I don’t like it when the ESPN talking heads and everybody discuss a team having a “September meltdown,” like the Mets of recent years, for example.
Every game in the 162-game season counts the same–if these teams win an extra one on April 17 or something, it’s just as good as winning an extra one on October 1.
The only thing that changes between April 17 and October 1 is the perceived importance of each game–that is, we get a better and better picture of each team’s playoff hopes (given what they’ve done to that point), and if a team is on the border between making the playoffs and sitting home in October, each of their games has more importance than if they were way ahead or way behind.
All that said, there’s no question that one setup with special importance is when the top two teams in a division play each other, regardless of time of year. Yesterday, the Padres opened a series with the second-place Giants, who entered the series half a game out of first.
Make it a game and a half now, as the Padres got 4 1/3 scoreless relief innings from Ryan Webb, Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, and Heath Bell, taking the first game 3-2.
The Giants were doing a bit more hitting-wise–each team had eight hits, but only four of San Francisco’s were singles, while the Padres had a lone double.
Still, it was plate discipline that helped the Padres win, as they drew a whopping 12 walks to San Francisco’s five.
Oscar Salazar got a spot start in right field for Will Venable and delivered two hits and a walk. Salazar seems to be recovering from his horrid start to the year and is now batting .219/.286/.250. That’s still poor, but he’s hitting .444 in May.
David Eckstein was on base five times (two singles and three walks). Eckstein still isn’t too much help offensively (.279/.339/.369), but he’s not killing the offense this year, either.
As for Kyle Blanks, who is in danger of going back to AAA, he struck out his first two times up but drew walks in his last three plate appearances, stealing a base and scoring a run. Blanks’ average is down to .180, but his OBP is a surprisingly quasi-respectable .311. No idea if or how this changes Blanks’ status–the strikeouts are still a problem, and he didn’t get his bat on the ball all night, but he found a way to contribute anyway. What that adds up to in the minds of the Padres’ front office is anyone’s guess.
The second game of the series tonight will pit two slightly overrated pitchers–Clayton Richard and Matt Cain–against each other. Whether Blanks starts against the right-handed Cain will be a good indicator of his current status.