Kevin Correia: With three young starters in LeBlanc, Clayton Richard (8-5, 3.48) and Mat Latos (11-4, 2.45 ERA), the Padres need consistency down the stretch from the veteran Correia (7-7, 5.06), who along with Jon Garland (10-7, 3.60 ERA) make up the Padres starting rotation. It was an emotional and personally disappointing first half for Correia, 29, a San Diego native, who’s younger brother died in a May hiking accident. Correia has historically pitched better the second half of the season, going 6-4 after the All-Star break a year ago with a 3.26 ERA. He also had three quality starts in four outings in July, going a respectable 2-1 with a 3.90 ERA. Said Correia: “I’m going to have to pitch better in the second half. If anyone’s going to improve, it’s got to be me.”
Tony Gwynn Jr.: The team’s best outfield defender, who covers a lot of ground in PETCO Park's spacious center field, has nonetheless struggled mightily at the plate, posting a .215 average. The Padres will need him to get on base more because when he does, Gwynn usually successfully steals. And when the Padres run, they often win (San Diego is 38-9 when they steal at least one base). If Gwynn doesn’t start producing offensively, look for Chris Denorfia and Scott Hairston to get more playing time in center.
Mike Adams: Once put on waivers by the Mets, Adams, 32, pitched for three different organizations in 2006 before landing in San Diego. One of the key set-up men to closer Heath Bell, Adams was 2-1 with a 2.18 ERA before straining his oblique. He’ll be off the disabled list soon and the Padres will need Adams to be productive and stay healthy (he missed all of 2007 with a knee injury). If Adams isn’t able to go, don’t be surprised if you hear the name of Colombian Ernesto Frieri, who has been lights out since being called up thanks in part to a deceptive delivery that is hard to pick up.
David Eckstein: Although well past his prime, Eckstein is the Padres Energizer Bunny — its sparkplug — and one its clubhouse leaders. Batting .279, the second baseman has been out recently with a calf strain and the Padres will need his knack for getting on base in the next two months. He’s supposed to come off the disabled list Thursday, but that may be delayed. Eckstein is the only Padre to own two World Series rings (the 2002 Angels and 2006 Cardinals) and if he can’t deliver, expect Jerry Hairston Jr., a 2009 World Series winner with the Yankees, to keep filling the void. A super-utility man, Hairston Jr. has been terrific this season, producing 7 HR and 42 RBI.
Speaking of the Fall Classic, has any team ever actually won the World Series while ranking in the bottom third in MLB in runs scored? Well, yes. The 1997 Marlins ranked 20th out of 28 MLB clubs. The 1995 Braves finished 21st out of 28 teams, scoring 645 runs. And the 1988 Dodgers ranked 20th out of 26 clubs in runs scored, netting 628. Unlike the 2010 Padres, the ’97 Marlins and ’95 Braves had boppers, with the Braves boasting four sluggers with at least 20 HR and the Fish with five hitters with at least 17 HR.
Offensively, the 2010 Padres most closely resemble the ’88 Dodgers who were led by Kirk Gibson’s .290 average, 25 HR and 76 RBI followed by Mike Marshall’s 20 dingers and John Shelby’s 10 jacks. Not impressive? Well, when you have the No. 1 pitching staff in MLB and one of its top defensive clubs, at least some history is reason enough for the Padres to continue to believe, as August could very well make or break this team that will play 19 games on the road in the month, of which 15 games overall are against division rivals.
“When I took the field (Friday) here, I looked back toward home plate and there were so many fans and excitement,” said Tejada, a former Oriole who hasn’t tasted the postseason since a 2000-2003 run with the A’s. “It’s feel great to have this opportunity to be in a pennant race.”
Joe Connor is a contributor to NBCSports.com and author of the online MLB ballpark tour guide, “A Fan’s Guide To The Ultimate Ballpark Tour: Fully Loaded!” which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web sites: www.modernerabaseball.com and www.mrsportstravel.com.
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