Padres’ offense amongst the worst in MLB, but pitching staff is keeping them alive
Here’s the thing, it turns out, about the 2014 Padres: They stink at math.
One month into the season, we’ve watched rallies die and bats go more silent than a library during exam week. We’ve watched runners left stranded and batters left empty-handed. We’ve watched, statistically, one of the very worst offenses in the major leagues.
And yet, Tuesday morning, there the Padres stood, miraculously just one game under .500 and just 2 Â½ games out of first place in the NL West.
I’m no math whiz. Sister Noelita nearly tossed me out of school in fifth grade for excessive talking and, I’m sure, continually espousing the theory that 2 + 2 = 6. Math has been a bane of my existence for most of my existence.
Yet even I know that with Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy and a killer bullpen whose 1.94 ERA is the best in the majors, there is absolutely, positively no way these numbers should come close to adding up the way they are.
That the Padres stand just a five-game winning streak or so from leapfrogging the rest of the NL West given their Kleenex-thin offense and another raft of injuries is unfathomable. Unthinkable.
"I hear ya," general manager Josh Byrnes said when we spoke this week. "It’s the nature of baseball. We’ve played a pretty tough schedule so far, we haven’t hit, and we have three guys on the disabled list.
"And yet we’ve been able to survive."
Byrnes was at an airport about to board a plane when we spoke. I didn’t have the heart to ask his destination, but I imagine he was either headed toward Lourdes in search of better health or toward northern California to scout the great redwood forests in search of better lumber.
"You look around, a lot of teams are bunched around .500," Byrnes said. "We’re not hitting. Other teams are not hitting. But our pitching has been fantastic."
Their pitching has been so fantastic, Cover Girl could only dream of producing a makeup to camouflage as many blemishes.
Heading into the middle game of the Giants series this week, the Padres’ offense ranked dead last in the majors in runs scored (75), RBI (68), on-base percentage (.279) and OPS (.612).
The Padres ranked 29th in the majors in slugging percentage (.318) and in batting average with runners in scoring position (.191). They ranked 28th in the majors in home runs (14) and total bases (.296). They were tied for fourth in grounding into double plays (25).
Compounding matters, their health issues of recent years are whacking away at the clubhouse again. Carlos Quentin hasn’t been seen in weeks. Josh Johnson will undergo his second Tommy John surgery Thursday. Chase Headley is out with a right calf strain after straining his left calf this spring.
Who strains both calves? The odds of that, for a professional athlete, must rank somewhere between a Beatles reunion and Justin Bieber behaving.
"I think it’s pretty random," Byrnes said. "Chase is turning 30 [May 9], and that’s when the body starts to fight back a little bit.
"His calves, his knee … he hasn’t had his legs under him all year."
That trend, for this team, is troubling. According to numbers kept by Will Carroll, who specializes in major league injuries for BleacherReport.com following a long run at Baseball Prospectus, the Padres lost 1,490 days to the disabled list last season, 25th in the major leagues. In 2012, they lost 1,897 days to the DL, most in the majors.
These are numbers that keep Byrnes and his staff trouble-shooting until the wee hours of the morning. Byrnes hired a new strength and conditioning coordinator, Jordan Wolf, before the 2013 season following that injury-wracked ’12 season. He hired Rick Stauffer as physical therapist/coordinator of medical services, a role in which Stauffer not only oversees physical therapy, but quarterbacks rehabilitation strategies and assesses medical risks in potential acquisitions, either via trade or free agency.
Right now, as the injuries continue to pile up, Byrnes is re-examining everything.
"It’s a huge area, and if there is any way we can get better, we have to look at it," he said. "We’ve had a lot of internal discussions for the past couple of years.
"I don’t want to just say, ‘We have to do the opposite of whatever we’re doing.’"
Scouting at a high school game recently during draft preparation, Byrnes bumped into a couple of other big league GMs and asked them about the injury that has everyone scratching their heads today: "What’s your Tommy John theory?"
And the rival GMs’ answer came back: "I don’t know."
"Maybe we have to change the structure, see if we can find a better way to keep them healthy," Byrnes said.
If his hitters don’t snap out of their zombie-like state, it’s also reaching the point where the GM and his staff are going to have to turn proactive there, too.
"It’s a fair question," Byrnes said. "We’ve got to start asking that question. What can we do? What can I do to help jump-start this thing?
"It’s a question that’s on my mind."
There is little action right now in a still-developing trade market. Changing hitting coaches would be little more than false hustle. How many have the Padres dumped overboard since moving into Petco Park, and have you seen noticeably different results?
So manager Bud Black keeps trying every different combination he can. The law of averages alone, based on guys; career averages, says that some of these anemic numbers are due to increase one of these days. But there they are, Will Venable (.213), Yonder Alonso (.172), Headley (.186), Jedd Gyorko (.144), Alexi Amarista (.185) … on and on it goes.
"We’ll keep trying until we find the right offensive combination," Byrnes said. "Anything is up for grabs. It’s up to us to figure it out."
Three key times this season, the Padres have figured it out: Winning on their final day in Miami to avoid a sweep, winning on the final day in Cleveland to avoid a sweep and winning on the final day in Washington to earn a four-game split. Failure on any of those days could have made a team on a tightrope go splat.
"So far, we’ve stopped the bleeding," Byrnes said. "That’s a good indicator of the character of this team."
Another good indicator would be an outbreak of key hits with runners aboard. Math is hard. But the Padres’ math this month, it’s crazy.
"Longtime national columnist Scott Miller will be a weekly contributor to FOXSportsSanDiego.com, discussing the San Diego Padres and Major League Baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter at @ScottMillerBbl."