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Padres' strong second half too little, too late

SAN DIEGO -- As much as the Padres would have liked to, you simply can't go back and erase the first two months of the season, nor can you protect your players in a plastic bubble, keeping them from the harm of injury and far away from the disabled list.

Baseball just doesn't work that way.

But for as much as the Padres were seemingly buried early by under-performance and injuries -- the team sent a player to the disabled list 15 times by May 19 -- they sure made for an interesting show in the second half, remaining (mathematically, at least) in the National League Wild Card hunt until late September.

"The biggest thing we can be proud of is that we've climbed back to where we are now," said manager Bud Black.

That's saying something, considering the Padres' best-laid plans in Spring Training went awry early, as a handful of pitchers -- Dustin Moseley, Tim Stauffer, Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and closer Huston Street -- landed on the disabled list early, forcing the team to look outside the organization for reinforcements.

"You spend all winter building depth, and we went into Spring Training thinking that our depth beyond our Major League team was really good," said Padres assistant general manager A.J. Hinch. "As it turned out, we tested that theory quite a bit this year."

When asked about the slew of injuries early in the season, general manager Josh Byrnes simply shook his head.

"Maybe more than I've ever dealt with," he said.

Despite all of that, the Padres rallied in the second half, thanks in large part to their ... offense? Yes, a team that has largely been built on pitching and defense -- playing in a big ballpark will do that -- made inroads during the second half with its bats, providing Black with the best offense he's had in his six seasons as manager.

Third baseman Chase Headley had a monster season at the plate, well surpassing his career-best home run and RBI totals. Outfielder Carlos Quentin, who played his first game on May 28, was a hit when he was in the lineup, benefiting Headley and rookie first baseman Yonder Alonso.

"I do feel like our offense has gotten better," Byrnes said. "I feel like our offense and our position-player group -- where we can mix and match, how they can play defense, our depth -- is a lot better than it was last offseason. The long-standing issue is, 'Are we going to score enough runs?' I think we've taken a step in that direction."

Record: 76-86, fourth place, NL West.

Defining moment: By the time the Padres reached an off-day on May 10, they were already 9 1/2 games out in the NL West, 10 games under .500 (11-21) and had made 11 DL moves. Three of those transactions occurred during a miserable eight-day stretch in which both Luebke and Wieland were lost to season-ending injuries and Street landed on the DL, where he stayed for 29 games due to a strained lat. The season could not have begun much worse.

What went right: In the second half, the Padres finally started getting players back from the DL, including Quentin. Chase Headley starred, and Street, despite two DL stints, was dominant as closer, serving as the Padres' lone All-Star representative. Two young players who came over from the Reds in the Mat Latos deal, catcher Yasmani Grandal and Alonso, performed well. On a pitching staff decimated by injuries, Clayton Richard didn't miss a start and finished with 14 wins. Edinson Volquez also proved durable and on July 19 tossed a one-hit shutout against the Astros.

What went wrong: In a word, injuries. Quentin missed nearly the first two months of the season after undergoing right knee surgery in March. Promising pitchers Luebke and Wieland were lost to injuries early, forcing the team to look outside the organization for help. The offense couldn't carry the Padres early on, and neither could the defense. Both improved in the second half, but the club was buried by its bad luck with injuries and a 17-35 record entering June. The Padres rallied in the second half, thanks to an improved offense, but their slow start hurt immensely.

Biggest surprise: It has to be Headley, who didn't just surpass his previous career highs in home runs (12) and RBIs (64) -- he absolutely blew past them. Headley was durable, created more pull-side power and had more success at Petco Park than he previously had. Grandal surprised the staff and front office with how he handled himself in the big leagues after only 171 games in the Minor Leagues. He performed well offensively and defensively and looks to be the Padres' catcher for the several years.

San Diego Padres, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Chase Headley, Cory Luebke, Dustin Moseley, Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer, Huston Street, Joe Wieland