Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Previewing the Padres

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 3:19 PM

Page 3 of 3

Bullpen

Now here is where the Padres really have a definite advantage. Their bullpen has been outstanding, led by their closer-slash-plus-size-jeans-model Heath Bell, who comes into the series with a miniscule 0.95 ERA. That's pretty good. Bell was seen as prime trade bait coming into the season, but the Padres' surprising relevance could very well change those plans. 

Perhaps most impressive of any San Diego reliever (and most painful for those of us in Cardinal Country), is Luke Gregerson, the player to be named later in the Khalil Greene trade. (I warn you, any squeamish readers or those with weak hearts may want to just skip down to the next paragraph.) So far this season Gregerson has a nifty 1.90 ERA, but what really jumps out at you is his walk rate. In 23.2 innings, Gregerson has walked exactly one batter unintentionally, for a walk rate of 0.8 BB/9. That's not a number I can recall seeing in a guy's line very often. Oh, and he's also struck out 26 hitters in that same time frame, meaning his K/BB ratio is 13.00. I'll let that sink in for a bit. Got it? His strikeout rate is 9.9/9, and his K/BB is 13.00. Thirteen. Not only can I not recall having seen that before, I honestly didn't expect to ever see something like that. That is taking stinginess with free passes to an impossible level. 

In fact, the whole Padre bullpen is remarkably good about avoiding walks, which I suspect is largely a function of the ballpark they play in. When you play in a park which helps to suppress power to the extent Petco does, there's little reason not to challenge hitters when you're down in the count, rather than putting them on base. Still, it's impressive to see a relief corps capable of executing on a consistent basis. Edward Mujica strikes out nearly a batter per inning but has issued only 3 free passes in 21 innings. Tim Stauffer, pitching mostly in low-leverage situations, is rocking a 4.75 K/BB rate to go along with his 0.39 ERA. You get the picture. This is a bullpen full of pitchers who do not beat themselves, and they're aided by a ballpark which allows them to come right after hitters with the confidence there are very few balls the walls of Petco won't hold. 

The Cardinal bullpen has been solid on the season, and very good of late, but I just don't think they stack up to San Diego's relievers. Ryan Franklin and Kyle McClellan have both performed at a strong level this year, but they just can't compare to Bell and Gregerson. The one spot I do believe the Cards could be said to have an advantage here is in left-handed relief: the Cardinals' southpaws have been outstanding again this season. 

Edge: PADRES

In the end, I think the Cardinals are the better team, even in a series in which we would see the Padres' best starters, because the upper part of the Cards' rotation is a bit stronger and the offense has more firepower. (Again, more talent. Not necessarily more production, at least not yet.) Make no mistake, though: the San Diego Padres may be playing a bit above their true talent level right now, but probably not nearly as far as you might think. This is a good baseball team, and the Cardinals are going to need to step up their game if they hope to turn around their recent struggles. 

And lastly, I would like to apologise to all the fine citizens of San Diego, but I just can't help myself. 

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