I closed yesterday's post by saying we'd eschew the usual team review and All-Star analysis in favor of commentary on interleague play. Upon further review, I'm going to eschew the eschewing, and save editorial commentary for a special 10-part Notebook series that will run from June 28 through July 11 while I'm traveling in Ireland. So we'll drop in on the surprise contender in SoCal today.
San Diego keeps hanging around. While they've been overtaken in the NL West, that's more about Los Angeles being obscenely hot than any fade from the Padres. San Diego is sitting at 35-25 and leads the wild-card race as we start interleague play today. It's a very straightforward team--they pitch great, they can't hit, and both are eminently sustainable for the long haul. The offense is 14th in runs scored, with similar rankings in both OBP and slugging. The pitching
leads the league in ERA, as well as its component parts in keeping runners off base and preventing power. And when you look at individual performance, there's not a lot of guys way over their head or underperforming their potential.
As expected, Adrian Gonzalez leads the way on offense, with a .392 OPB and a .514 slugging keyed by 13 home runs. What might he do if he played in Yankee Stadium with its short rightfield porch? Or even a place like Philadelphia, that's more conducive to power hitters? Or Fenway Park, where he could pepper the Wall with doubles? This was supposed to be the year we found out, as it was considered a virtual certainty that Gonzalez would be shipped off to a big-market contender, but the team's surprising contention throws that into doubt.
Nick Hundley at catcher's been a bit of a pleasant surprise, with a .382/.462 line, but beyond that no one is producing, and no one can really be expected too. David Eckstein's
well past his prime. And if you're anticipating a summer hot streak from Will Venable, Chase Headley or Jerry Hairston, you're alone on that bandwagon. So the San Diego offense is not likely to move up. But on the positive side, there's no one in that top-ranked pitching staff that's a lock to fall back to earth either. Jon Garland's 2.81 ERA is certainly above his recent norms, but considering the pitcher's haven Petco Park is, it can't be said to be a complete shock. Clayton Richard and Mat Latos are having solid years, as is Will LeBlanc. The bullpen, as has always been the case with the better San Diego teams of this decade, is excellent with a good core of setup guys paving the way for Heath Bell, who's closing 85 percent of his opportunities with a 1.33 ERA.
Overall, San Diego's prospects still suggest a fallback is likely. The pitchers--mainly Latos and LeBlanc--are likelier to taper off then the hitters are to pick it up. And even if
everything continues to hold steady, pitching can get you in the mix, but you need to hit more than the Padres do to take the next step. That's just not very probable and the division they're in is a good one.
In yesterday's review of National League shortstops, I gave away that Derek Jeter was still the choice in the American League. Even in a down year, at least thus far, the Yankee captain still sets the pace in a position that's a long way from the days when the young Jeter, young Nomar Garciaparra in Boston and then-shortstop Alex Rodriguez in Seattle and Texas set the tone for all of baseball. Today, Jeter is challenged only by Marco Scutaro with the Red Sox, a nice scrappy player who can get on base, but far from a star, and Elvis Andrus, who is lacking in power. The state of AL shortstops is further underlined by the fact that Toronto's Alex Gonzalez, long renowned as a good-field, no-hit, has the best slugging
percentage of the entire group. Gonzalez' woeful .296 OBP eliminates him from All-Star consideration though. Jason Bartlett has come down to earth in Tampa after a great year in '09 and players like Alexi Ramirez in Chicago and Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera have never quite lived up to the flashes they occassionally showed.
Jeter deserves a lot of credit for much his defense has improved towards the end of his career. I was one of his critics who used to tell anyone who would listen (a very small demographic) that his range was awful, and while he was a hustler and a leader, he was just not a good defender. That began to change after Joe Girardi arrived, and Jeter's improved D in 2009 was an underrated reason for why the Yankees won the World Series and I felt should've earned him the MVP award, given that Joe Mauer had missed a month on the DL. I make no apologies for being among the Captain's critics, but when the numbers say things have
changed, it's time for everyone to acknowledge it. It's why Jeter is still the best, even in a year where his bat hasn't really kicked into gear.
See you Sunday night to recap Week 10.