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2017 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 2017 season. Next up: The San Diego Padres.

The Padres went 68-94 last season, good enough for last place in the NL West. After an offseason in which the club did practically nothing, the Padres are expected to once again bring up the rear in the division.

The club did add veterans Jered Weaver and Jhoulys Chacin to a rotation that very well may be the least threatening starting rotation in baseball. Weaver, 34, has been in freefall the last two seasons. His fastball once sat in the high 80’s but has struggled to sit above 83 MPH lately. The right-hander struck out only 13.4 percent of the batters he faced last season, the second lowest rate among qualified starters. Pitching in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park will be nice but it won’t be enough to make up for Weaver’s batting practice fastball and inability to miss bats.

Chacin, 29, is trying to hang out in the big leagues. Injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to fewer than 70 innings in three of his previous four seasons coming into 2016, but he managed to stay healthy pitching for the Braves and Angels. Combined, he had a 4.81 ERA with a 119/55 K/BB ratio in 144 innings. Going forward, it’s quite possible he both stays healthy and returns to his solid level of pitching that he showed in 2011 and ’13 with the Rockies, but it’s not the likely outcome.

Clayton Richard is looking forward to what will hopefully be his first full season as a starting pitcher since 2012. Injuries and a move to the bullpen have hampered those dreams in the interm. Last year, he made nine starts and two relief appearances for the Padres after coming over from the Cubs and put up a 2.52 ERA with a 34/24 K/BB ratio in 53 2/3 innings. As one can see, Richard’s inability to miss bats and his less-than-stellar walk rate will both prove to be problematic unless he made some tremendous strides over the offseason.

Christian Friedrich will likely open the season in the rotation as well. The left-hander has been underwhelming over parts of his first four seasons in the big leagues, owning a career 5.37 ERA. Pitching in Coors Field certainly didn’t help, but even last year with the Padres, he only managed a 4.80 ERA with a 100/52 K/BB ratio in 129 1/3 innings. As far as potential goes, Freidrich likely has the highest ceiling of anyone in the Padres’ rotation, but it’s a relatively low ceiling.

Luis Perdomo is hoping to recover after an underwhelming debut last season. The 23-year-old put up a 5.71 ERA with a 105/45 K/BB ratio in 146 2/3 innings. Hard to be worse than that. Needless to say, this starting rotation is shaping up to be the worst in the league. In the event of injury or unacceptably poor performance, Trevor Cahill, Jarred Cosart, and Paul Clemens could move into the rotation. Yay.

Now let’s play, “Name that closer.” Name the reliever who saved 13 games for the Padres after the club traded Fernando Rodney last season? His initials are B.M. Still stumped? Brandon Maurer. Along with the 13 saves, the right-hander posted a 4.52 ERA and a 72/23 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 innings last season. Maurer will once again open the season as the Padres’ closer, though it doesn’t look like he’ll get many save opportunities.

Carter Capps, still on the way back to 100% after Tommy John surgery, could supplant Maurer as the closer during the regular season if he can prove he is both healthy and effective. Prior to succumbing to injury in 2015, Capps had a 1.16 ERA and a 58/7 K/BB ratio in 31 innings for the Marlins. Capps has the potential to be one of the best relievers in baseball, but first things first as he has yet to make his Cactus League debut.

Brad Hand, Ryan Buchter, Kevin Quackenbush, Miguel Diaz, Buddy Baumann, and a revolving door of others figure to work out of the bullpen ahead of Capps and Maurer. Heh, Quackenbush. What a name.

Offense. The Padres’ offense will revolve around first baseman Wil Myers, who inked a six-year, $83 million contract extension with the club in January. The 26-year-old hit a solid .259/.336/.461 with 28 home runs, 94 RBI, 99 runs scored, and 28 stolen bases in 676 plate appearances last season. He was one of only three first basemen with double-digits in steals. Myers is no Anthony Rizzo, but he’s still young enough to have plenty of room to improve and that’s what the Padres will be counting on in 2017.

Ryan Schimpf impressed in 89 games in his first major league season last year. Soon 29 years old, he hit .217/.336/.533 with 20 home runs and 51 RBI over 330 PA. Schimpf, unfortunately, has been bothered by an oblique injury lately and those tend to be tricky injuries. In the event Schimpf can’t start the season on time, fringe prospect Carlos Asuaje would likely get the starting nod.

Luis Sardinas will return to shortstop for the Padres. He split last season between the Mariners and Padres, showing much better production in San Diego. Overall, he hit .244/.295/.356 while playing below average defense. Veteran Erick Aybar is on the team on a minor league contract and could end up beating out Sardinas for the starting job. Aybar, however, posted an uninspiring .623 OPS while also playing below average defense last year with the Braves and Tigers.

Oh, hey, what’s this? A good player? Yup, the Padres will have one at third base in Yangervis Solarte. The 29-year-old hit a solid .286/.341/.467 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI in 443 PA last year. The Padres thought about trading him before the new year, but ultimately wound up signing him to a two-year, $7.5 million extension in January. If the National League weren’t so rich with third basemen, I would suggest that Solarte has the chance to have an All-Star caliber year. But it’s safe to say the position will be well spoken for in the midsummer classic.

Travis Jankowski and Manuel Margot are battling for the right to start in center field to open the season. The 25-year-old Jankowski swiped 30 bases and played great defense, but his bat left much to be desired. He finished the year having hit .245/.332/.313 in 383 PA. Margot, one of the Padres’ top prospects, played in 10 games last year and hit for a .649 OPS. He has been hampered by a knee injury lately, but it’s not considered to be a serious injury. Margot certainly projects to be the better player, but the Padres might prefer to have him get a little more seasoning at Triple-A.

Alex Dickerson will handle left field. The 26-year-old hit a solid .257/.333/.455 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 285 trips to the plate last season. He tweaked his back early in spring training and has yet to make his Cactus League debut as a result, but he’s expected to be ready to start the year.

Finally, Hunter Renfroe will open the season in right for the Padres. The prospect wowed in 11 games near the end of last season, hitting .371 with three doubles, four homers, and 14 RBI in 36 PA. The Padres have a few players that will be fun to watch, especially with Renfroe and Margot. They might even have multiple All-Stars. But the pitching figures to be abysmal and it will prevent the Padres from making any real strides record-wise. That’s why I’m predicting them to equal last year’s record.

Prediction: 68-94 record, 5th place in division

Anthony Alford to miss 4-6 weeks following wrist surgery

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Anthony Alford will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, the team announced on Saturday. Alford was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier in the week after sustaining a left hamate fracture on a foul pitch, and could miss significant time in what looks to be a lengthy rehab process. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the procedure has been scheduled for next week and will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

Alford, 22, was called up to the majors from Double-A New Hampshire last Friday. He went hitless in his first three outings, finally catching a break against the Brewers on Tuesday when he pinch-hit a leadoff double in the seventh. The injury occurred two innings later when Alford fouled off a pitch in the ninth inning, fracturing his wrist in the process.

Alford will join eight other players on the Blue Jays’ disabled list, including outfielders Steve Pearce (calf strain), Dalton Pompey (concussion) and Darrell Cecillani (partial shoulder dislocation). He’s expected to be replaced by 24-year-old outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr.

Stephen Strasburg hit a new career high today

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Good luck getting a hit against the Nationals this weekend. Stephen Strasburg followed Max Scherzer‘s 13-strikeout performance on Friday with a dazzling outing of his own on Saturday afternoon. The right-hander whiffed a career-best 15 batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk in the Nats’ 3-0 win.

It took Strasburg several innings to get into a groove after pitching into (and out of) a jam in the first inning. The Padres loaded the bases with Allen Cordoba‘s leadoff single, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman and a four-pitch walk to Cory Spangenberg. By the third, Strasburg was cruising, striking out the side on 18 pitches and keeping the Padres off the basepaths until the sixth. He recorded his 15th and final strikeout in the seventh inning, catching Padres’ prospect Franchy Cordero swinging on a 1-2 pitch to effectively end his outing.

While 15 strikeouts set a new career record for the Nationals’ ace, he came close to reaching the mark twice before. The first time, he struck out 14 of 24 batters during his major league debut against the 2010 Pirates, though the 5-2 win did little more than keep the Nationals neck-and-neck with the Marlins at the bottom of the NL East. Five years later, he tied his 14-strikeout record against the 2015 Phillies, tossing a one-hitter in eight innings to cement his ninth victory of the season.

The only one who doesn’t seem overly enthused by the new record? Strasburg himself, who told MLB.com’s Jamal Collier and AJ Cassavell: “It’s pretty cool, but there’s another game five, six days from now. I’ll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow.”