Cellar Dwellers? Padres Place First So Far

Eric GomezAnalyst IApril 14, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 13:  The San Diego Padres celebrate after defeating the New York Mets during opening day at Citi Field on April 13, 2009 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. This is the first regular season MLB game being played at the new venue which replaced Shea stadium as the Mets home field.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

San Diegans, consider framing the current NL West standings.

By the end of September, the glossy printout in your den will probably be a nice memory from an otherwise forgettable season...or maybe not.

The Padres have started their 40th season in Major League Baseball at the highest level, surprising everyone except themselves, apparently.

A quick glance over the Padres' roster during the spring wouldn't have scared a AAA club, much less free-spending divisional rivals like the Giants or Dodgers.

The collection of also-rans and unknowns includes former Cubs backup catcher Henry Blanco (who pounded two HR last Saturday against San Francisco), shortstop Luis Rodriguez (.500 OBP through April 14), outfielder Jody Gerut (slammed the first HR in Citi Field history last night) and Rule V infielder Everth Cabrera.

On the mound, San Diego fields few household names past Jake Peavy and Chris Young, with guys like SP Kevin Correia (6.06 ERA in 110 IP last season), RP Eulogio de la Cruz (career 12.42 ERA in 13 appearances), SP Shawn Hill (6-13 in three seasons at Washington) and Walter Silva (who, out of professional baseball, was working at an Outback Steakhouse) filling out the roster.

So, what's the secret behind San Diego's fast start? The answer lies in that very same anonymity.

How do you pitch to Everth Cabrera? Can you tell anyone what the scouting report is on Walter Silva? What's Edwin Moreno likely to throw on a 3-2 count coming out of the bullpen?

While the competition for San Diego's rivals has been fierce so far when facing the Padres, that might pale compared to the inner battles for playing time in the Friar clubhouse.

Platoons dominate the San Diego lineup, with Scott Hairston and Gerut splitting time in center field, Edgar Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Cabrera, and David Eckstein divvying up the middle infield with Blanco and Nick Hundley at the backstop.

With so few proven veterans, many roster spots are seemingly up for grabs and the inner competition is raising the overall level of play for the club.

There are of course, 154 games yet to be played. Anything from injuries to a drop in form and even the economy (the Padres are transitioning between ownership groups) could be factors from here to September in potentially crippling the Padres surprising stay atop the NL West.

However, the "any given player on any given day" mentality is strong within the team. Even the Padres proven commodities may be better than expected.

Jake Peavy earned his first win of the season against the Giants and has 18 K's in two starts, new closer Heath Bell is 3-for-3 in save situations and has settled into the role nicely, and slugger Adrian Gonzalez has seven RBI in eight games and is slugging .517.

Consider the fact that the NL West has quite frankly been the worst division in baseball for the past few seasons (no more than 90 victories have been required to clinch it since 2005) and one could argue that should they keep this up, the Padres have a fighting chance.

As Young told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “If we play hard, night in, night out, for nine innings we can compete with good teams.”

Simple enough. Maybe too simple. But it's worked so far.

Or did you expect San Diego to be atop the division at any time during the season?

Neither did I.