(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sometimes It Just Takes a While

Both for the rest of a league to figure you out, and for your opponents to wake up.

In this case, there's a perfect storm brewing for the San Diego Padres, who just lost their ninth in a row and are barely hanging onto their lead in the NL West.

My cousin and I tend to text each other during Phillies' games. Sometimes the back-and-forth is fact-based, others it is fraught with exasperation about a) the Phillies' bullpen, b) Brad Lidge in particular, c) the injuries the team suffered, d) Jayson Werth's difficulties with hitting with runners in scoring position, e) the inconsistency of Raul Ibanez and f) why Shane Victorino's on-base percentage is low and why it looks like he's trying to hit home runs at almost every opportunity. During these sometimes humorous and always enlightening and stimulating exchanges, I wasn't so much defending the hometown nine as showing disrespect for the Padres, who, say, 6 weeks ago, had the best record in the National League and were something like an obscene 27 games over .500.

I don't recall the precise retort, but my cousin didn't think that the Padres would fade and thought that they would finish with the best record in the NL. He's a knowledgeable fan with a major "inside baseball" connection, but I just wasn't buying it. I reasoned that while the team had great pitching thus far and Adrian Gonzalez, it had many automatic outs in the lineup and a pitching staff that hadn't dealt with the pressures of being a front-runner the way the staffs of the most recently perennial contenders had (Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, Red Sox, Rays). I just didn't see that if anyone were to make a run how the Padres would continue at their then-amazing pace. (I acknowledge that I look terrific in saying this right now, but I felt so then, despite the Padres' having two Princeton alumni on their roster -- in injured Chris Young and the outfielder, Will Venable, and that the 11th commandment on this blog is "Thou Shalt Not Speak Ill of Another Princetonian.").

Lest I digress. . .

It seems that the Padres' chariot is turning into a pumpkin (a reversible phenomenon if skipper Bud Black and the team's leaders -- Gonzalez, David Eckstein -- have anything to do with it) and that the Giants and Rockies (while not exactly the Yankees and the Rays) will try to make it interesting in the last month of the season. Still, losing 9 games in a row while the Braves are in high gear, the Phillies have shown great resilience and the Reds also in high gear doesn't bode well for the Padres. They've enjoyed a very surprising and great season, but they need to close hard and fast to honor all the good work they did up until 9 games ago.

And, they shouldn't get too bummed out. They're still in first.

But, are they like the excellent mid-major college basketball team that can stay with Kentucky for 32 minutes and be up by eight only to lose by 10 or more because the top-10 teams wear them down and show their superiority in the last 8-10 minutes? Or are they a Butler, who showed that it was a top-10 team and not just a mid-major having a good year?

The Padres have four weeks to show the baseball world that they are a playoff team.


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