"We have some challenges, obviously, but every team has different sets of challenges," said Padres manager Bud Black, who was named the National League Manager of the Year last season, edging the Reds' Dusty Baker by one vote.
"We're not going to sneak up on people like we did last year."
The only chance the Padres might have of surprising anyone this season, which begins at 1:15 p.m. PT on Thursday in St. Louis, is with a revamped roster that looks little like the one that essentially led the NL West for five months before a humbling 10-game losing skid late in the year that ultimately cost them the chance to make the postseason.
The changes in the offseason were many, and Black spent most of his six weeks during Spring Training getting acclimated to the many new faces on the roster, as well as also allowing them to play together in games early in spring to build cohesion.
General manager Jed Hoyer didn't just trade All-Star Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox, but he added veteran Brad Hawpe to play first base, signed Aaron Harang to re-establish his starting pitching credentials and made three additions to strengthen the team up the middle -- adding center fielder Cameron Maybin, second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop Jason Bartlett.
Veteran infielder Jorge Cantu was added to be a reserve. Eric Patterson, the player to be named later in the Gonzalez deal, will open the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury but won't be there long. Relief pitcher Chad Qualls has rediscovered his power sinker, a pitch that betrayed him in 2010.
"It's a different roster than last year," Hoyer said. "We had a lot of turnover, but I like our depth and balance. We are a more talented roster."
But there are legitimate concerns.
Aside from Opening Day pitcher Tim Stauffer, the starting rotation hasn't looked sharp in spring. Mat Latos, the young gun who won 14 games a year ago, is on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder and it's unclear when he'll pitch next.
Counting on big offensive seasons from all of their bounce-back candidates -- like Hawpe, Maybin, Bartlett and Cantu -- is asking an awful lot.
And consider the Padres -- a team that plays half of their games at spacious PETCO Park -- had trouble scoring runs with Gonzalez.
The hope is that players like catcher Nick Hundley, outfielder Will Venable and third baseman Chase Headley -- who are no longer fresh faces -- can match or exceed the contributions of the newcomers as well as outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who will also be counted on to drive in runs.
San Diego Padres
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
|MI||RHP||Samuel Deduno||MI||LHP||Cory Luebke|
*- Replacing Mat Latos (shoulder bursitis)
"It does feel like a new team," Hundley said. "It's a good thing, too. It's a new team and a new vibe. With these guys, it's a totally different vibe."
Different faces, different vibe, though the Padres are counting on their hallmarks -- strong pitching and defense -- to again carry them in 2011 as it did a year ago, when they got 14 victories from three starting pitchers as well as big innings from baseball's best bullpen -- anchored by All-Star closer Heath Bell.
No, this pitching staff won't sneak up on anyone, either.
"Latos is not going to sneak up on people, Clayton Richard, our bullpen. Because the other teams know that our guys are real and that we play well and we play a certain style," Black said.
Harang, a San Diego native who used to watch the Padres at Qualcomm Stadium as a youth, welcomed the opportunity to pitch for his hometown team. Not just because he'll be able to hit his favorite taco shop, either.
From the moment he walked into the clubhouse in Arizona in February, Harang could see he was in the right place.
"There's so many new guys in here compared to last year, but from the minute we got here, they accepted us," Harang said. "And no one was looking back on what was in the past.
"I'm looking forward to it. ... Every Padres team I've ever played against in the past has been a scrappy team."
One that, apparently, won't rest on the laurels from a year ago and one that certainly will not waste any time kicking around what nearly was last October.
"I've completely forgot about that," Bell said of narrowly missing the postseason. "And I haven't heard anyone talk about last year. I think everyone in here is excited about the season, excited about the offense.
"We have power, we have more speed and we've got guys who will make more contact. We have a lot of energy and I think chemistry is an important thing. Guys are feeling like they're ready to kick some butt."