The Coors Effect

July 9, 2010 6:22 PM

Series preview: The Padres are coming to town

The Rockies have an opportunity to head into the All-Star break tied for the division lead... if they can sweep the San Diego Padres this weekend.

And that won't be easy.  A lot has changed since the last time the Padres came to Coors Field, way back in the first week of the season.  Back then, the Padres were almost universally viewed as the team to beat for... last place in the NL West, in a dogfight with the Diamondbacks for that honor.  Now, of course, the Padres have ceded last place to the Diamondbacks and are trying to fight off the Rockies and Dodgers (and, to a lesser extent, the Giants) to win the division.  Yes, the Padres have had far more staying power than I, or anyone else, thought they would.  When they ended April at 15-8, in first place, I thought... yeah, nice start, but the Padres surely aren't going to be leading the division at the All-Star break or anything like that.

Now, of course, it's guaranteed that they'll be in no worse than a tie at the break.  Getting just one win in this series will give them first place to themselves.  Yeah.  It's a weird season, this 2010 season.

As per usual, the Padres' strength is their pitching, with an ERA artificially inflated by Petco that leads the league.  But the Padres are also fourth in strikeouts and third in walks, so this isn't merely smoke and mirrors.  Their bullpen is the best in the league, and it's almost criminal that not a single Padres reliever will be pitching in the All-Star game.  Unless, of course, national sportswriter types are applying the same adjustment to Padres pitchers that they've applied to Rockies hitters for so long.  Still, though, Petco or not, it's hard to argue with a 49/14 K/BB in 36.2 IP (Heath Bell), even if you think Bell's ERA is artificially deflated.  Or 43/4 in 41.2 (Edward Mujica.)  Or 51/7 in 41.1 (Luke Gregerson.)  Seriously, if the Rockies are going to beat the Padres, it's going to have to be done by the sixth inning.

Friday night's starter, Kevin Correia, is nothing special.  The Saturday and Sunday starters -- Clayton Richard and Wade LeBlanc -- are good, but the Rockies do luck out a bit by missing Mat Latos in this series.  Of course, the Padres luck out by missing Ubaldo Jimenez, and it's tough to know what the Rockies will get tonight from Jorge de la Rosa, who's making his first start since April.  Not just because of the injury, of course -- you really never know what you're going to get from Jorge.  Jason Hammel has been good of late; the Saturday matchup slightly favors the Rockies.  Jeff Francis... yeesh, his last couple of starts haven't gone so well.  De la Rosa and Francis are big enough question marks that a sweep will be a tall order, but it's not out of the question, and two wins is doable.

The good news, as far as the Rockies are concerned, is that the Padres' offense isn't great for a contender, which means that the hitters don't have to bludgeon Padres pitching to win.  Adrian Gonzalez is, of course, a superstar, and the Pads have underrated Nick Hundley behind the dish, and Chase Headley is quietly having a solid year at third.  On the other hand, the Hairston brothers aren't all that good, Tony Gwynn Jr. is floating by on his name, and it's quite possible former Rockies farmhand Everth Cabrera is the worst regular on a major-league team (.518 OPS.)  Aaron Cunningham is off to a solid start in right field, and there are strong possibilities of sightings of both David Eckstein (.682 OPS) and Yorvit Torrealba (.684 OPS.)  You can argue that the Padres hitters look bad because of Petco, but in reality, the Padres score more runs there than on the road.

I'm cautiously optimistic about this series.  But I've been optimistic before and seen the Rockies flop.  With all that has happened in the first half, ending it on a good note -- and going into the break with 49 or 50 wins -- would be a big deal.

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