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Mile High Sports

Enemy Territory: Padres coming to town

Each and every week here at milehighsports.com, we’ll take you behind the scenes to get the lowdown on the weekend’s matchup with an expert. This week, the Rockies return home after a disappointing road trip and look to turn things around against the San Diego Padres.

The Padres were considered the dark horse of the National League West to start the season. With their hot start, the Rockies might have usurped that mantle, but San Diego is still hovering around .500 despite some injuries and rough starts. We chatted with Richard Garfinkel, who covers the Padres as a staff writer for GaslampBall.com, part of the SB Nation community.

You can follow Richard on Twitter @gdarklighter and Gaslamp Ball @gaslampball.

MHS: So let’s start with a guy that Rockies’ fans have very fond memories of, Seth Smith. I thought that it was an underrated pick up at the time, and Bud Black’s done a great job of protecting him against lefties. What was your opinion of Smith coming into the season and has his performance so far altered that at all?

Richard: Initially, (Padres general manager) Josh Byrnes had Padres fans mystified. Why trade one of the best setup men in baseball for an outfielder in a team already loaded with outfield depth? Even with Carlos Quentin’s tendency to end up on the disabled list, there didn’t seem to be much call for that kind of move. Then Byrnes signed Joaquin Benoit and it all made sense. Viewed together, the moves provided a substantial improvement to offense without subtracting anything from the bullpen, and people got, if not excited, at least happy about the move. After Smith’s NL Player of the Week performance helped the team to a four game winning streak, he’s made Byrnes look pretty smart.

MHS: Another guy that’s been swinging a hot bat is Cameron Maybin, once and future prospect. Can Maybin consolidate his considerable talent? Can he stay healthy for a full season? He’s running out of time to make an impact.

Richard: Well, missing the first month of the season after rupturing a bicep during spring training has already shut down the potential for a full season, but his bat is starting to seem like the real deal. If he avoids any more significant time on the DL this season, he might finally become the center fielder he was projected to be.

MHS: On the opposite end of that spectrum, what’s up with Jedd Gyorko? Is he pressing coming off that big extension? Or is his ..511 OPS more a product of bad luck and short sample size than anything else?

Richard: We just had a great piece by del4rel at Gaslamp Ball about this very issue. The short version is that pitchers have a book on the Mountaineer, and it says that the slider is his out pitch. He’s having trouble adjusting for the moment, but Jedd has always been able to adapt in the past. There’s no reason to believe he won’t adapt now.

MHS: Watching baseball at Coors Field, fans in Denver are pretty aware of park effects, and I’m always curious about how writers from other cities few their home-park. Looking at the Padres splits so far this season, and the team is actually scoring much better at home, which I found surprising.How much is Petco responsible for tampering down the Padres offensive numbers? Do you consider playing at Petco a detriment or a blessing?

Richard: Padres fans have debated for years about the park. I’m in the camp that loves it and didn’t want the fences moved in. But since I’m not a Padres executive, my opinion didn’t matter and they did it last year anyway. The offense seems pretty happy with that change, especially the lefties. Will Venable took the most advantage of the closer, shortened fence in right field, hitting more homers at Petco (15) then he had in an entire season. I’m sure Adrian Gonzalez is still pissed that they waited until after he left town to do that.

MHS: Chase Headley walks that line between good player and all-star to me. Was 2012 just an outlier? Or was his walk-off bomb off Aroldis Chapman the other night a sign of things to come?

Richard: 2012 was almost certainly an outlier. It just doesn’t match up with the rest of his career. That’s not to say that he’s a bad player; he’s still a top 10 third baseman in one of his typical seasons, but he’s not the man you count on to hit 20 dingers on a regular basis, let alone 30. And let’s not make too much out of a homer off of Chapman. When the ball comes in that fast, any solid contact is going far.

MHS: I can’t wait to see Andrew Cashner pitch again. He’s built of his impressive 2013 and looks like a front of the rotation guy. What’s been the biggest difference from previous seasons, and can he keep up this kind of pace?

Richard: The biggest difference? Health and playing time. Injuries early in his career relegated him to the bullpen for a long time. It seems to me that he really just needed to be out on the mound every five days to dial his game in. He’s also established a great relationship with catcher Rene Rivera. Rivera’s pitch framing has certainly helped, and Cashner seems to like his play-calling. The love for Rivera has spread, with Tyson Ross taking him on as his personal catcher, too.

MHS: The Padres were seen as a favorite sleeper pick coming into this season. Where did you see them finishing at the start of the year, and has the first month-plus of baseball changed your mind at all?

Richard: I picked the Pads to go 86-76 before the season started, good for second in the NL West and a wildcard spot. Since then, Headley’s been injured, and we’ve found out that Josh Johnson will (barring what I think would be an extremely unwise pickup of his $4 million option) never pitch as a Padre. Carlos Quentin has only appeared in one game, and other key components of the offense have started out slower than me on a Sunday morning.

That 86-win mark has gotten harder to hit, but I still feel good about turning this season around. There’s good reason to believe the offense will turn show up, and the pitching is definitely the real deal. It’s still early yet, and I’m not counting anybody out. Except the Diamondbacks. They’re dead in the water.

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