6 Similarities Between L.A. and S.D.
Two teams I have spent a lot of time watching, growing up in San Diego and then relocating to Los Angeles, are the Padres and the Dodgers. If you look at the standings, you may conclude that they have been very different teams this season. But if you look deeper, or if you have a more complete sense of where each club has come from, and where they have gotten to in 2012, you can see six ways in which they are precisely the same.
1) They have overachieved
The Dodgers enterred the year with a horrible owner, a middling rotation, a closer that collapsed in the season’s first month, a horrible collection of third basemen, left fielders and first basemen, and a shortstop who was not only light hitting, but perhaps the league’s worst defender at the position. The Dodgers have used an infinite checkbook to build an American League style middle of the order, and they are half a game out of the second Wild Card spot after a hard fought win in San Francisco on Saturday night.
San Diego on the other hand, just flat out stunk. The Padres entered the season a team that routinely placed among the the bottom three teams in almost every valuable offensive action, and they had just traded it’s top starter. They also owned a shamefully putrid middle infield of Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson. What’s more, they were only supposed to get worse. The expectation was that before season’s end they would have parted with Carlos Quentin, Huston Street, Chase Headley and perhaps even Edinson Volquez. They no longer have Hudson or Bartlett on the roster, while the four players expected to be traded are still there. Two of those four have been signed to extensions. To top it off, they have played baseball at a 90 win pace since the All-Star break, and have out-hit nearly half the teams in baseball (96 wRC+).
2) They have suffered from mass injuries.
Chad Billingsly is now out for the rest of this season and all of 2013 after injuring his elbow. Matt Kemp has been playing banged up, and hasn’t looked the same since the first week of May, when he strained, then pulled and finally re-aggravated his right hamstring in a chain of events spanning almost two months. He suffered a bone bruise, crashing into the fence in Colorado last week and has now injured his left shoulder. He is 3 for his last 29.
Mark Ellis suffered a near fatal leg injury earlier in the year, only to return healthy and productive. Ted Lilly has been out since May 29th with shoulder inflammation. Javy Guerra has been out since the first week of June after undergoing surgery on his right knee. Jerry Hairston had been a valuable veteran utility man, but required hip surgery and will miss the rest of the season. Experienced middle inning reliever Todd Coffey will also miss the remainder of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John.
While San Diego’s offense has remained fairly healthy since getting Carlos Quentin back and shuffling Jason Bartlett onto the DL with an injury that was likely a total fabrication, the rotation has been a rich and different story. The Padres have had to use 15 different starting pitchers (including Jeff Suppan and Kip Wells) this season, because Tim Stauffer, Joe Weiland, Micah Owings, and Cory Luebke have all required Tommy John surgery. Dustin Mosely will be lucky to pitch in the first half of 2013 after having surgery to repair a torn labrum. Anthony Bass and Andrew Cashner are finally back in the mix after missing time. Lately Jason Marquis and Eric Stults have provided stability, but the first part of this epic adventure provided only misery to a team that has known it too well these past several years.
3) They have new owners
A very unique set of circumstances played out as the Frank McCourt era ended in LA. The bidding war for the Dodgers was so competitive and the group of bidders so well populated, the Padres actually benefitted from it tremendously. In fact the franchise has probably been turned around solely because of how the ownership situation in LA resolved itself.
The Padres had a future McCourt of their own lined up to buy the team in Jeff Moorad. He is a scheister with so little money he was attempting to buy the team on lay-away before the other owners did their part in saving the Padres, firmly rejecting him to stop the sale. The O’Malley family swooped in with local businessman Ron Fowler and bought the team for twice the price Moorad’s group negotiated. Their group actually has so much money, they have been quoted as saying they overcapitalized in terms of what they needed to close the deal.
4) They have turned a corner
The Dodgers, aided by their new owners’ deep pockets have launched an historical spending spree, landing Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. They figure to be players on some top of the rotation arms this offseason, and are very much in the running for a Wild Card spot after finishing just 3 games over .500 in 2011. They have also re-established themselves as major spenders in the international market, with their signing of Yasiel Puig. Signing such as this were the cornerstone of the great Dodger farm systems of the mid-90s. Their weakness in this are has left the Dodgers with a staggeringly shallow minor league system in recent years.
The corner that the Padres have turned is much simpler, more fundamental. The team has simply begun it’s return to normalcy. A near decade of failed drafts and a gross inability to develop talent had left the Major League roster a collection of .240 hitters with no power. The team is now beginning to experience a wave of talent that made them a popular choice for the baseball’s top farm system in ore-season rankings. They have also begun their slow approach toward the middle of baseball’s salary rankings, which brings us to our next point.
5) They have increased payroll
The big spending has been much publicized in LA, but the Padres have made a major move of their own, in relative terms. Resigning Carlos Quentin for 3 years at $9M a year doesn’t sound like much, but Padre fans have gotten used to letting go of anyone worthy of a spot near the middle of the lineup. Sad as it sounds (and is) this signing, as well as talks about keeping Chase Headley, with the possibility of a major extension, represent a huge shift in economic policy for San Diego.
6) Next year will be different.
The Padres have overachieved. They aren’t in last place after beginning the season with the lowest payroll in baseball and expectations to match. Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal have each swung the bat well and improved defensively. Chase Headley has emerged as a true 3 hitter, continuing to get on base at a high rate, while knocking on the door of 30HR and 100RBI. Carlos Quentin has provided pop and stability, hitting cleanup. Jedd Gyorko is coming. Alexi Amarista and Everth Cabrera have played stunning defense up the middle. And a healthy rotation assembled from pieces the Padres already possess could have the potential to be second only to the Giants among NL West teams in ’13.
The Dodgers, meanwhile could be a Goliath. They now wield a very imposing middle of the order, and some terrifically valuable role players. A.J. Ellis, Luis Cruz, and Mark Ellis have been instrumental in keeping the Dodgers in contention, especially Cruz, who has upgraded the defense at third base by over 30 runs per 150 games with his 36.9 UZR/150 (as compared to the mark of 4.8 put up between his predecessors at the hot corner this year). With the addition of a true #2 behind Clayton Kershaw appearing imminent, the Dodgers are expecting big things.
But don’t let expectations fool you, not in the Far Division. Last year the Diamonbacks looked like the beginning of a dynasty. Now, they are lost in the middle somewhere. That’s baseball. It’s a strange game. There are always three outs, but they are never made the same way. This should always compel us to look closer.