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2014 Preview: San Diego Padres

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The San Diego Padres

The Big Question: Can the Padres stay healthy enough to surprise?

The last two years with the Padres have followed somewhat of a similar theme. Along with a bunch of injuries, we have seen disappointment in the first half followed by a surge to finish the year. The result? Back-to-back 76-win seasons. Is there any reason to think they’ll buck the trend this year? If the events of this spring are any indication, the odds are against it.

The rotation, a potential strength, has taken a hit in recent weeks with Cory Luebke headed for a second Tommy John surgery, offseason acquisition Josh Johnson expected to miss five weeks with a strained flexor muscle, and Joe Wieland likely out until midseason following an elbow cleanup procedure. After being limited to just 14 games last season due to injury, Cameron Maybin suffered a ruptured biceps tendon this spring and is expected to miss the first couple of weeks of the regular season. Tough breaks for a team which could really use some luck on their side for once.

Injuries aside, there are interesting elements to this team. While Luebke is done for the year and the Johnson signing looks like a dud early on, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross are intriguing and Eric Stults has been quietly effective since arriving in San Diego. The loss of Maybin hurts from a defensive perspective, but the lineup should be respectable, especially if Chase Headley can return to form in his walk year, Everth Cabrera can pick up from where he left off last season, and Jedd Gyorko can build off his solid rookie campaign.

I’m being optimistic here, but there’s no question that this team is built on a shaky foundation. Cashner, who has frontline starter potential, has dealt with injuries early on in his career, and we can probably count on a disabled list stint for Carlos Quentin and Huston Street. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where a lot goes wrong and they finish under .500 again, but you can also squint and see a team in the mix for a Wild Card spot in September. A wide range of outcomes are possible here. The only thing is that you can say the same thing about a lot of (non-Dodgers) teams in the NL West.

What else is going on?

  • Make no mistake, PETCO Park is still a pitcher-friendly ballpark after the dimension changes, but last year it played as a better park for left-handed batters. Will Venable’s breakthrough season makes more sense through this prism. This should provide some hope that a progression for Yonder Alonso is still possible, perhaps as soon as this year.
  • Everth Cabrera batted .283/.355/.381 with four home runs, 31 RBI, and 37 stolen bases over 95 games last season prior to being handed a 50-game PED suspension for his connection to Biogenesis. There will naturally be some skepticism about his production-level going into 2014, but the speed, patience, and defensive ability have always been there. Don’t be surprised if the 27-year-old is still an impact player for San Diego.
  • As I mentioned earlier, Huston Street isn’t exactly a model of health. With that in mind, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes secured some expensive insurance for the ninth inning over the winter by signing veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a two-year, $15.5 million contract. If Street stays healthy, the Padres will have a potent one-two punch in the late innings. If not, manager Bud Black should have no issue trusting Benoit to close games. Still, it’s a bit surprising that Byrnes felt compelled to trade Luke Gregerson, who could have filled a similar role for slightly less money. It’s not like he got much in return in the deal, as Seth Smith will be an fourth/platoon outfielder if all goes according to plan this season. But hey, you can’t count on a full season from Carlos Quentin, either.
  • Yasmani Grandal looked like one of the best young catchers in the game just two years ago, but he served a 50-game PED suspension as the start of last season and hit just .216 with one home run and a .693 OPS in 28 games prior to undergoing surgery in August to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. It looks like he’ll be on the Opening Day roster, but the Padres could carry three catchers early on in order to ease him into things. Still just 25 years old, Grandal shouldn’t be forgotten.
  • We’ve heard Chase Headley’s name mentioned in countless trade rumors in recent years and things could ramp up again if the Padres are out of contention by midseason. A contract extension is unlikely, so he’s almost certainly testing the free agent waters this winter. Assuming they make a qualifying offer, the Padres would receive a draft pick if he signs elsewhere, but a trade could be more appealing for them if they get a big offer from a team desperate for production at third base. July could be dominated by Headley trade rumors, so be prepared.

Prediction: I really think this team could surprise some folks, but there are too many injury questions to put them above the Giants right now. Third place, NL West.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

MIAMI, FL - MAY 21: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the first inning of the game against the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park on May 21, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Marlins 9, Rays 1: Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings. After the game he said “it’s time for me to learn how to manage myself on the mound and learn how to pitch.” Wow, he’s doing all of this in ignorance? Just imagine how many dudes he’d strike out if he learned to pitch. It’s like Barry Allen in season 1 of “The Flash” when he still didn’t even know what he was doing but was still pretty impressive. I mean, look at Fernandez in the picture above. He even sorta looks like The Flash.

Astros 4, Orioles 2: George Springer hit two solo homers, but the real story was, once again, just how strikeout-tastic the Astros pitching staff was. Astros pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts on the night. That goes with their 18 strikeouts on Wednesday night and their 19 strikeouts on Tuesday to set a new major league record for strikeouts in a three-game series with 52. The New 52, as it were.

Pirates 8, Diamondbacks 3: Gerrit Cole hit a three-run homer but the Pirates blew the lead he gave them. Luckily Josh Harrison, who didn’t start because he was sick, came off the bench to hit  two-run double in the bottom of the sixth to give them back the lead for good. They’d add some insurance later. Always gotta be careful not to add too much insurance, though, as it may inspire Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray to bump you off. Or maybe Kathleen Turner and William Hurt.

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 1: J.A. Happ allowed one run over seven innings and notched his sixth win. He outdueled CC Sabathia who turned in his best outing of the season (7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 7K) but simply didn’t get the run support. Sabathia allowed one earned run in 20 innings in the month of May.

Nationals 2, Cardinals 1: Homers from Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa backed Joe Ross, who is quite quietly having a sweet season at the back end of the Nats’ rotation, boasting a 2.52 ERA in nine starts. OK, he’s probably not boasting. He seems like a fine young man who lets his actions speak rather than his words. That’s what my source tell me, anyway. My source is Joe Ross’ mom. I’m worried that she may be biased, however, so I’m using a second source: his grandma. I’m gonna get to the bottom of this Joe Ross character controversy, that I can promise you.

Rockies 8, Red Sox 2: Jackie Bradley Jr.’s hitting streak ends at 29. And with that, Joe DiMaggio cracks open the bottle of champagne he saves for the end of every hitting streak of 25 games or more. Mercury Morris taught him that trick and you can never go wrong with doing something Mercury Morris thinks is cool. Trevor Story hit his 13th homer.Carlos Gonzalez and Dustin Garneau went deep too. Clay Buchholz‘s ERA is now 6.35.

Brewers 6, Braves 2Ryan Braun and Jonathan Villar each homered as the Brewers swept the Braves. They have three wins in Turner Field in three games this year. Atlanta has two wins in Turner Field in 22 games this year.

White Sox vs. Royals — POSTPONED: I don’t care if it rains

(Let’s all go to the bar)
I don’t care if there’s a hurricane
(Let’s all go to the bar)
And I don’t care if I’m the one to blame
(Let’s all go to the bar)

Video: Bryce Harper launches a homer into the upper deck

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 24: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks on against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on May 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has had a tough month of May. Opposing pitchers have become increasingly unwilling to throw hittable pitches in the strike zone for him, and he’s had trouble adjusting. Entering Thursday’s action, Harper was hitting .194/.454/.306 with two home runs in 97 plate appearances this month. 31 of those plate appearances ended in a walk, nine intentionally.

Harper finally got a pitch to hit in the sixth inning against Cardinals starter Mike Leake. Leake threw a 1-1 curve and Harper promptly launched into the upper deck at Nationals Park. It’s Harper’s 12th homer of the year.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s hitting streak ends at 29 games

BOSTON, MA - MAY 25:  Blake Swihart #23 of the Boston Red Sox congratulates Jackie Bradley Jr. #25 after he scored a run against the Colorado Rockies  during the fifth inning at Fenway Park on May 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. was unable to continue his hitting streak on Thursday night, going 0-for-4 out of the leadoff spot against the Rockies in an 8-2 loss. He hit a deep fly ball to right field in the first inning, missing a home run by a few feet. He hit another deep drive in the fifth, but it was caught in front of the wall in center field at Fenway Park by Charlie Blackmon. In his final at-bat, Bradley weakly grounded out on the first pitch from Jon Gray to lead off the eighth inning.

Bradley’s 29-game streak tied Johnny Damon for the fourth-longest streak in Red Sox history. Dom DiMaggio still has the longest in club history at 34 games.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts was able to extend his hitting streak streak to 19 games. He went 1-for-3, hitting a line drive single in the first.

Softball legend Jennie Finch to manage a professional men’s baseball team

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Jennie Finch attends a press conference at Marathon Pavilion in Central Park on November 3, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)
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Softball legend Jennie Finch will make history on Sunday when she will serve as a guest manager for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League. She will become the first woman to manage a men’s professional baseball team.

In the club’s announcement, GM Jamie Toole said, “We are really excited to have Jennie come out and manage the team. She is an incredible athlete and a wonderful person, and we hope our fans will enjoy seeing her in a Bluefish uniform for the day.”

Finch won the 2001 Women’s College World Series with the University of Arizona. She won the gold medal with Team USA in the 2004 Summer Olympics and silver in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Finch is only managing one game, but it’s still a positive step for inclusiveness in professional sports. Hopefully, in the future, we see more women in sportswriting, broadcasting, coaching, and front office positions.