Plenty at stake in four-game Padres-Dodgers series
Posted: Friday September 15, 2006 12:03PM; Updated: Saturday September 16, 2006 1:10AM
Somehow, the Padres are competing with aging catcher Mike Piazza as their primary offensive threat.
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With an offseason that seemed to do more damage than triage, with an 8-15 record, a five-game losing streak and a 5-0 deficit heading into the bottom of the ninth inning on April 30, the San Diego Padres seemed to be disappearing down a sinkhole of their own creation.
Fast-forward to Friday night, with just over two weeks remaining in the regular season. The Padres take the field leading the National League wild-card race, and they could be in first place in the NL West by the time they hit the showers. Their opponent is the division-leading (by a half-game) Los Angeles Dodgers, the same team that let the Padres escape the quicksand of April.
Three outs away from a three-game Swiffer of San Diego, the Dodgers allowed nine of the final 13 Padres batters to reach base, walking five, and fell 6-5 in 10 innings.
From the cliff's edge, the Padres began a 14-1 bungee jump that bounced them from last place in the NL West into first -- where they, um, didn't hang for too long but remained somewhere in the vicinity all year. Their salvation hasn't come the way you'd expect -- not through starting pitcher Jake Peavy, for example, who has had three good months and three bad ones, or outfielder Brian Giles, whose OPS is hovering below .800.
The team home run leader is 38-year-old Mike Piazza, who was given up for dead by every other major league team but is now third among National League catchers in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), according to Baseball Prospectus.
Reliever Cla Meredith has been simply scintillating out of the bullpen with an 0.66 ERA, facing 147 batters and allowing three extra-base hits and five walks.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez, 24, is quietly in second place on the team with 21 homers, and Mike Cameron, last noticed by New Yorkers having his face smashed in a collision with Carlos Beltran as a Met, is third with 19.
There's only one usual suspect in the high-performing bunch: closer Trevor Hoffman, who turns 39 next month but once again ranks among the top relievers in baseball.
For the stretch run, the Padres added their oldest player yet this season, 43-year-old left-hander David Wells, and it's Wells who will take the mound tonight in Los Angeles against the Dodgers' prized viejo, 40-year-old Greg Maddux.
Maddux's arrival dovetailed with the Dodgers' own run from last place to first in the NL West, when they won 17 out of 18 games in July and August to unseat San Diego. Since falling a season-low eight games under .500 on July 26, the Dodgers have played .682 ball (30-14) over more than a quarter of the season, despite blowing leads of seven runs and three runs in two losses to the NL-worst Chicago Cubs over the past three days.