Since 2007, when the Padres lost to the Rockies for the National League Wild Card in Game 163, San Diego has won more than 76 games just once.
Playing half of their games in Petco Park, the Padres' offense will always struggle to score runs in bunches. Before last season, the Padres even moved in the fences in hopes of generating more runs, but it didn't help the situation. They scored the seventh-fewest runs in the Majors and ranked 21st in home runs.
After a wonderful 2012 season in which he was a NL MVP candidate, Chase Headley, the Padres' third baseman, disappointed offensively in '13. A broken thumb during Spring Training sapped his power and lowered his batting average. Depending upon Headley to produce more than his share of the offense, the Padres couldn't overcome his offensive shortcomings to supply enough runs for their pitching staff. Hoping that a healthy Headley will be the player that drove in 115 runs in 2012, the Padres will have stronger offense in '14.
The Padres also hope that Carlos Quentin can play more than 82 games this season. Since coming from the Chicago White Sox before '12, Quentin has been limited by various knee injuries requiring surgeries. This has prevented him from contributing to the offense as much as the Padres expected. Now after his third knee surgery, Quentin claims that his legs feel great for the first time in years. His team hopes he can play regularly and boost the offense.
The addition of Seth Smith should help the offense. While in Colorado, Smith showed much versatility, playing all three outfield positions and excelling as a pinch-hitter. The acquisition of Smith should at least strengthen the bench.
Having Everth Cabrera, who was plagued with hamstring injuries and suspended for 50 games in violation of MLB's drug policy, play at least 140 games should help the offense. Jedd Gyorko had a fantastic rookie year and should be a bigger factor in '14.
Though the Padres have a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the offense, overcoming the vast dimensions of Petco Park will be difficult. With such a large stadium, the Padres should have a better-than-average pitching staff, but in 2013, their young staff didn't perform up to expectations. They had the fifth-highest ERA in the league. In combination with a weak offense, this spelled a long season.
On Wednesday, the Padres learned one of their promising young left-handed starters, Cory Luebke, will miss the entire 2014 season with a second Tommy John elbow surgery. This is a blow for any team looking to improve its pitching staff.
The Padres last August obtained Ian Kennedy from the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2011, Kennedy had the second-most wins in the NL and narrowly missed earning a Cy Young Award. Since then, he's been plagued by mechanical problems. Arizona lost its patience with him for his inability to go longer than five innings, putting undue stress on its weak bullpen. If the Padres can fix the mechanical problems causing his wildness, they should have a bona fide ace.
Eric Stults, a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher, was their ace last year. He relies on tricking the opposing batter. Pitching more than 200 innings, a career high, might have taken a toll on Stults, who has already had Tommy John surgery in his career. Stults' style of pitching usually doesn't usually translate to dominance from year to year.
Coming from the Toronto Blue Jays and hoping for a rebound season, Josh Johnson, a good pitcher with the Miami Marlins, possibly can strengthen the starting rotation. Last season, he only won two games and had an ERA over 6.00. Agreeing to a one-year contract, Johnson has everything to prove and nothing to lose.
Both Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are young starters who need to continue developing their craft. They should give the Padres a stronger and more effective starting rotation than they had in 2013.
Defensively, the Padres were a good team, seldom beating themselves and making the fifth-fewest errors in the league. They should continue to be a sound defensive club, and that will help their young pitching staff have fewer stressful innings and pitch longer.
It will be tough for the Padres to compete with the Dodgers, D-backs and Giants for the NL West title, but certainly, they shouldn't be last in the division. Possibly, they will surprise baseball by how well they play.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com.