Padres In The Midst of A Perilous Plunge

Baseball 06 Sep 2010

Anyone who follows the Padres realizes that the team has been in a terrible slide, having lost an unimaginable 10 games straight. No one denies that this team is currently staring straight into the face of throwing away what so far has been one of the most unexpectedly fun, and successful seasons in recent history.

Emotions are running full throttle right now with the players, coaches, front office, media, and especially the fans. While there are no cure-all, fail proof solutions to be offered, let’s take a quick look at what the facts, feelings, and future seem to be at this cross roads point of the season:

Facts – What we know:

  1. 1. The team has lost 10 games in a row, and their 6.5 game lead over the Giants has dwindled down to 1 going into tonight’s matchup with the Dodgers.
  2. 2. They are not playing very good baseball right now on any side of the ball. The hitting has been ice cold, and the pitching (other than a couple of starting efforts) and defense, which had been their strengths all season have been average at best, and game costing more than once.
  3. 3. The teams trying to catch the pads, primarily the Giants and Rockies, have been playing much better baseball than the Padres recently, and have narrowed the gap not only in the standings, but with their on field play and confidence as well.

Feelings – What I am hearing from fans:

  1. 1. This team has lost all its ability to play baseball. My Response: Yes, they are playing poorly right now, but I still find it hard to believe that the past 10 games represents what this team is capable of better than the 7 previous months when they had a winning record (a streak matched only by the Yankees over that time).
  2. 2. The players simply need to “kick it in the rear, and start trying harder”. My Response: These guys are trying to play hard and turn this thing around – maybe too hard in some cases. Having lived through some streaks like this during my 20 year career, you may be surprised at the extra pressure that some guys put on themselves to be “The Man” to turn things around for the club. Often times this well intentioned added pressure creates worse play, rather than better.
  3. 3. Buddy Black has been too relaxed and should be showing more emotion on the field and in the clubhouse. My Response: In general, my experience is that field generals that command out of unchecked, outwardly angry emotion can lose their players. Emotions are contagious, and if misconstrued players can see their manager reacting with anger and frustration and begin to feel as though he has lost confidence in their ability to play.
  4. We don’t know what is going on inside the clubhouse (which we shouldn’t!), but one thing that Buddy has always done well is keep the confidence and focus of his troops, as was displayed last year when they finished so strong after a weak start. Maybe Buddy has had or will have a rear-end chewing with his club, but it must be genuine and focused otherwise it simply becomes a demeaning tirade that can distance players and lose their faith in his leadership and themselves.
  5. 4. Buddy hasn’t been trying enough lineup changes. My Repsonse: Simply not true if you look at it. Take a look at the different combinations and you will see that almost every player has been used in the starting multiple times (short of Stairs and Hairston), and there have been multiple experiments in the leadoff spot, and now recently Gonzo, Tejada, and Ludwick have all been moved around the lineup as well. It might not be the exact combination that you would try so far, but from my observation the search for winning combo has been being made.
  6. 5. The season has already been lost, and there is no turning the ship around. My Response: If they continue to play the way they have in the past week then yes, any chance of seeing the post-season is gone. They must turn it around immediately and convincingly, and I believe they can since pitching has been their strength and they have not lost any to injury, and may be adding some with Cory Luebke and anything Chris Young can contribute.

Faith – What are some positives that exist:

  1. 1. Despite one of the worst loosing streak in MLB this season the team is still in first place. Granted, if they don’t start playing better starting tonight they may not be in sole possession by tomorrow, but today they are in first place despite the current debacle.
  2. 2. They still have a schedule that can favor them with matchups against the Giants (7) and Rockies (3), as well as 4 with the lowly Cubs, so as of today they are still in control their own destiny.
  3. 3. Jerry Hairston, Jr., who has been sorely missed, should be able to return and help the team before September is over, as well as Chris Young who may be able to add some helpful innings.

Future – What can be done:

  1. In my opinion the strength of this team all season has been the pitching and defense, and that is what I believe will get them out of this slump, and needs to be their foundation through the end. All attempts to spark the offense and find a combination of hot bats recently has failed. Maybe it’s time to simply go for the best defensive team they can field to support the pitching staff. Try to win the game 1-0, or 2-1. Keep as many runs off the board as you can, and fight, scratch, bunt, and steal whatever few runs you can manufacture because any attempts to slug right now are not working.
  2. From a player’s perspective, as hard as it is, they have to come to the park knowing two things.  First , that they expect to win today, and there is no other possible outcome.  If you enter a game hoping to win, or wanting to win, you are opening the door to being beat – you have to KNOW it, and expose your self to the emotional commitment.  Second, that the focus will be on the immediate task, whether it be that pitch being thrown, that pitch of an at-bat, that play, that base running attempt, etc., and nothing else.  If you are thinking about “breaking this slump”, “we have to win this game” then you are not 100% focused at that moment on what you need to do to achieve that outcome.  It is a fine line of concentration, but in my experience an important one.

As I said earlier I don’t know of any tried and true remedies for these types streaks. If I did, I would have already put it forth. Downturns like this usually do one of two things to a team once they’ve ended. They can either emotionally, physically, and spiritually tear a team down beyond short-term recovery, or they can build confidence and unity through having survived it. Only time will tell which will hold true for these Padres, but based on the grit and moxy they’ve shown most of the year, there is evidence that they can come out of this and once again be the team that has led the NL West most of the season – whether they do or not is up to them.

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