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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Good Days and Bad Days of Baseball

Baseball has been with us since the 1890s. Some 50 years later, someone coined the phrase, which has never gone away: Sophomore Slump.
It has been part of baseball lexicon since the 1950s. Rookie gets to the show, has a great first year, then flames out. What he showed the first time around is not duplicated the second year in the majors. Many bounce back from it; some never do.
Meet Jed Hoyer, Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, all of whom who made a great impact upon their arrival with the Padres this time last year. Hoyer, the young General Manager. Latos, the young ace of the pitching staff. Richard, the speedball pitcher who was the big payoff in the Jake Peavy trade.
What was last year is not what is this year. You remember last year don't you? Padres baseball in first place for 146 days in a row before running out of gas on the final weekend of the season.
Hoyer, the bright light GM, made seven key acquistions that made the 2010 season special.Latos strung together 15 brilliant starts in a row in the midst of a 9-1 stretch. Richard ground his way to a 14-win season.
First place baseball has been replaced by last place ball. Talk about pennant races and hated rivals has been replaced by words like impending free agents, trade rumors, empty seats and a town turned off. All that with half a season of games still to be played.
That summer of celebration last year has been replaced this summer of despair. Second-worst home record in baseball, a league-leading 15 shutouts, and one of the worst hitting lineups in modern day baseball.
And now the trading deadline is upon us, with the likely removal of popular closer Heath Bell, maybe running mate reliever Mike Adams, surely power hitter Ryan Ludick, and perhaps a few others.
What a difference a year makes, from first place to last place, hope to hopelessness. And let's not mention the fact the low $45 million payroll may dip to $38 million, after they trade verterans for young prospects.
A year ago baseball regaled the Hoyer acquisitions. Veteran pitcher Jon Garland gave them 14 wins. Multi purpose infielder Jerry Hairston had a superior season playing lots of positions. Chris Denorfia became a key outfielder when injuries struck. The trading deadline deals for Ludwick and Miguel Tejada breathed some life into a tired lineup.
But last year is gone, the memories replaced by this mess. Hoyer removed 14 of 28 players from that near-first-place roster this past offseason, bringing in 11 new players..
Whereas last summer there were seven new contributors, this year only four of the Hoyer additions have helped.
Aaron Harang and Dustin Moseley have found homes here, for at least this season. They have pitched their guts out with little run support. Chad Qualls, out of the bullpen, now healthy, has found a niche. And the future looks bright for centerfielder Cam Mayben, dynamic at the age of 23.
Yes, it has been a tough go for the first installment on the Adrian Gonzalez trade, but Anthony Rizzo looks to have the makings of a very good major leaguer, but he is just 21 years old.
But where there should be strength in numbers, Hoyer has struck out. First baseman Jorge Cantu is gone, and running mate Brad Hawpe is hurt, but was of little use before he went down. Injuries have derailed an aging Orlando Hudson. Jason Bartlett has not flashed the specialness at shortstop he showed in Minnesota and Tampa Bay. Rob Johnson is a backup catcher. Greg Zaun is gone. Eric Patterson dumped into the minor leagues.
It is surely nowhere near the same roster, talent wise, nor depth wise, as a year ago. And it shows in the standings, even in a weakened National League West division, where the Rockies and Dodgers have fallen on hard times, Arizona is young, and the first place Giants still are not hitting.
Last year's team might have been back in first place this year, but Hoyer had to blow it up.
Matt Latos is 5-10, with few dominant starts, though getting competitive again. Clayton Richard is on the disabled list but is not the pitcher now he was a year ago. They have both regressed.
In baseball history lore, we could apply that age old term second year slumps to the key young Padres pitchers. I bet this is the first time anyone would use that term to describe the Padres General Manager.
Jed Hoyer seems to be suffering from a "Sophomore Slump" too.

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