SO, in the end, it was all neatly book-ended, I suppose.
A pair of 6-3 defeats the home of our biggest rivals – on Opening Day and Closing Day – completed a sorry 2015 season for the San Diego Padres.
As a Friars fan of several decades standing, I guess I really should be used to it by now.
Two National League pennants since the team joined the Major League Baseball party back in 1969 hardly smacks of a ball club used to winning – much or often.
It’s largely been a tale of woe since the turn of the millennium in 2000. In the 16 full seasons from 2000-2015 inclusive, the Padres have enjoyed just five winning campaigns and appeared only twice in the postseason in 2005 & 2006.
There seems to be an ingrained culture of losing and it’s becoming more and more difficult to stomach.
Since the Padres finished two games out of first place in the National League West in 2010, they have ended the following number behind the division leaders: 23, 18, 16, 17 and this past season 18.
Along with many other Padres fans who live a darn sight closer to Petco Park than I do, I had real hopes 2015 would be different.
The arrival of A.J. Preller as General Manager and the glittering array of top-quality talent he miraculously managed to secure during an extraordinary winter suggested things – at long last – were going to be different.
Alas, it was not to be.
So where did it all go wrong?
Well, a cursory look at the end-of-season statistics tells its own story.
Of the five starting pitchers in our rotation, just one, James Shields finished with a winning record. Meantime, Ian Kennedy and Andrew Cashner were saddled with 31 of the team’s 88 losses. Odrisamer Despaigne, after his unusual pitching delivery was sussed out by the opposition, racked up an ERA close to 6.00 and was shuttled off to the bullpen. And although he finished with the team’s best ERA as a starter (3.26), Tyson Ross still had a losing mark with 12 losses against 10 wins.
Starting pitching is absolutely pivotal to the success or otherwise of your team – and if they struggle, there’s every chance the ball club as a whole will falter too.
And so 2015 proved.
And, of course, they were anchored by an A+ lights-out closer in Craig Kimbrel. He notched up 39 saves in 43 opportunities, not a bad return whatsoever, with an ERA of 2.58.
As regards the batting, there were successes and failures.
Matt Kemp drove in 100 runs in 154 games, the most since he knocked home 126 in 2011 and the third-highest figure in his career.
Derek Norris was a beast behind the plate throwing out 44 would-be base-stealers, a country mile ahead of the next best catcher for that key stat, the Blue Jays’ Russell Martin. Indeed, catchers from four of the teams behind Norris all made the playoffs showing the importance in the long run of a man with a cannon for an arm behind the dish. Norris also finished the campaign with a .250 batting average while his 62 RBIs and 14 homers were both career-highs.
Justin Upton drove in 81 runs and was the team’s only representative in the All-Star Game. And like many Padres fans, none of us will ever forget that home run through the New York rain in that crazy game on the cusp of the July 31 Trade Deadline Day.
Sadly, though, Will Middlebrooks at 3B and Yonder Alonso were sidelined for scores of games through injuries. It was a blessed relief Yangervis Solarte came through to cause more than a stir with his fine batting displays and he seems to be a definite starter at the hot corner next year.
Meantime, the shortstop position was a headache all year, the role needing to be urgently addressed this winter.
Frankly, we’re all waiting to see what he’ll deliver in 2016 – and with what players.
If this winter is anything like the last, it promises to be more than interesting.
Overall, I’m not naïve enough to think we’ll go out and win the World Series next October. For now, I’ll take a team at least putting in a reasonable challenge for the division. Ending the season with a winning record would be something to build upon – as well as making a decent change from the norm.
It’s certainly tough being a Padres fan – it’s not so much thick and thin, more like slim and trim.
All we can hope for in 2016 is the team turn their starting pitchers’ records around, attain a quality shortstop, hold onto Kimbrel and have better luck with players’ fitness.
Put those things into place and maybe the All-Star Game next July won’t be the highlight of the 2016 season at Petco Park.
We can but hope…