Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
The San Diego Padres seemed to believe they could compete in the NL West this season. Rather than trade away established players like Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin and Huston Street for young, prospective talent, the team held on to those veterans. Along with promising up-and comers like Everth Cabrera, Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko, the hope was that the club could be a sleeper contender for a playoff spot. Well… not so much.
Preseason prediction: The success of the Padres in 2013 will revolve around their rotation in my opinion. Only the Twins got less fWAR out of their rotation in 2012 than San Diego, and the Padres bring back their top four starters from that crew. It could be an ugly year if the offense isn't able to carry this team.
What Went Right: Believe it or not, the Padres were actually in the NL West race at one point this season. As of June 17, San Diego was only one game out of first place, despite being only two games above .500. To give you an idea of how different those standings looked, the Dodgers were in last place, seven games behind the division-leading Diamondbacks. What a difference three months make.
Gyorko appears to be the second baseman of the present and future, and he also helped out at third base when Headley was injured. In the first half of the season, the 24-year-old compiled a slash average of .272/.340/.770 with 17 doubles and eight home runs. Gyorko's batting average and on-base percentage plummeted after the All-Star break, but he's still hit for power. His 18 homers are second on the team, giving the Padres some much needed middle-of-the-order pop.
As baffling as it was that the Padres held on to Street, he pitched well as the team's closer despite posting the lowest strikeout rate (6.7 Ks per nine innings) of his career. Petco Park has been very good to Street, and he's taken advantage of the ballpark's dimensions by getting a lot of fly ball outs. Maybe other teams saw that and Street didn't draw as much trade interest as presumed.
What Went Wrong: The Padres lost 10 consecutive games in late June through early July, on their way to losing 14 of 15 games. If there were any delusions of contending in the NL West, that effectively crushed such ambitions. As a result of the skid, San Diego fell from a 2.5-game deficit to 9.5 games out of first place.
As Joe Lucia wrote in his season preview, the Padres had to pitch well to have any chance at success this year. That didn't happen. San Diego's team ERA of 4.13 ranks 22nd in baseball and their opponents' batting average of .261 also puts them among the lower-third of MLB pitching staffs.
Eric Stults was an early-season surprise, posting a 3.40 ERA in the first half. But that success didn't carry over to the second half, during which he compiled a 5.40 ERA and has gone 0-6 in 10 starts. Expected No. 1 starter Edinson Volquez was terrible, going 9-10 with a 6.01 ERA pitching in the second-most pitcher-friendly ballpark in MLB. He was eventually designated for assignment in late August.
Most Surprising Player: Will Venable came into this season as a solid major league outfielder. On a good team, maybe he'd be a fourth guy in the mix. On the Padres, he was the starting right fielder. But Venable moved over to center due to Cameron Maybin's knee and wrist injuries and played strong defense. Even more surprising, however, was his spike in power. Venable leads the Padres with 22 homers this year, after never hitting more than 13 during his previous five big league seasons. He may not be an ideal top-of-the-order batter, but has provided some pop in that role.
Most Disappointing Player: Headley has been sidetracked by thumb and back injuries this season, but his performance is far below what it was in 2012. The Padres third baseman led the NL with 115 RBI last year to go with 31 homers. Though he's missed some time, he'll finish far behind those numbers this season. Besides the run production, Headley's OPS is more than 150 points below what it was last year. In addition, his batting average is 40 points lower than his 2012 mark. Should the Padres have sold high, when Headley looked like one of the best third baseman in MLB and was under two years of team control? The team also had Gyorko ready as a suitable replacement at the position. San Diego won't get as much for him now as it could have a year ago.
The Future: Gyorko's breakout success has to be reassuring for the Padres. As mentioned above, the roster has promising young talent with Cabrera, Grandal and Alonso that could form the core of a up-and-coming club. Cabrera and Grandal each served 50-game suspensions for PED use, and we'll see if getting caught affects their future performance.
The organization also suffered a major blow when top pitching prospect Casey Kelly required Tommy John surgery before the season. The typical timeline for recovery should have Kelly ready for next season. But rather than take his place at the top of the Padres' rotation, Kelly could take another year to reach full strength.