Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Tie Game That Went To The Rockies

Baseball fans by now have seen the blown call at home plate that ended the Padres-Rockies tiebreaker game. Matt Holliday of the Rockies never touched home plate and he still hasn't. Padres catcher Michael Barrett blocked the plate and kept Holliday's head-first slide from crossing the plate. The umpire saw it differently so the game will go down in history as the tie game that went to the Rockies.

But I don't write to complain about the umpire. His blown call is just a fact. The Rockies played hard and deserved to win, especially for coming back against Trevor Hoffman. The Padres have nothing to be ashamed of for that last game. They played like champions that night and most games during the year. But on the 163rd game of the season, they got beat by a team on a roll. The Rockies look like the team to beat in the playoffs. As for the Padres, it'll be another wait until next year off-season.

The Padres' organization is consistently putting a winning team on the field. It's a welcome change from the many years of losing teams fans have had to endure. So what about next year?

Starting Pitching: The front end of the rotation looks set with Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and Greg Maddux. Two back-end starters are needed. Clay Hensley should be back from surgery next year and with luck, he'll regain his 2006 form. Whether the Padres will still want him is an open questions.

Relief Pitching: Hoffman is the all-time saves leader but his days look numbered. Not that the team won't bring him back. He had another great year with 44 saves. But he blew two key saves in the last weekend, and to put it bluntly, if he hadn't blown just one of those saves the Padres, not the Rockies, would be playing the Phillies. Even in games Hoffman saves he regularly gives up hard base hits. His fastball has slowed down and if he doesn't have perfect command, major league hitters knock him around. Contrast that with Heath Bell's performance this year. Bell is a lights-out pitcher who blows batters away with a high-mileage fastball. Next year may see the transition from Hoffman to Bell in the closer's role. There are a number of fans ready to make that move.

Catcher: Josh Bard is great. He handles pitchers well and he hits. He hits hard and under pressure. He can't throw out a base stealer to save his life. But the Padres seem to subscribe to the theory that the running game is nothing to worry about.

Infield: The Padres infield is stocked with excellent young players. That infield is going to keep the Padres in contention for years to come. Adrian Gonzalez at first base plays stellar defense and hits with authority. Khalil Greene is the best shortstop for the Padres since Ozzie Smith, if not in baseball. He never misses a routine play and he makes astounding plays look routine. Plus, he's got power. Kevin Kouzmanoff may finally be the answer to the Padres quest for a third baseman who can hit and field. Kooz is a perfect fit for Petco Park with his right-handed power. The one small hole is second base, which was filled by Geoff Blum after Marcus Giles failed. Blum is one of the team's most valuable players. Last year he stepped in at short when Green was out with an injury. This year, he became the starting second baseman. The Padres could do worse than bringing back Blum at second next year. Bard followed by Blum made a great 7-8 combination at the bottom of the lineup this year.

Outfield: Lots of holes there. Brian Giles should remain at right and in leadoff. He is an iron man in the field. He played all year with a microfracture in his knee, that required surgery two days after the season ended. Contrast that with left-fielder Milton Bradley. Left field was the big hole at the beginning of the year and remains empty at season's end. Bradley is not worth the time, the money, or the trouble. He's too fragile to be counted on. Scott Hairston was a great late-season filler in left. His right-handed power is also perfect for Petco Park. He deserves a shot at left. As for center field, Mike Cameron should be brought back. His defense is essential in Petco Park's huge outfield. The Padres should keep him for his defense. Whatever he contributes on offense is a bonus.

It's going to be an interesting off-season.


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