New season, same prediction. Reprising last March, I see the Padres poking above their Vegas over/under by finishing with 79 victories, ahead of the Garden Snakes. They'll end up tied with the Dodgers, but, because star talent matters, behind the Giants and Rockies. The bullpen will be good, just not ridiculously good like it was last year. The defense should remain a steady asset. Less excellence from the Tattoed One seems likely, but a healthy-looking Aaron Harang can match Jon Garland's 2010. I don't think the Padres will de-pants foes so easily like early last season, "when our running game took advantage of some things other teams were doing," Jerry Hairston Jr. told me. Now dry behind the ears, Chase Headley and Will Venable probably will need to have career years if the Padres are to threaten the Western flag. Who's to say Headley can't be the best third baseman in this division?
I'll be as interested in the fan reactions as the baseball. Since the move downtown, winning seasons have been the norm, but, by and large, attendance has fallen well short of what the Padres had penciled for when they opened Petco Park in 2004. More so than ever, the Padres are trying to get college students to the ballpark.
With Adrian Gonzalez elsewhere for the first time in six years, the Padres may be less fun to watch than they were last year. Or not.
"Remember when Alex Rodriguez went to Texas and became MVP and the team finished last?" Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman told me. "It's not a one-man game. I love Gonzalez, we're going to miss him, but one man doesn't make a club. It's a team game. If our three pitchers in the bullpen hold, we're going to be OK."
Coleman, who was a batboy for the San Francisco Seals during the Great Depression, has seen too many surprises in baseball to write off any potential scenario. Then again, he's still in awe of what the Padres did last year.
"Remember, we still have the same manager," he said. "This guy did one of the best managing jobs I've ever seen, period, and with players that weren't that skilled. The fact that Dusty Baker came within a point for Manager of the Year amazed me. Because I thought the fact that we won 90 games was unbelievably great, and the way Bud Black handled the material was amazing."