San Diego Padres Look to 'Shake Up' National League West

Darren FeeneyCorrespondent IApril 5, 2010

PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 11:  (L-R) Luis Durrango #3, Chase Headley #7, David Eckstein #22 and Everth Cabrera #1 of the San Diego Padres run out onto the field before the start of the MLB spring training game against the Chicago Cubs at Peoria Stadium on March 11, 2010 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The San Diego Padres want to make their presence felt early this season in the attainable National League West.  Mother Nature gave the Padres a reminder of how to shake things up in their final practice before Opening Day.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck in the closing minutes of a scheduled practice at PETCO Park Sunday before boarding a plane to Phoenix for today’s Opening Day game against Arizona.

After closing out the 2009 campaign with a 35-27 record, the Padres continued their impressive play into spring training action.  San Diego stole 49 bases this spring and posted a 2.55 ERA while going 11-1-1 over the final 14 games of the exhibition season. 

With the records reset to zero, the skeptics point out the Padres' glaring holes, inexperience and lack of impact talent—all of which should amount to a last-place finish in the National League West.

The Padres have other plans. 

Even though six key players—third baseman Chase Headley, catcher Nick Hundley, shortstop Everth Cabrera, and outfielders Kyle Blanks, Will Venable and Tony Gwynn Jr. –have combined for only 7.85 seasons of service time, they believe there is enough young talent mixed with solid veterans to do damage in the NL West.

No Padre will be making more than $6.25 million this season. And 15 players will be making $427,700 or less.

If, as many fans dread, the Padres get off to a bad start and trade away the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Heath Bell, Jon Garland and Chris Young during the season, the payroll could plunge toward $30 million.

Can a low-dollar team committed to pitching, speed and defense excel against the powers of the National League over six grueling months?

The answer to that question starts today at Chase Field today in Arizona.

The Padres open the 2010 season with a three game series against the Diamondbacks.  They face one of the best starting pitchers in the game, even if the majority of the world is not fully aware.  Dan Haren, a three-time All-star, posted career highs in 2009 in strikeouts (223) and WHIP (1.00), to go along with 14 wins and 3.14 ERA.

The back end of what is supposed to be a potent 1-2 punch at the top the Arizona starting rotation, Brandon Webb, is starting the season on the disabled list.  Webb is making a slower-than-expected comeback from shoulder surgery that forced him to miss the 2009 season. 

Webb’s injury leaves newcomer Edwin Jackson as the only other healthy, established starter for Arizona—something the Padres will look to take advantage of. 

Ian Kennedy is slated to take the mound for Arizona Thursday for the series finale.

The Padres will counter Haren with Jon Garland for the opener, who had a brief, mostly unsuccessful stint with Arizona last season.  The durable and dependable Garland has thrown at least 191 2/3 innings every season since 2002 and has a career record of 117-102 with a 4.42 ERA. 

The Padres welcome Chris Young back to the rotation after missing the majority of 2009.  Young will get the ball in game two of the series and looks to return to the form he displayed two years ago.  Young’s first two years on the Padres’ staff behind Jake Peavy—dealt to the Chicago White Sox for four pitching prospects before the 2009 trade deadline—were the best of his career, compiling a 20-13 record and fanning 331 batters.

Young made great strides in regaining form this spring with a 3.32 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 21.2 innings of work.

Kevin Correia,  undoubtedly the Padres most consistent pitcher in 2009, is penciled in as the third starter in the Friars rotation.  Correia posted career highs in wins (12), strikeouts (142) and innings (198.0) along with a 3.91 ERA in his first season with the Padres.

The Padres projected batting lineup for opening day will look like this:

CF Tony Gwynn,

2B David Eckstein,

1B Adrian Gonzalez

3B Chase Headley

LF Kyle Blanks

RF Will Venable

C Yorvit Torrealba

SS Everth Cabrera

P Jon Garland

The Padres starting lineup will likely go through more changes and alterations than any other team in baseball.  Jerry Hairston Jr. was downright electric this spring before going hitless in his final six at-bats, posting a .391 batting average and 1.040 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

Scott Hairston, the main piece of the Kevin Kouzmanoff trade to the Oakland A’s, returns for his second tour of duty and starts the season as the team’s fourth outfielder.   

Matt Stairs was perhaps the biggest addition to Black's bench with his power-hitting ability and veteran leadership. An instant hero with a monstrous homer in the 2008 NLDS against the rival Dodgers for the Philadelphia Phillies, Stairs will mostly serve as a pinch-hitter.  Stairs is a career .268 pinch-hitter with 19 home runs, and has a career .377 on-base percentage coming off the pine.

With the off-season and Spring Training behind us, Opening Day has arrived.  

Of course, with the youthful Padres there will be detractors.  But the Padres believe they are a very capable crew.  The Friar Faithful perceives a strong finish in 2009 combined with a robust Spring campaign as a sign of things to come.  Add in renewed ownership involvement, and fans are feeling better about the Padres than they have in a while.