It’s here, opening day for the Padres, and the Dodgers and Giants and the rest of the National League West too.
There is so much anticipation and now expectation for this Padres franchise, after years of penny-pinching, front office discord, bad draft picks and injuries-surgeries. It’s been replaced by bold trades and an exploding payroll that is close to 110M-as of this morning.
The franchise hasn’t really been the same since the spectacular run they had with Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti, both now deceased, both whose lives were taken from us by disease. Gwynn to cancer, Cammy to substance abuse. It is odd to walk up the tunnel from the Padres dugout, to see pictures of both side-by-side.
It is indeed a new year, with new faces in new places, and new expectations in the Padres clubhouse. It may be a different-and-difficult year for Dodgers and Giants fans too, with the erosion of some of the core players.
And if December, and the Winter Baseball Meetings did not create enough excitement with all the AJ Preller trades, then the Easter Sunday gift, the 7-player Braves trade that brought closer Craig Kimbrel here, may put the team over the top. San Diego got an ace in the bullpen, and moved contracts they really did not want, Carlos Quentin-Cam Maybin.
Hail Matt Kemp and Justin Upton and their big bats to the middle of the Padres lineup. It will be better, has to be better than the team that set the disgraceful all time record, by hitting (.177) in July last season.
Kemp, Upton, Wil Myers and Will Middlebrooks have hit, and hit well in the past. They should make Jed Gyorko and Yonder Alonso and others better in this lineup.
Good pitching beats good hitting most times, and San Diego is loaded. Might be as good a starting rotation as anybody in baseball, from the Washington Nationals to the Detroit Tigers. And the bullpen, based on how they have pitched last year, is a Gold Star combo of power arms, surpassing everything dating back to the ‘Hells-Bells’ Trevor Hoffman days.
It has not been a good spring for the Dodgers, as they take the field in LA today against the Friars. The starting rotation is shaky with health issues to Hyun Jin-Ryu, the concern over the elbow issues to Zach Greinke, and a terrible siege of injuries to a shaky bullpen. Clayton Kershaw cannot pitch every day, and the add-on starters from the offseason, Brandon McCarthy-Brett Anderson drag injury baggage with them in their careers.
Of course, LA is sales pitching Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, 1-year rentals,s both with great credentials, and age. But I believe they will miss Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon’s bats, and explosiveness, as the seasons goes on.
The Giants have won those rings, and great credit to Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy, both who got 4-year contract extensions over the weekend. But San Francisco’s starting staff, aside from Madison Bumgarner, does not look the same as in years past.
The lefty threw (270-innings) last year, and one wonders if that will take a toll on him. Tim Lincecum is no longer trust-worthy in the rotation, and Matt Cain, coming off elbow surgery, is trying to work his way back from minor setbacks, and has piled up lots of innings in his career..
And the once proud bullpen, started to spring leaks last year, and you have to consider the wear and tear on Sergio Romo, the closer.
The Panda Bear is gone, and though much was made of Pablo Sandoval’s battle with weight over the years, you cannot argue productivity and leadership, and power. Hunter Pence will be out for a couple of months after getting beaned. There is no Mike Morse home run power off the bench. San Francisco just is not the same time.
Feel bad for Rockies superstar Troy Tulowitzki, the last man standing from their playoff days. He is healthy, coming off hip surgery, but not much else is good in that lineup. Yes, Justin Morneau is worth watching swing the stick, but Carlos Gonzalez has had all types of hand-knee issues, two years running. It’s always been tough to pitch at Coors Field, and now it’s even worse, when you look at the rag-tag rotation the Rockies will send out.
Arizona has new leadership and will need time to develop arms. They do have bats in Paul Goldschmidt and the return to health of Mark Trumbo, but Cuban rookie Yasmani Tomas, who got a 60M payday coming off the island, is starting the season in Reno. GM-Dave Stewart comes with a great resume, but he cannot pitch for them, and it will take time to find enough arms.
Once upon a time, this was a team that had Justin Upton, Steven Drew, Mark Reynolds and Chris Young as their cornerstone players. All are gone, and so is the Snake’s ability to challenge for a pennant. The Randy Johnson-World Series ring era seems a long time ago.
So the stage is set. Predictions?
San Diego (90-72) with the new leaders and fiery personalities of James Shields and Matt Kemp. The Dodgers to finish second, missing some bats, and lots of questionable arms. The Giants come home third because they have not replaced whom they lost. The Rockies and Diamondbacks, might combine to lose 170-games without arms in the rotation.
Everyone starts even on opening day, but the truth is there is a big difference in San Diego than in years gone by, and the others are not what they used to be.
Can you say Dodgers-Giants, “Good Night now”.