Well we've got 8 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the San Diego Padres
Lineup: This group is on par with only the Royals in terms of how impotent they are. Adrian Gonzalez is the star here, but as an affordable guy with a big bat, he's a near-certainty to be traded at some point this season. Kyle Blanks, he of the 6'9'', 300-lb frame and 'fro to match, is an up-and-comer, though he'll have to exceed expectations with the bat in order to make up for his poor left field defense. Defense isn't a problem for the speed shortstop Everth Cabrera, who far exceeded expectations last season and, though he's due for regression, could be one of the best hitters on the team. Which isn't all that much of a compliment. Cabrera's double play parter is David Eckstein, and for the first time in the history of this site, we're being serious when we invoke his name. Chase Headley rounds out the infield, but his prospect star has tumbled off a cliff and he now looks like a below-average contributor. The same can be said of Scott Hairston, who had a promising 2008 with the Padres, but then struggled enormously last season and is now not assured of a job; he'll be competing with Tony Gwynn, Jr. for the CF spot. And really, the Pads might be better off bringing back Papa Gwynn for that job. Wil Venable will man the right field spot, and the best thing we can say about him is that he'll be better than Brian Giles was - though Giles was the worst player in the National League last season, so take that for what it's worth. Oh, and Yorvit Torrealba is catching. So it's neat that the Pads have not only the real David Eckstein, but also the catching version of the same. Commitment to Grit-ment, that!
Rotation: For all the possible upside in this group, they're sort of astoundingly boring. Jon Garland is the nominal ace, but he's never been anything more than a league-average innings eater at best. Chris Young, the softest-tossing 6'10'' guy ever, hasn't been the same since Albert Pujols rearranged his face with a line drive, but was a solid complement to since-departed ace Jake Peavy a few seasons ago. Kevin Correia seems to have settled down from his wild (~4 BB/9) days with the Giants, and shouldn't be much worse than a 4.30 FIP guy, so he's a solid choice for the third starter. And then it gets interesting, as prospects abound to fill out the back two rotation spots. Mat Latos is an ace in the making, and tossed a decent 50 innings in the bigs last year, but the Padres are considering starting him in AAA because guys like Tim Stauffer and Sean Gallagher are having decent Spring Trainings. Yes, seriously. Aren't we past using Spring Training as a meaningful indicator of peoples' performance? Beyond that trio, there's also prospects Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard, and Wade LeBlanc to consider. So there's a lot of depth here, but most of it is either established as fringe-MLB quality or probably a bit too raw to really make an impression this season.
Bullpen: Heath Bell is a great end-game option, which means that he should probably be traded along with Adrian Gonzalez and bring back a decent piece or two. Mike Adams was superb last season, posting a 0.45 ERA and a good strikeout rate, so we'd imagine he's next in line for Bell's job. Luke Gregorson, Edward Mujica, and Adam Russell all posted 9+ K rates, though (except for Gregorson) in small sample sizes...which is always the case with relievers anyway. Joe Thatcher, like the rest, was shockingly effective at preventing earned runs and missing bats. Basically, there's a lot more quality here than we'd expect from a team like the Padres.
Overall: It's good to have at least one team strength, but if you have to pick, you don't want it to be the bullpen. Especially when your offense is as bad as the one San Diego will be running out there - a unit that will be even further hampered by Petco Park's spacious dimensions (so if you're wondering, no, it's not possible to preview the Padres without mentioning Petco). The starting pitching could be around league average if the prospects pan out and the old guys don't pitch themselves into mediocrity, so as long as they can eke out some runs, they could offer the 'pen a few leads to protect here and there. Like the A's, they're going to have to win a lot of 2-1 games.
Predicted Record: 65-97, 5th place NL West
Beer: Blue Moon. A pleasant witbier with enough character to complement Petco's famous fish tacos. Throw an orange in it and you've got a wheaty beer with enough sweetness to make it ideal for SoCal baseball.