I know my attitude toward our Padres' current standing isn't one particularly shared by the majority. That's fine. I'm not typing this to criticize anyone else's point of view or tell them how to think; everybody has his or her own individual outlook on things - and that's what makes the world so great, isn't it? Ideally, we can all consider one another's perspectives and consider the merits of them all. I can understand the prevailing cloud of despair that seems to choke everyone who walks into Gaslamp Ball air; I'm a notorious pessimist who expects the worst in nearly every situation. However, the Padres' 2007 season here-on-out is not one of those situations.
The Padres are currently alone atop the NL Wild Card standings with the third best record in the league. Never before have I heard so much derision directed toward a team that is nine games over .500 and not playing its home games in the empire state. Sure, Arizona is four games up in the West and seemingly unbeatable right now. Much has been said, by myself and others, about the D-bags playing way over their heads and being bound for a sobering crash back to earth. I still believe this will happen - every halfway decent team goes on a tear where seemingly nothing can go wrong for them - and being four games back at this point in the season doesn't strike me as particularly daunting. I could compose a list the size of this essay of teams who have overcame a deficit much more severe than the one we're in now. I'm sure that fans of the "Bucky Dent" Yankees and the Joey Cora-led 1995 "Refuse To Lose" Mariners thought their chances were nonexistent at some juncture late in those seasons. Whether or not the Snakes begin to falter, they're not the issue here. The Padres are. There is no denying that our twenty-five haven't, for the most part, been playing baseball to the level that individual statistics suggest that they are capable of. Is Marcus Giles done? Is he no longer capable of performing at the level he was in April? Of course not. Is Kouz a one month wonder? Certainly not. This season alone, we have seen extended faltering by nearly all of our individual players- even the mighty Jake Peavy had us all scratching our heads at one point, but he returned to the form we're accustomed to. Mike Cameron has been down, up and then down again. For every "get him the hell out of here" inducing April, he puts up a "look out, world" June. My point is this: things tend to even out over 162 games. To date, when one guy is locked in he's been walking alone. It's an inevitability that we are going to hit a stretch where we're firing on all (or at least most) cylinders. Does one honestly believe that the vast majority of our players are going to finish with career-worst seasons? Not this guy. It's the nature of things.
There has been a lot of not-so-constructive criticism of Bud Black - a great deal of it from me. While he wasn't my first choice to take over for Size 8, he's the guy that fills out the lineup card. Will history remember him as one of the all-time great managers? Who knows? It's the guy's rookie season and while he has made some rookie mistakes, he hasn't singlehandedly ran the team into the ground as some of my knee-jerk responses would imply. His recent handling of the pitching staff indicates that he's learning from his mistakes and at this point I can't ask for much more than that. I can't argue too much with the lineups he's been putting out there. Not many will argue that putting Briles first in the order hasn't paid off. As much as I love Kouz and think he's going to be a solid run producer at third for years to come, platooning him with Enzo seems to be what makes sense right now. He's proven that he can stand up to the veterans and do what he thinks is best for the club. Throwing Miles out there at second might soothe his ego but it's not going to help us win any ballgames as it is and Bud knows that which is why Blum is getting the nod and producing for us. Other managers wouldn't make that move. While Bud may not be the best manager in the bigs, he's still learning- and learning well.
We've got the two best starting pitchers in the league. We've got the greatest closer of all time and an absolute beast of a bridge to him in Heat Bell. We've got a bullpen which, as a whole, is still the best in all of organized ball and Bud is starting to get clued in on how to use it. We've been staying afloat without our most intimidating presence in the lineup and he's set to return tomorrow. We've got a brick wall at shortstop who makes more offensive contributions than he's been given credit for. We've got a fearless leader at the top of the lineup who leads by example and can keep everybody loose. I'm enjoying experiencing it. I am a true believer. I am a Friar Faithful.