I have no delusions that the Padres can win a division title this year. The Giants (gag), Dodgers, and Diamondbacks are better teams than our Friars. Like most seasons, I have resigned myself to rooting for another kind of success: Meaningful games. Meaningful games in August. Ok, just kidding; July. Meaningful games in July. That’s what I cheer for.
After a 7-17 month of April in 2012, “meaningful” games soon ended in May. Yes its true, the Padres played much better in the second half of 2012, going 46-34 in the months of July, August, and September. And while it was moderately interesting to watch them play better, these games were never meaningful as far as the division or wildcard standings. As fans, we were left with the all-to-familiar “Just wait till next year”.
Here we are. Next year. I’m going to lay out my blueprint for meaningful games in July, our version of success. I guess I should define what I believe to be meaningful. Meaningful is within shouting distance of either the division or the wildcard. Usually this means hovering around .500. When Buddy Black woke up on July 1st last season, his Padres were 21 games under .500. That’s not hovering. That’s the opposite of hovering.
Here is what has to go right in 2013:
1. Survive the first month. Ok, I cheated; this is actually like 13 things. Why the first month? As detailed above, the Padres 7-17 April record completely destroyed their 2012 season. Yasmani Grandal’s suspension will be half over and I assume Andrew Cashner will be back by the end of the first month. Surviving the first month means Carlos Quentin staying healthy. It means Cameron Maybin not swinging at every slider out of the zone. It means Everth Cabrera getting on base and playing league-average defense at short. It means the stable of #5 starting pitchers overachieves until they can be replaced. It means Edinson Volquez recognizing his impending free agency. And, perhaps most importantly, it means Nick Hundley having his memory of 2012 completely erased. None of these factors are unrealistic on their own, but getting all or a majority of them to happen is the challenge.
2. A breakthrough season from a rookie pitcher. By ‘breakthrough’ I do not mean Cy Young caliber. I mean league-average, #3 starter caliber. As Padres fans, our expectations can only go so high. Casey Kelly. Robbie Erlin. Tyson Ross. Maybe even Donn Roach. One of these guys needs to break through and prove he belongs in the big leagues.
3. The obvious one: Health. I was going to detail all of the injuries from last season. You would stop reading. But, last year was an outlier, right? Right? Needless to say, there will be injuries in 2013. I know Carlos Quentin and Huston Street will be on the DL at some point. The Padres need to avoid the quantity of significant injuries that they sustained last year. Unfortunately, they already have several to deal with. Cory Luebke won’t return from Tommy John surgery until the second half. Cashner is a cutter. Grandal broke his brain. Let’s hope for a relatively injury-free rest of the season.
4. Cashner. If the Padres are going to play meaningful games in July and perhaps beyond, they need Andrew Cashner to harness his abilities. The ceiling? A #1 starter. The problem? His hunting injury is going to severely limit his chances of hitting that ceiling this year. I can’t imagine coming back from a severed tendon in your pitching thumb will improve your control. And obviously this injury is prohibiting him from throwing. It’s going to take him a while to build up his arm strength. Thankfully, the Padres have committed to him as a starter, rather than a 60-inning reliever.
The Padres have little hope for true success in 2013, but if we alter our expectations, just maybe they can be the World Champions of meaningful games. Go Padres.