Return to health key for Padres

Return to health key for Padres

SAN DIEGO -- Starting pitchers Jake Peavy and Chris Young, catcher Nick Hundley and veterans Brian Giles and Cliff Floyd were, collectively, being counted on to help lift the Padres from the doldrums of the 99-loss season of 2008.

Instead, these Padres players, joined by many others over the course of the first three-plus months of the season, have spent significant time on the disabled list instead of the actual field. It's showed.

2009 Midterm Report

At one point earlier this month, Padres general manager Kevin Towers, trying to find some levity in the Padres' plight, surmised that "we're spending more dollars on the disabled list, off the field, than on it."

That part, he wasn't kidding about.

"It's been tough," Padres manager Bud Black said. "This is the worst run [of injuries] I've ever seen. Maybe it's happened during some short window of time sometime during my career, but certainly not in the three years I've been here as manager."

Injuries and underachieving have troubled the Padres at times during the first half of the season for a team prone to wild streaks -- starting the season 9-3, then going 4-19 only to reel off 10 consecutive victories.

It's not known when Peavy (tendon damage in his right ankle) will return, but Young probably will be back by the start of August, as the Padres attempt to assemble the kind of pitching staff they envisioned coming out of Spring Training.

The hope is that the offense, which ranks last in the National League in runs and average, will be better as several of the younger players on the roster get extended looks at Major League pitching.

Club MVP: This one is easy. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez carried the team in April and May, hitting 20 home runs before teams decided to stop pitching to him in June (32 walks). Still, Gonzalez is a home run threat and an All-Star for the second season in a row. His power is to all fields and his defense saves runs. Sounds like an MVP candidate.

Call him "Ace": Heath Bell, who had the unenviable task of replacing Major League career saves leader Trevor Hoffman, has flourished as a first-year closer, ranking among the Major League leaders all season. He's been death on righties and has been dependable, blowing only one save opportunity.

Greatest strength: Not an easy pick for a team ravaged by injuries, though the consistency from the right side of the infield, in Gonzalez and veteran David Eckstein, has been a plus for Black. The clubhouse vibe is also a lot better in '09, and that has a lot to do with the addition of Eckstein.

Biggest problem: Hitting, or the obvious lack of it. The Padres entered the break last among 30 Major League teams in batting average and runs and ranked 27th in average with runners in scoring position. Worse still, the team hit just .210 at home during the first half. Injuries haven't helped, but the lack of production is even worse than 2008.

Biggest surprise: The May acquisition of Tony Gwynn and a healthy Everth Cabrera, a Rule 5 rookie shortstop, have given the Padres a speed element that they have lacked in recent seasons. That speed shows up on defense and offense. The team had more steals in its first 81 games (37) than all of 2008 (36).

Team needs: The Padres need Peavy, Young and Cha Seung Baek to get healthy and return to the active roster. The Padres also need to see their younger position players get better and not regress, especially since scoring runs has been a chore. The Padres would like nothing more than one of these hitters to provide Gonzalez some protection in the lineup, otherwise he'll lead the universe in walks.

He said it: "This team is less talented than last year's, I feel, and is performing better. The juggling of veteran players and young players, keeping people focused and motivated, Buddy and his staff have done well. I think it's been one of his better years." -- Padres general manager Kevin Towers on the team and Black

Mark your calendar: The Padres open the second half with four games at home against the Rockies, one of the teams ahead of them in the National League West. Lose those four and it could be the start of a very long second half of the season.

Fearless second-half prediction: We see a lot of Cabrera at shortstop, a lot of rookie Kyle Blanks in the outfield and, perhaps as soon as after the All-Star break, the debut of the Padres' top prospect, pitcher Mat Latos. The Padres need to see what young players like Blanks, Chase Headley, Hundley and Cabrera and some young pitchers can do.

Corey Brock is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.