Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Friday, August 13, 2010
Can the Padres keep it up?

ESPN.com

Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.

At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.

Mat Latos
Latos

Mat Latos

Everyone knows about Adrian Gonzalez. But the one that nobody saw coming -- not this fast, anyway -- is right-hander Mat Latos. After barely winning a spot in the rotation this spring, Latos got off to a rough start, compiling a 6.20 ERA in four starts in April. Since then, he owns a 1.65 ERA and has limited the opposition to a .170/.239/.247 batting line. The Padres are 15-6 in his 21 starts, and Latos has played a huge role in the Padres' shocking position atop the NL West standings.

-- Geoff Young, Padres blogger (Ducksnorts), SweetSpot Blog Network

Kevin Correia
Correia

Kevin Correia

Last year's nominal ace, Kevin Correia, has struggled in 2010. Sure, the 9-7 record looks nice, in an "Ismael Valdez 2004" kind of way, but Correia's success has been largely a function of his team's bizarre ability to score runs when he toes the slab. (Only Philadelphia's Kyle Kendrick has received better support among National League starters.) Last year, with nothing on the line but pride, Correia posted a 3.26 ERA after the All-Star break. Now, when every game matters, the Padres need him to pull a similar turnaround and stop leaning so much on an offense that isn't built to prop up its pitchers.

-- Geoff Young, Padres blogger (Ducksnorts), SweetSpot Blog Network

The biggest surprise team in baseball got here primarily because of its pitching, which has prevented any losing streak from lasting more than three games. The Padres lead the major leagues in ERA and rank second in the National League in strikeouts.

The starting rotation has been led by a commodity totally unknown heading into 2010, but by the time the year's out, Mat Latos may get some Cy Young votes. He ranks second in the NL in WHIP and fifth in ERA.

But where the Padres have really won this year has been in the bullpen. They have been outscored by 15 runs in the first three innings of games, but they've got a plus-56 scoring margin in innings seven through nine. That's why they're 11-3 in games that are tied after six innings.

Setup man Luke Gregerson and his swooping slider may be the best-kept secret in the majors. He's averaging better than 11 strikeouts per nine innings, and striking out six-plus for every hitter he walks. No National League pitcher has done that since Eric Gagne in 2003. Closer Heath Bell, relying increasingly on his slider as well, has also been nearly flawless all season.

They've maximized their offensive opportunities

The Padres rank second in the National League in stolen bases, and though they're an average team in terms of stolen base efficiency, top three base stealers Will Venable, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Chase Headley are a combined 49-for-59 (83 percent) in stolen base attempts.

That has created a lot of RBI opportunities for Adrian Gonzalez, who leads the NL in Win Probability Added, a stat that measures a player's contributions to his team's wins.

And they've minimized those of their opponents

Runs saved is a stat, tracked by Baseball Info Solutions, that measures defensive value, combining ability to turn batted balls into outs, throwing arms, double play "turnability," bunt defense and stolen base prevention. The Padres excel at just about every one of these. They're the only team in baseball to have a positive runs saved total from every one of the nine positions on the diamond.

Gwynn ranks among the major league leaders in center field, and Headley is a top-five defensive third baseman. The biggest change has come at second base and shortstop, where the Padres went from an atrocious minus-34 runs saved in 2009 to plus-12 this season.

When it's meant to be your year, winning close and winning on the road usually play a big part. The Padres are 21-10 in one-run games and have the NL's best road record at 31-24. That's directly attributable to a pitching staff that has lowered its road ERA from 5.38 to 3.68 in the past 12 months.

-- Mark Simon, ESPN Stats & Info blog

From FanGraphs

In 2009, the San Diego Padres finished with a 75-87 record, "good" for fourth in the National League West -- or, exactly 20 games behind the division-winning Los Angeles Dodgers. The Hot Stove League was lukewarm, at best, for the Padres; their biggest offseason splash was a one-year deal for just more than $5 million for an innings-eating righty (Jon Garland) whose upside was/is as a third starter.

And then, their No. 1 prospect, Kyle Blanks -- one of the more interesting parts on a team of otherwise low-ceiling players -- strained his elbow in mid-May, has been out of commission since then, and is now due for Tommy John surgery.

That's a recipe for success, eh?

Apparently it is -- the Padres are winning the NL West (although the San Francisco Giants are hanging right around the front now), and they currently have an 80 percent chance to make October ball.

So, can they keep this up?

For more of FanGraphs' analysis, click here Insider .