Cory Luebke could be an under-the-radar success story in 2012. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Although Overlooked, Padres Starters Could Surprise/Succeed in 2012

As it normally goes with most years, there are not a whole heck of a lot of expectations for the Padres to fulfill this upcoming season.  Many see the Padres as an improving team but believe that they are still a year or two away from making real noise in the National League as their top prospects are seasoned in the minors.

In spite of the low expectations, there is plenty to like about this 2012 Padres team.  Cameron Maybin will be looking to build off of his 2011 Team MVP Season, Chase Headley is healthy after enjoying a good year at the plate before his injury, and Yonder Alonso will be looking to break-out of the shadow of Joey Votto now that he is no longer with the Reds and languishing on the bench.  There is one group of Padres players however which are not being talked about as much as these three, yet could be poised to strike from under-the-radar: San Diego’s Starting Pitching Staff.

While immensely important, there exist many pundits and bloggers which do not consider the Padres’ staff to be a dangerous group at all.  Dayn Perry, in a post on CBS.Sports ranked San Diego’s Starting Staff 14th out of 16 National League teams, and I am sure that he is one of a numerous amount which do not expect big things from the Padres’ Starters this season.

I however, feel that the Padres Starters are a bit more dangerous than people like Perry believe they are.  In fact, I think that San Diego’s Starters could enjoy a good deal of success in 2012, and they have the pieces in place to do some nice things for this ball-club.  That is why I want to highlight some positive aspects of the guys which make up the Rotation and discuss why there could be plenty to look forward to in 2012.

Top of the Rotation

Sure, the Padres do not possess a #1 Ace of a starter on their staff.  However, they do have two effective Pitchers in the forms of Tim Stauffer and Cory Luebke which could be in line to enjoy nice seasons at the top of the rotation.  And these guys (Luebke more) have the chance to make things happen as they continue to improve their skill sets.

Cory Luebke appears to be a breakout candidate in 2012, and he really could make the National League notice his steady development over the last couple of seasons.  Luebke started 17 games last season (46 games pitched total), and finished the year with a 6-10 record, a 3.29 ERA, and logged 154 K’s in 139.2 Innings pitched.  Now that he is entrenched in the rotation, it is Luebke’s time to shine and he has the stuff to improve upon last season’s learning experience.

Tim Stauffer will likely be the Opening Day starter, and 2012 will be his chance to finally realize his potential and take advantage of his opportunity.  Finally injury free and status as a starter unchallenged, Stauffer is looking to build off his 2011 season where he went 9-12 with a 3.73 ERA in 31 starts over 185.2 Innings pitched.  The talent is there for Stauffer to succeed, and he will be hungry to prove it.  Stauffer has looked good in the Spring, and now that he is comfortable in the rotation as “The Guy,” his confidence appears to be booming as well.

 

Middle/Back End

Clayton Richard returning at 100% is huge for the Padres and he should be ready to bounce back after an injury plagued 2011 season.  The last time Richard was on the mound healthy in 2010, he did a terrific job as San Diego’s #3 starter and put up a season stat line of: 14-9, 3.75 ERA, 33 starts, 201.2 Innings pitched, and a total of 153 K’s.  Staying healthy and returning from his labrum surgery will be crucial for the Padres and Richard in 2012.  And Bill Center of the Union-Tribune reported recently that Richard was feeling the effects of his shoulder injury in Spring Training of last season, and was really at a disadvantage to follow up on his solid 2010 campaign as Richard struggled in 2011 to the tune of a 5-9 record and a still respectable 3.88 ERA before being shelved for the year.

Edinson Volquez is probably the biggest “Wild-Card” of the Padres’ starting staff.  Coming off of two very inconsistent seasons and elbow surgery, it’s a mystery as to what to expect from Volquez in 2012.  Still, sometimes a change in scenery does a player that has had some less than successful seasons good.  I’ve alluded to the recent cases of Jon Garland and Aaron Harang as examples of some veteran pitchers which have enjoyed and taken advantage of pitching their home games friendly and expansive confines of Petco during their 1 season stops.

It looks to be a two-man race between Anthony Bass and Dustin Moseley for the #5 spot at this point, and both of those guys should contribute a great deal this season.  Moseley, like Richard is returning from a shoulder injury.  And with a clean bill of health, Moseley could be in line to surpass his statistical marks from 2011.  Unfortunately for Moseley, his 3.30 ERA from 2011 did not ensure Wins (3-10 record), because his run support during his outings was downright awful, and that is pretty sad considering how anemic the Padres’ offense was last season.

I for one am intrigued to see if Bass can overtake Moseley and earn some regular season starts. Corey Brock discussed some similarities between Bass and Luebke and how both were bullpen guys for extended periods before being thrust into starting action.  While a bit raw, Bass performed well in his audition in 2011, and has done a nice job this Spring in Peoria.  Bass will likely start the season in the bullpen and work some long relief in addition to some spot starts here and there, but don’t be shocked if he does well or somebody goes down with injury if he is thrust into the starting rotations.

 

Final Thoughts

Sure the rotation is nowhere near the caliber of San Francisco’s or Philadelphia’s, but the Padres do have some starters which have performed well at the major league level over the course of their careers, and/or are ready to take the next step.  While most of the country does not know names like Cory Luebke, they might be pleasantly surprised at what they see this season as he begins his first full year as a starter.  Stauffer, Moseley, and Richard are healthy, Volquez might have something to prove, and Bass could contribute if he is ready and/or asked.  Plus, pitching in cavernous Petco is always helpful to any Pitcher looking to succeed.

The biggest factor in these guys doing well is the run support which they receive.  Losing Carlos Quentin will no doubt be tough on these guys, but Yonder Alonso, a healthy Headley, and a hungry Will Venable and Cameron Maybin could spark the offense a bit more in 2011.  The more leads the Padres can carry over to their bullpen, the better, because those guys are a veteran bunch which can get the job done.  San Diego has four starters which posted sub-4.00 ERA’s in 2011, and if they can either carry their ERA’s into this season or perform even better in 2012, all should be well.  Still, having a 3.00-3.50 ERA means nothing when your starter has given up one-two runs on the day and you’re team is trailing in the 8th and cannot buy a run.  Thus, some timely and effective hitting is needed to ensure success, and I’m sure it will be greatly appreciated.

I’m sure heading into 2010 nobody thought San Diego’s staff of Garland, Latos, Richard, Correia, LeBlanc, and Stauffer was any better than the guys they have now.  Nevertheless, those guys ate innings, pitched effectively and almost carried the Padres to a Division crown.  I guess we will all just have to wait and see how this group performs.  While the Padres will likely not win 90 games this season like they did in 2010,  I for one am excited, and cannot wait to see these guys turn some heads.

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Tags: Clayton Richard Cory Luebke Edinson Volquez Tim Stauffer

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