The most anticipated move of the offseason happened on December 6, 2010. The Padres traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for 3 prospects and a player to be named later. The prospects were P Casey Kelly, 1B Anthony Rizzo and OF Reymond Fuentes. Kelly was Baseball America's #31 overrall rated prospect and Rizzo was their #75 rated prospect. The player to be named later was name after a week and a half after the initial trade and turned out to be prospective utility man Eric Patterson.
The offseason also saw the Padres say goodbye to many of the 2010's key contributors via free agency: Jon Garland, Yorvit Torrealba, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Scott Hairston, David Eckstein, Kevin Correia, Anthony Gwynn Jr. and Matt Stairs. This free up many roster spots as well as (in combination with the Adrian Gonzalez trade) some dollars to spend.
Some of them were addressed through a series of trades and waiver claims:
In addition, the Padres were also asking a number of players to step up and take bigger roles. Relief pitcher Ernesto Frieri was asked to step up and replace some of the innings Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica had provided in 2010. Pitcher Corey Luebke was asked to take on a major league bullpen role while also competing for a spot in the starting rotation. Tim Stauffer was handed a spot in the rotation after pitching well for all of 2010. And with no experienced veterans around anymore to mentor C Nick Hundley, it was time for Nick to embrace that starter's role.
The Padres opened on the road in St. Louis and got off to a cracking start when they defeated the Cardinals in 11 innings. Tim Stauffer got the opening day starting duties and faced 2005 Cy Young Award Winner Chris Carpenter. Both pitched okay and the game was 2-2 after 7 innings. The Padres, as they had done many times in 2010 went to Mike Adams in the 8th inning. Uncharacteristically, he gave up a go ahead solo shot to the Padres nemesis Matt Holliday. The Padres were down to their last gasp as they faced Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin in the 9th inning. With 2 outs in that 9th inning one of the newest Padres, Cam Maybin, crushed a ball to deep CF to tie the game and earn himself many fans in America's Finest City. Two other new Padres, Chad Qualls and Pat Neshek, held the Cardinals scoreless in the 9th and 10th inning to give the Padres a chance in the 11th. Cam Maybin again came through in the clutch, this time with a single to RF with Chase Headley on first base. An error by the SS allowed Savior to score and the Padres would tack on another run for good measure. Heath Bell closed the game out for his first save of the season. Final score: Padres 5, Cardinals 3.
The Padres' home opener (a.k.a jodes0405's birthday) was kicked off by starting pitcher and San Diego native Aaron Harang. He faced off against the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and their young phenom Madison Bumgarner. Harang pitched brilliant giving up a single run over 6 innings. He had given up that run in the first inning (an event that had been already trending at this point in the season and would continue to plague the Padres), which put the team behind early. The Padres would come back in the 3rd inning by putting up 3 well worked runs and maintained that lead for the duration. Final score: Padres 3, Giants 1.
Despite the two aforementioned wins and and 3-1 start to the season, April did not go well. A few trends quickly begin to emerge that would trouble the Padres. The team tended to give up runs early, especially in the first inning, they struggled at home going 4-11 at Petco Park in April and their defense didn't seem to be as good as advertised.
They also had a number of hitters who started out the season slow. Brad Hawpe was the guy whose slump was the most obvious. There was much talk about how slow his bat speed was and there was a lot of worry as to whether he'd ever be able to break out of the slump. Ryan Ludwick, who by default bore the burden of being the team's top slugger, also began slowly, but there were some encouraging signs that he could break out. Pretty much every hitter went through some serious struggles in April with perhaps the exception of Nick Hundley who started out the season on fire.
Pitching was supposed to once again be the strength of the team, but from the start there were chinks in the armor. Mat Latos had a rough spring and started the season on the DL. When he returned he still looked a bit rusty and was not yet back to being the pitcher that dominated at times in 2010. Clayton Richard picked up a win in his first start, but it was on the back of 11 runs from the Padres offense. After that he a bad start mixed in with some lack of run support and couldn't get back in the win column. But, he really couldn't complain too much about the lack of run support because Dustin Moseley had some more legitimate gripes. Arguably the best Padres pitch in April, Dustin Moseley went the entire month of April without picking up a win despite a 1.99 ERA. At least in his final April start (his worst one statistically for the season to date) the Padres scored some runs late and got a team win. Tim Stauffer gave some solid efforts, but couldn't completely shut down the opposition so his win column stayed empty despite the team actually rallying late in 3 of his 6 games to pick up victories. On the other hand, Aaron Harang started his Padres career with a bang picking up 4 wins in his first 4 starts. Overall, you could call the April pitching "good, but not great" and certainly not good enough to make up for the dearth of runs the offense put up.
The opening month also saw some frustration from the Padres players. Because of the Padres' struggles at home the media became obsessed with the lack of offense at Petco Park. A few different players expressed their frustrations, which by now has become a familiar right of spring in San Diego. Orlando Hudson's frustrations came out after the team got booed following their 7th shut out loss.
...well that's the reason why they're fans, they can't play, they can't play at this level, some have tried and got cut at the HS level or whatever. We're the ones that are blessed enough and got talent enough to make it to the big leagues...
He also had a series of tweets about the subject that really didn't help matters. It's alright to be frustrated, but taking it out on fans who pay good money to watch you play isn't going to win anybody over.
The month of May saw a welcome change for the struggling offense of the San Diego Padres. Some of the players' bats had begun to awaken. Ryan Ludwick found some of that power stroke the team and its fans had been waiting for. Brad Hawpe really heated up and created a great personal memory for himself when he went back to Colorado and hit a game winning two run bomb at Coors Field in the 9th inning of a tie game off of former teammate Huston Street. Chris Denorfia scrapped his way to a batting average over .300 and ostensibly became the Padres new leadoff hitter. And Chase Headley began to look more like the 2010 version of himself, except with a little more respectability batting right handed.
There was some optimism as the Padres finally won a series at home and then took to the road and won some games while scoring runs in bunches. There was some thinking that success on the road could improve morale and help the team him at home again like they did in 2010. However, hopes for such an outcome were qucikly dashed when the hated Mariners came to town -- sitting at the bottom of their division -- and swept the Padres in 3 games. The Cardinals took the next series at Petco and the Padres found themselves 10 games below .500 for the first time since 2009. On the bright side, they followed those struggles with a 4 game win streak (on the road, of course) to end the month and give people back some of that optimism again.
One of the reasons that the Padres may have been seeing inconsistency is that they were starting to see some injuries. Pretty much the only injuries in April were to Joe Thatcher (who was capably replaced by Corey Luebke in the bullpen), Mat Latos (who missed a couple starts when the Padres could get by with only 4 starters) and Eric Patterson (who just missed a few games). In May, Nick Hundley, Orlando Hudson and Cameron Maybin all went on the DL. That's 3 starting players all on the DL who all didn't have very capable capable backups. The players asked to fill in were a combination of Eric Patterson, Blake Tekotte, Logan Forsythe, Rob Johnson and Kyle Phillips. Every one of these players struggled to perform both with the bat and oftentimes in the field. On top of that Will Venable's struggles got him demoted to AAA Tucson and forced more of these fill-ins to get expanded roles.
The month of May was a mixed bag of hope and struggling. A little better than April when it seemed to be spiraling out of control, but not good enough to see a clear path where the Padres could fight their way into a playoff race. Although at 6 games back, it did not seem that all was lost.
The month of June began with a simple concept in mind: Win at home. The game on June 1 was a loss, but it concluded a 4-2 road trip and ushered in an 11 game homestand. It started out well enough with the Padres going 4-3 against the Astros and Rockies. To keep the momentum going they called up Anthony Rizzo, their hottest prospect and one the players acquired in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. He had a nice debut including a bomb to Petco's gap that resulted in a triple and excited the fanbase. The Padres won Rizzo's debut, an exciting time in the season.
The Padres had made some other changes besides calling up Rizzo. Eric Patterson and Jorge Cantu were designated for assignment. Jesus Guzman was called up play some DH and mash lefties. Brad Hawpe went to the DL with a couple of ailments, so a rejuvenated Will Venable returned. Injuries to Aaron Harang and Dustin Moseley forced call ups of rookie Anthony Bass and Wade LeBlanc. Bass would get a win in Colorado and LeBlanc would get the call in the series opener vs. the Red Sox. So, the Padres were simultaneously trying to swap out struggling players for new ones, while having to deal with injuries cropping up that left the team a bit stretched. But the crew at Inland Empire Canon Copiers kept the faith.
After that promising start to the homestand, the Padres lost the next 3 games at home (for a record of 5-6 in those series). They then picked up one win in Colorado to start a 9 game roadtrip, but then lost 6 in a row including a sweep in Minnesota. The 6th loss was a nightmare. It occurred in Boston against their former player Adrian Gonzalez and a team, the Red Sox, that the cynics were starting to refer to as the Padres parent club. It was a 14-5 beatdown that including a very embarrassing inning by Ernesto Frieri. It also sent the team to 10 games back in the NL West standings and a season-to-date low of 14 games below .500. This was rock bottom.
The good thing about rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up. The Padres took the series in Boston despite the rocky start to it. Sure they won close and may have needed a game called early because of rain to do it, but it sure beats getting your ass handed to you. Following that series the Padres finally accomplished what they'd wanted to do at the start of the month: Win at home. They took 5 of 6 from the Braves and Royals to end the month on a high note. Still, they were 9.5 games back and the trade deadline was a month away. The time for hope was running out.