The Padres in 2004

sean burroughsCall me crazy, but I’m going to make a prediction right now — the 2004 National League West Pennant belongs to the San Diego Padres. Forget the Giants, forget the Dodgers (and certainly forget the Diamondbacks and Rockies), the Padres are the team to beat next year in the NL West.

I write this as the Padres finish a two-game sweep of the Diamondbacks, giving them their fifth series win. Over the last 10 games, the Padres are 8-2, usually winning by decisive margins, as they did yesterday, 12-0. These are not the same Padres who went 5 for May.

What’s changed?

Two things, first Sean Burroughs has been batting leadoff. Second, the Padres acquired Brian Giles.

Getting Giles was big, but moving Burroughs to the #1 slot was bigger. Since making the move, Burroughs is hitting .429 with an OBP of .529.

The classic leadoff hitter is a speed burner who steals bases. Most of the time, these guys hit about .250 with an OPB of a tick above .300 and they get caught stealing more than 3 times out of every attempt. In other words, their value is often overrated.

Burroughs isn’t going to steal many bases, but he has enough speed to keep the infield honest when he’s at the plate. You don’t want to double pump when Burroughs is trying to beat out a hit, because if you do, he’ll burn you. But more importantly, Burroughs knows how to work the count and draw walks. The ability to make the pitcher work against the first hitter he sees in a game is the most valuable asset a leadoff hitter can have. Bochy plans to keep Burroughs in the #1 slot next year, and I applaud his decision. Burroughs is the prototypical leadoff hitter of the slugging generation — make the pitcher work, get on base a lot so the big guys can drive you in.

As good as Burroughs is as a leadoff hitter, he’s made even better with Mark Loretta hitting behind him, and Loretta is a better hitter with Burroughs on base half the time. And better still with Giles hitting behind him. This creates a situation where Loretta is seeing more fastballs, more pitches over the plate. These are pitches Loretta can rip. Over the last 10 games, Loretta is hitting .432. He and Burroughs have combined for a better than .500 on base percentage. Obviously, they won’t keep this pace up, but they will remain tough outs.

And when you have the second best left handed hitter in Giles hitting third, you’re going to score runs. Especially when you have a Phil Nevin hitting clean up.

You’re now talking about four hitters who hit for average and know how to draw walks. With the last two guys hitting for power.

But wait, we’re not done. Next year, a healthy Ryan Klesko will be hitting fifth. Again, power and average and plate discipline. After Klesko, as it stands now, is Mark Kotsay. Again, a good professional hitter.

That’s just want we know will be there next year — a 1 through 6 batting order that is going to make pitchers work. And when pitchers work, they get tired and become more mistake prone. And mistake pitches often have a way of reaching the seats, especially when guys like Giles, Nevin and Klesko have a bat in their hands.

But wait, we’re not done. The Padres say they are going to spend money this off season. That means we could wind up with a pretty good hitting catcher in San Diego — Ivan Rodriquez, say. Plus a couple of front line pitchers, like, say Javier Vazquez and Greg Maddux (not the pitcher he once was, but still a great veteran presence.

With Trevor Hoffman healthy again, and Rod Beck working as his set up man, you’re talking about a formidable bullpen to back up a young, strong starting rotation.

The Padres will also sport a strong bench, possibly the strongest in the NL West, certainly stronger than the Dodgers.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but if you’re a Padres fan, you can’t help but be excited about how this team is coming together.

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