San Diego’s 87 wins last season were the fifth-most in franchise history. The Padres improved their won-loss record by 23 games over 2003 (64–98), the single largest improvement from one full season to the next in club history.
The Padres finished the 2004 season with a 45–36 road record, the third-best record away from home in franchise history. After defeating the Expos on Aug. 29, the Padres were a club-record 12 games over .500 (38–26) on the road.
The Padres will spend $3 million making changes to Petco Park in response to fan gripes. They’ll add a small video board in right field, fix concessions and adjust some sight lines.
Closer Trevor Hoffman rebounded from 0 saves in 2003 to 41 in ’04, extending his big league record of 40-save seasons to six. Hoffman allowed 42 hits in 54.2 innings last year and has not allowed more hits than innings in any of his 12 major league seasons. With 393 career saves, Hoffman now ranks third on the all-time save list. He passed Jeff Reardon (367) Dennis Eckersley (390) during the 2004 season.
Getting it done
Jake Peavy established a new Padres record by allowing two earned runs or less in each of his first 10 starts of the season. He is the first Major League pitcher to accomplish that feat since Bob Tewksbury in 1982. Peavy went on to hold the opposition to two or fewer runs in 23 of his 27 starts.
Padres pitchers finished the season ranked fifth in the National League with a team ERA of 4.03, the team’s lowest mark since 1998 (3.63). Peavy (2.27) became the Padres’ second-ever NL ERA champ, joining former Cy Young winner Randy Jones (2.24 in 1975).
Although David Wells jumped ship after just one season with his hometown Padres, he’s building a house in exclusive Rancho Santa Fe just north of San Diego.
With parking fears allayed, the Padres will play seven weekday afternoon games, up from two during Petco Park’s first season.
Bruce Bochy managed the big league All-Star team that toured Japan following the World Series.
After watching the Padres contend for the wild card up until the final weekend, San Diegans are going to want more — like an NL West title. But with ownership still unwilling to spend big money, this is largely the same team that finished six games behind Los Angeles and missed the wild card by five games.
The Padres let lefty David Wells slip away to a bigger payday with Boston. Although Boomer was a solid ace, the Padres didn’t want to commit millions in guaranteed money to a 41-year-old prone to injury and off-field shenanigans — like tripping over a bar stool at home, cutting himself and landing on the disabled list like he did last season. Instead, they welcomed back Woody Williams, 38, a huge fan favorite his first time around. Williams brings playoff experience from the Cardinals, where he was traded in 2001 for Ray Lankford in what GM Kevin Towers said was his worst move ever. Williams compiled a 45–22 record in his three-plus seasons in St. Louis, and he will fit nicely into the Padres’ starting rotation. Righthander Jake Peavy continues along in the fast lane after winning the NL ERA title at 2.27. He’s just 23, and the Padres love his fearless attitude. Towers’ biggest mistake in ’04 was dealing No. 5 starter Ismael Valdez to Florida at the trade deadline and then not replacing him with a quality starter. A number of pitchers tried to fill the role but none succeeded. Adam Eaton and Brian Lawrence need big seasons to give the Padres some strength at the bottom of the rotation.
The Padres had one of the better pens in baseball, with the return to good health of closer Trevor Hoffman and the emergence of righthanders Scott Linebrink and Akinori Otsuka. They were so good they became known as the Three-Headed Monster. Hoffman had 41 saves after notching none in 2003 while recovering from double shoulder surgery the previous offseason. Every time there’s a trade rumor involving the Padres, Linebrink and/or Otsuka seem to be mentioned, but there’s no way the Padres are going to let either one go. Linebrink was brilliant in his first full year in the majors, allowing just 61 hits in 84 innings en route to a 7–3 season. Otsuka’s numbers were even better — he struck out 87 in 77.1 innings and recorded a 7–2 record with a 1.75 ERA. Blaine Neal, acquired from Florida in early April, made an impact, and the Padres added journeymen Chris Hammond, Rudy Seanez and Dennys Reyes.
Padres fans have to go back to the days of Ozzie Smith — yes, he once was a Padre — to find a shortstop to compare with phenom Khalil Greene. Greene was highlight-reel good in his first full season and finished second to former minor league roommate Jason Bay in NL Rookie of the Year balloting. Greene’s chances were hurt when he broke his right index finger with three weeks left in the season, keeping him from playing in the field again. Greene is humble, quiet and absolutely unimpressed with what he’s done. So is his double-play partner, the ever-steady Mark Loretta, who became the first Padre to get 200 hits since Tony Gwynn did so in 1997. Loretta got a much-deserved invitation to the All-Star Game and was voted team MVP after batting .335.
Never, it seems, has a Padre put up such good numbers and still be as reviled as first baseman Phil Nevin. Talk radio shows and the letters to the editor section are always buzzing with chatter that this guy needs to go. Whether it was his repeated gripes about home run-robbing Petco Park or his sometimes-crude behavior — a middle-finger salute a few years ago; cursing a Phillies fan last year — hometown fans just aren’t totally sold on Nevin. As for third baseman Sean Burroughs, people wonder if he’ll ever hit for power. So far, he hasn’t. Burroughs won’t have to bat leadoff now that Dave Roberts is in the house.
The Padres became much speedier just before Christmas when they obtained Roberts, a San Diego native, to bat leadoff and play Petco Park’s spacious center field. Roberts will go down in Red Sox lore for ‘The Steal,’ which set up Boston’s game-tying run in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the AL Championship Series. Left field is still a minefield, though, as long as Ryan Klesko is out there. He’s better suited for first base, but that’s the safest place for the injury-prone Nevin. Right fielder Brian Giles’ production fell off noticeably in his first full season with his hometown team. Giles’ .284 average was his lowest since 1998, and he hit just 23 home runs in over 700 plate appearances. The Padres would really like Xavier Nady to be an everyday player, but that would require moving Klesko out of the outfield. Klesko’s power numbers have dropped off dramatically since his 2003 season was cut short by September surgery on his right shoulder.
Ramon Hernandez was a rock behind the plate, as expected. But National League base stealers didn’t have too much trouble running on Hernandez. His caught stealing percentage was the lowest of his career. However, he certainly excelled at the plate. He hit a career-high .276 and belted 18 home runs in 384 at-bats. His ABs were down due to a month-long stint on the disabled list with an injured knee. The Padres have capable backups in Miguel Ojeda and Humberto Quintero. Ojeda caught 62 games and showed some decent pop at the plate with eight home runs and 26 RBIs in 156 at bats.
The Padres gained and lost during the offseason. They signed left-handed hitting Mark Sweeney for his third tour with the Padres but lost solid infielder Ramon Vazquez in the trade with Boston that brought Roberts to town. Sweeney led all major leaguers with 23 pinch-hit RBIs last year with Colorado — the most by any player since 1988 — while also hitting five pinch-hit home runs, the fourth-highest total ever. Until the Padres can open an outfield spot for Nady, he’ll have to be content in a backup role. San Diego signed infielders Eric Young and Geoff Blum to the roster and invited shortstop Damian Jackson to spring training. Jackson played in 393 games for the Padres from 1999-2001 before spending time in Detroit, Boston, Kansas City and Chicago (White Sox).
Towers and manager Bruce Bochy were given a free pass from 1999-2003, when team ownership kept salaries low while waiting to move into a new downtown ballpark. That could change this year if the Padres don’t come closer to winning the division. Some fans are angry Towers hasn’t landed a big-name free agent, but his hands appear to still be somewhat tied by owner John Moores.
Fans probably won’t be happy with anything less than an NL West title, and rightly so. If the Padres go south, expect attendance at pricey Petco Park to head the same direction. The Padres won’t bring in the fences at spacious Petco, where Nevin and Klesko griped about dimensions that turned what they thought should be home run balls into long outs or merely doubles. Nevin and Klesko have no-trade clauses, hindering Towers from building a roster better suited to the ballpark.