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Slow start, injuries held Padres back in '11

Slow start, injuries held Padres back in '11

Slow start, injuries held Padres back in '11
SAN DIEGO -- Life without Adrian Gonzalez didn't go real well for the Padres in 2011, though pinning their precipitous fall on the deal that saw San Diego send its All-Star first baseman to the Red Sox for four players qualifies as short-sighted, at best.

There is no disputing that the Padres struggled mightily to score runs. In the first month of the season alone, they were shut out seven times. The Padres were blanked 19 times for the season -- tops in the Major Leagues.

But there were other palpable shortcomings which led to the Padres -- one season removed from winning 90 games and missing the playoffs by one victory -- never coming close to replicating the magic, good fortune and success they had in 2010.

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The defense wasn't nearly as good in the first half of 2011, nor was the starting pitching. The acquisitions that worked out so well for general manager Jed Hoyer in 2010 -- Jon Garland, Yorvit Torrealba and Jerry Hairston -- never materialized this season, when Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu didn't pan out.

Sufficiently out of the race in the NL West by the Trade Deadline, the Padres sent reliever Mike Adams to the Rangers on July 31 for two young pitchers, left-hander Robbie Erlin and right-hander Joe Wieland, two pitchers the team hopes will be a part of its rotation for a long time.

The Padres also dealt left fielder Ryan Ludwick to the Pirates that day. He was the club's leader in home runs (11) and RBIs (64) to that point in the season, and actually remained so long after he was gone, a telling sign for a woeful offense.

There were some positives, though:

• Free-agent pitcher Aaron Harang returned to his native San Diego and helped anchor the starting rotation, winning 13 games -- more than double his total from last season, while he was with the Reds (six victories).

• Cameron Maybin, acquired last November from the Marlins, found a home in center field. He provided plenty of highlight-reel catches, cut down on his strikeouts and made strides toward better pitch recognition.

• All-Star closer Heath Bell surpassed the 40-save plateau for the third consecutive season. No one in baseball has more saves than Bell since the start of 2009.

The Padres saw 12 players make their Major League debuts this season, several of whom, like pitcher Anthony Bass, look like they could have bright futures. The team is still high on rookie first baseman Anthony Rizzo -- part of the Gonzalez trade -- who was a terror at the plate with Triple-A Tucson, but struggled mightily at the big league level.

"We need to play better and play consistently better as a group," Padres manager Bud Black said. "That's what we need ... the even performances and not the deep valleys."

Record: 71-91, fifth in the National League West.

Defining moment:

Before the Padres were buried for good in the NL West, they were five outs from a win in San Francisco on July 6, a victory that would have put them at 41-47 four days prior to the All-Star break (More | ). That's when usually-reliable eighth-inning specialist Adams yielded a single and a game-tying, two-run double to the Giants' Pablo Sandoval. The Padres lost the game in 14 innings and then dropped their last four games before the All-Star break. And worse yet, the Padres lost starting pitcher Clayton Richard (shoulder surgery) for the year and catcher Nick Hundley (elbow surgery) for a month that very same week.

What went right:

Maybin, at 24, looks like he's on the cusp of doing some big things. Not only did Maybin rank second on the team in home runs and first in steals, but he also played a strong defensive center field -- enough to merit Gold Glove buzz from his teammates and manager (). Rookie left-handed pitcher Cory Luebke shined in long relief and did so once inserted into the starting rotation, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning of a Sept. 19 start against the Rockies (More | ). Also, Jesus Guzman, recalled from Triple-A Tucson in June, carried the offense in the second half and wasn't deterred by playing his home games in a big ballpark (). Tim Stauffer, the team's first-round Draft pick in 2003, came into his own at 29, establishing himself as a reliable, consistent top-of-the-rotation option. Harang pitched well at times, leading the team with 14 victories.

What went wrong:

April. The Padres stumbled early, going 9-17 during the first full month of the season. Their shortcomings were easy to trace: the offense. The Padres were shut out seven times in their first 26 games. Cantu and Hawpe got off to slow starts, as well. Second baseman Orlando Hudson landed on the disabled list twice in the first two months of the season and struggled offensively, going through an 0-for-34 stretch late in the season. The Padres still owe him $7 million. Pitcher Mat Latos, a 14-game winner last season, started the year on the DL and got away from pounding the strike zone with his four-seam fastball in the first half, in an attempt to be more efficient. He found his old form -- and his hard slider -- in the second half and was much more effective.

Biggest surprise:

It had to be Guzman. Signed to a Minor League contract last winter, Guzman was the Padres' best hitter in the second half of the season. He showed that he could hit lefties and righties well and wasn't fazed by hitting at PETCO Park, as some hitters are. For a team starving for offense, Guzman provided it and, in doing so, landed squarely in the Padres' plans for 2012. He played first base and some left field, though it's his bat that kept him in the lineup. A stiff neck late in September was about the only thing that slowed him.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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