The Padres entered the 2014 season with some people believing they could take a wild card spot while others believed they would again fall below .500. There were months that showed off the potential we saw in them from before the start of the season and months that ranked amongst the worst in baseball history. The team went through 3 general managers, 12 starting pitchers, and a total of 51 players. It saw the emergence, at least for a while, of Seth Smith, and the decline of players like Everth Cabrera and Will Venable. They traded away the man who was to be the spearhead of the offense – Chase Headley – and the man who was to close out wins – Huston Street.
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April didn’t do a great deal to diminish, at least, my hopes for a successful season. On Opening Day, Seth Smith hit an eighth inning home run on Sunday Night Baseball to drag the Padres out of defeat and into the win column. Optimism was high enough for ESPN to actually put the Padres on Sunday Night Baseball. I believe that is the first time they were on SNB since 2008 when they hosted the Braves. After taking two of three from the Tigers and a sweep of the Giants, the finishing April record of 13-16 did not seem too terrible.
Unfortunately, they failed to turn the tides in May as they finished that month four games below the .500 mark. Jedd Gyorko, who had been hitting abysmally through the first two months, finally went on the DL at the end of May. The team, by that point, had only two offensive players hitting as good or better than expected – Seth Smith and Rene Rivera. Despite that, strong pitching and the emergence of Tyson Ross kept the Padres from sinking to the bottom of the standings.
Then came June. June killed the Padres. By the end of the month, they were hopelessly out of the divisional race and the same could be said about the wild card. They hit astonishingly terrible in the month. The team hit for a .171 batting average in the month – the worst in any month by any team since at least 1914. By the start of July, through 83 games, they were at risk of breaking the 1910 Chicago White Sox record of a .211 team batting average as the Padres were hitting only .210. The team OBP was .270, which if it stood, would have been the worst since the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908. They were scoring less than three runs per game. I still cannot get my head around just how mind-bogglingly awful they were offensively at this point of the season. The month also saw the long overdue firing of GM Josh Byrnes.
During the first half the only thing the Padres seemed to lead the league in were injuries. Carlos Quentin (shockingly), Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Andrew Cashner, and a sloop of others landed on the DL. Even guys who were playing, like Yasmani Grandal, were playing at less than 100-percent.
After the All-Star Break, the Padres finally traded away Chase Headley. The offense also started to pick up. For a two-week period Yonder Alonso was the best hitter in baseball. (Then he got injured again). Rene Rivera shined with a .280/.354/.439/.793 second half. Alexi Amarista, in place of the injured Everth Cabrera, played marvelously defensively and came up with some exciting RBIs. Jedd Gyorko actually started hitting. And how about that Cory Spangenberg? The guy hit a walk-off HR in his second day in the majors. Tyson Ross continued his great season, finishing it out with one of the 10 best ERAs in the NL. Their overall post-All Star Break record was 36-31.
Perhaps most importantly, on August 6, the Padres hired A.J. Preller as GM. I could go on about how that Padres were better in the second half was better than the first. But the real fun of the 2014 Padres has come in the past couple months.
I think we all had a few main thought going into the off season: 1. The Padres need to make some sort of slash. They need to get some help offensively; 2. If they do make a big splash they’ll have to trade away a top starting pitcher; 3. They’ll probably make a couple lackluster moves like the same old Padres and nothing will change. Well, that second thought was wiped away. The month of December must have been the busiest in franchise history. Despite some drama with the Matt Kemp deal, the Padres acquired: Matt Kemp, Tim Federowicz, Derek Norris, Seth Streich, Justin Upton, Aaron Northcraft, Wil Myers, Jose Castillo, Gerardo Reyes, Will Middlebrooks, Shawn Kelley, Brandon Maurer, and cash. Preller also signed Brandon Morrow. For those players, the Padres gave up Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland, Jesse Hahn, R.J. Alvarez, Rene Rivera, Seth Smith, and some minor leaguers. While they did trade away top prospects like Max Fried and Trea Turner, they avoided trading Austin Hedges, Matt Wisler, Hunter Renfroe, and their big three starters. I cannot stress enough that they avoided trading Cashner, Ross, and Ian Kennedy. While not every trade will be in favor of the Padres, in total, they came out a winner. The level of improvement Preller has brought has been astonishing and beyond what certainly I expected. Mainstream media outlets are actually talking about the Padres – you know the Padres, the least talked about team in MLB. Stay optimistic, we’ve had a better year than a 77-win season would entail.