedy and daring, too, and, to my eyes, better defensively (although Todd Walker degraded the defense when he was shoehorned into third base for Vinny Castilla). I've praised the front office -- take a bow, Jed Hoyer -- for getting faster players.
At some point, however, you'd think the Padres need to be smarter on the basepaths. Take Sunday's game. They ran into three outs. Adrian Gonzalez, for instance, has no business getting trapped off first base after the left-fielder triple-clutches (!) on his throw to home, which was cut off. Yeah, the Padres still won the game. For a team that's talking about winning it all, however, the baserunning is remarkably erratic.
* Am curious to see how the Braves play. One of the scouts told me the Braves are probably the best team in the NL right now, but he said it's real close. Like the Padres, the Braves have a strong bullpen.
* Hoyer tells me he's eyeing a few right-handed relievers in the trade market, which may reflect concerns about the durability of his bullpen. All the same, the Padres' depth there is still the envy of many clubs. Same scout told me Ryan Webb would pitch with small leads in the seventh or eight inning for a lot of teams. Ernesto Frieri impressed the scouts who watched his season debut. If the Padres want to get creative, Kevin Correia is a better bullpen option than several clubs have (if that move happens, pitching coach Darren Balsley is a tremendous resource, because I think he'd be able to get Correia in the right frame of mind to accept it).
The Rockies, in contrast, are losing games because they don't have as good of a bullpen. Same with the Dodgers.
* The Cardinals are having a weird year. They have the most frontline talent in the NL Central, but they've made more boneheaded plays than a LaRussa team usually does. When the Cardinals are on their game, however, they've looked better than anybody I've seen in the NL. As it stands now, I think their "A" game is better than the Padres' "A" game.
* Wrote in FanHouse about the Marlins gathering information on Padres bench coach Ted Simmons for their managerial job. Jake Peavy said a year ago that Simmons made a real difference behind the scenes, and Nick Hundley, whom I quoted in the story, seemed sincere in giving Simmons a lot of credit. I have no idea what the Marlins will decide after the season , but the Padres wouldn't easily replace Simmons. He has been fire to Black's ice and represents one of the better low-level moves made by the Gunslinger.
* Petco Park had a different feel recently. Because of the big crowds and increased attentiveness, it felt like San Diego was somewhat buying into this team. Hadn't felt that in a long time. Once the Chargers get going, I guess that could change.