Playing Pepper 2021: San Diego Padres

Opening Day is just around the corner (knock on wood after 2020, of course) and as such, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite post series!  OK, maybe second favorite after Top Cards on Twitter.  It’s Playing Pepper!  Year 13 of our intrepid series finds us, as always, asking questions of bloggers (both former and current) of other teams, seeing how they view the upcoming season.   I think it’s a solid way of getting a handle on MLB as a whole.  So get your bats and ignore that sign on the fence–let’s play some pepper!

San Diego Padres
37-23, second in the NL West, lost in the NLDS
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

San Diego.  Not only do they apparently have the perfect weather, they’ve now developed a team that can legitimately challenge the Dodgers for the West supremacy.  While the Cardinals gave them a scare in the playoffs last year, the future continues to look bright for the boys in brown.  But can they change the West from blue?  Let’s see what these folks say about it.

Blogger Site Twitter
Richard Dorsha East Village Times outsidepaint
Scott Dunsmore The Kept Faith GhostofRAK

C70: Baseball in 2020 was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. What are your thoughts on that season? Did you like the rule changes? How was following baseball the same or different during the pandemic?

Richard: A 60-game baseball season felt icky. Don’t get me wrong, I was desperate for baseball so I watched almost every game, but it just didn’t seem right. One of the joys of baseball is the ebb and flow. Somebody gets hot for 10 days and somebody else slumps. Teams have to balance all that and find ways to collect W’s.

The rule changes, almost all of them, sucked. I hate 7-inning games. I hated putting a runner on 2b in extras. And, with a fiery rage, I HATE the DH in the NL. The DH might be the stupidest invention in sports. Might as well turn the NFL into a 2-hand touch league, or allow some players in basketball to just carry the ball instead of dribble.

If anything, the shortened season forced me to watch more games, since every outcome was approximately 3-times more important since they played 1/3rd the games. But not being able to go to the best stadium in sports really sucked. In summary, much like the rest of 2020, baseball was weird.

Scott: I liked the universal DH. It’s beyond time for it to be in the National League permanently. There’s only so many Joey Lucchesi plate appearances that a man can take. Fortunately, he’s the Mets’ problem now. Seven-inning doubleheaders were horrible. Leave those in 2020 along with Instagram Live concerts & Zoom comedy shows. I thought I would hate the runner on second base in extra innings. I didn’t hate it. But, having said that, if they did away with it I wouldn’t be upset.

Loved the earlier night game start times, but those are definitely a one-time thing. It was one thing when no one was leaving the house and could only watch on TV. It’s something entirely different with (some) people able to attend games in-person. There, after all, is money to be made.

C70: Not content with their strong showing in 2020, the Padres were active in the offseason. Which move did you like the most and were there any you didn’t like?

Richard: A sneaky-good move was acquiring Joe Musgrove for almost nothing. Musgrove has always had plenty of stuff, he just hasn’t put it all together over the course of a season. In 2020 he may have turned the corner (116 ERA+). I might be overly optimistic but he has breakout potential in 2021. He was a top of the rotation guy in Pittsburgh but he now slides into the #4 starter role for the Padres. So, not only is the pressure off, but he is back home (he grew up here). The Blake Snell and Yu Darvish acquisitions are great and all but I fully expect chaos in most starting rotations this year. Depth will be essential. Musgrove as a back-end of the rotation guy with top-end stuff is a wonderful luxury to have.

Scott: It’s a tie for my favorite move between the trades for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, as both trades happened within, like, 24 hours of each other. Which is nuts in and of itself, in my opinion. I sometimes have trouble figuring out what I’m having for dinner and Preller had two megadeals on the front burners at the same time. Honorable mention goes to the dodgers for signing Trevor Bauer, which is just going to be a disaster (And you better leave that lower case “d” in there, or it’s dodger-lovin’).

As far as moves I didn’t like, I can’t think of any. There were one or two that made me scratch my head, like signing Brian O’Grady almost immediately, but they could all be explained as depth moves. And if you’re upset about depth moves you’ve got bigger problems.

C70: Is Dinelson Lamet healthy? What are the expectations for him this year?

Richard: I have no idea. To be honest, neither does the front office. I don’t think even he knows. He’s already had one Tommy John surgery and he’s never thrown more than 115 innings in a season. There’s been talk about starting his season later and limiting him to 120 innings or something close to that, which would make him a glorified long reliever. If healthy he’s a Cy Young candidate. But I can’t say I am expecting much out of him, unfortunately. If I am a Musgrove optimist, I am a Lamet pessimist. I give him until Memorial Day before he suffers a season-ending injury.

Scott: Who knows? The Padres tell us he’s working out in Peoria and just needed rest after getting shut down in October. But he hasn’t pitched in a Spring Training game (as of me typing that here on March 15). I’m not expecting much from him, especially at the beginning of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the season on the injured list just to get some more time in extended Spring Training or at the “alternate site.” Best case it’s the 10-day and he misses a month. Worst case, he ends up needing Tommy John surgery anyway and the last six months were for nothing.

C70: Trent Grisham improved his statistics last year. How much of that was development, how much the short season, and what can he do this year?

Richard: Grisham is a fascinating case study in how fan perceptions influence team decisions. Let’s be real here: the only reason why Grisham is on the Padres is because he made one terribly high-profile mistake in the postseason. The fact is Grisham’s 2020 season should not be that big a surprise. He was a highly touted prospect, drafted in the first round and fast tracked to the Majors. He has always been good. The Brewers turned on him and the Padres were wise to grab him at a discounted rate.

He is only going to get better. He was borderline excellent over the 60-game season and he’s still crazy young. The guy is entering his age 24 season, so he has a way to go to arrive in his prime. I am ecstatic to have him on the Padres and I fully expect him to be a mainstay in the lineup for years.

Scott: I’d like to think it was some development, but how much development can really come from a 60-game season? I’m pretty much looking at the 2020 season as one giant Spring Training camp. This season is going to be key for a lot of these players. And now Grisham has a grade 1 hamstring sprain, so that’s not going to help.

C70: What is your expectation for this team this coming season?

Richard: Win the World Series. That’s where we are at now. The only thing this team has to do is slay the dragon in LA. I can’t see anyone else stopping the Padres in the NL. No one in the Central scares me. The Braves are good but I think they lack pitching depth. The Mets will be better, but how much?

It is the Padres and Dodgers in the NL. They are so evenly matched, it’s crazy. My biggest hope is they avoid each other until the NLCS so we get 7 games of drama. San Diego has always been the little brother in this rivalry and I desperately want to see us finally get big brother in a headlock. Will it happen this year? Maybe. Maybe not. But the beauty is this: the Padres will be good for years. We get Mike Clevinger back next year. Mackenzie Gore and CJ Abrams are still in our farm system. MLB will have to deal with the Padres for at least the next half-decade.

Scott: Fangraphs had them projected for 98 wins, which, while awesome, is pretty much the “if everything goes right” number. Now, Vegas had them at 93.5, which is a little more realistic to me. I’m not going with the old Padres fan attitude of, “Well, if they can get to [somewhere between 81 & 85 wins], I’ll be happy.” I expect them to win “a bare minimum because everything went wrong” 90 games. Because the other teams in the NL West not named the dodgers are crap and they should have at least 67% winning percentages against all of them. Closer to 80% against the Rockies. And they have the talent on paper to beat up on just about every other team in the NL.

What I’m saying is 94-68 and a really close 2nd place in the West is perfectly reasonable. If everything goes right, however, they could get to that 98 wins and that might win the West. If everything goes better than right: Over 100 wins, the dodgers implode halfway through the season and end up in a tie for 2nd place with the Giants, Rockies, & Diamondbacks at 80-82, Trevor Bauer loses all of his YouTube Channel subscribers, and the Padres sweep their way through the postseason to capture their first World Series.

Too much?

C70: Overall, what sort of grade would you give this organization and why?

Richard: A++++++++++. Here’s the deal with the Padres. For decades we’ve been told we’re a small market team, we can’t sign big free agents and we can’t compete with the bullies in LA. Then, in 2012, a new ownership group took over, ironically involving former Dodgers CEO Peter O’Malley. After spending a few years paying off debts from previous regimes the team is now showing a full commitment to winning. This is something Padre fans have rarely ever experienced: a front office that puts winning a championship at the forefront of its goals. We’re not trying to acquire broken players on the cheap. We’re not signing reclamation projects and hoping for the best. For the first time, really in my entire life, the front office is trying to win a championship. I am overjoyed. It is so nice to be involved in the World Series picture and truly feel like we have a shot at winning.

The city of San Diego has never had a major sports championship and I’d really like one before I die. Seeing as how the Padres are the only game in town, it is up to them to make it happen and it sure seems like we’re on our way.

Scott: Before Fernando Tatis Jr.s contract extension, B+ to A-. They improved the rotation and the bullpen without giving up much in the way of prospects. After the Tatis extension, solid A, nearly an A+. We get to watch that kid play baseball forever (in baseball years).

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