Sunday, March 30, 2008

Padres to finish third again?

The Padres finished third in the NL West last season, but it really wasn’t as bad as it sounded.

They finished one game behind first-place Arizona and came within a hand of (not) touching home plate vs. Colorado to determine the National League’s final playoff team.

This season?

Don’t be surprised if the Padres finished third again; yet do be surprised if they come within one game of first place.

This is a team with three strong starting pitchers (Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux) and a solid bullpen. But from there, the team has more question marks than Hillary Clinton’s memory of events from when she was First Lady.

The outfield has more holes than a golf course; the bench is average. The infield is solid, the catching is adequate; but the power is missing. Here’s a look at predicted 2008 standings:

NL West
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco

NL Central
St. Louis

NL East
New York

AL West

AL Central
Kansas City

AL East
New York
Tampa Bay

NL Wildcard: Los Angeles

AL Wildcard: New York

World Series: California over Arizona

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Padres-Dodgers: Meet me in September

Have you checked out the Padres 2008 schedule?

It’s totally bizarre.

The Padres open with a team from the NL Central (Houston, March 31) and close vs. a team from the same division (Pittsburgh, Sept. 28.)

When you have five teams in the NL West, somebody … in these cases the Padres … will always be playing outside of the division.

But here’s what is truly unique about the schedule: The Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers will have nine of their 18 meetings this season in September.

This could be a huge advantage for the Padres down the stretch in that they are 23-13 vs. the Dodgers in the past two seasons.

What’s odd scheduling-wise is that the teams play April 4-6 in San Diego and April 11-13 in Los Angeles, and then they don’t meet again until June 10-12 in San Diego.

After that, it’s a long time before their nine meetings in September.

If it does come down to the Dodgers and/or Padres in the NL West, at least the Southern California rivals will greatly be able to determine the division between themselves.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chargers are hurting big-time

With the University of San Diego making news in the NCAA Tournament last week, the Chargers were able to fly under the radar.

It was a good thing for them, because the offseason news on their injury front is not a pretty picture.
While all eyes were on USD, the Chargers revealed that starting center Nick Hardwick underwent surgery earlier this month to repair a severe sprain in his right foot. (He may not even be ready to play when the regular season kicks off.)
This only adds hurt to an offense that was already more than hurting when the Chargers lost to New England in the AFC Championship game.
We already know that tight end Antonio Gates (toe), quarterback Philip Rivers (knee) and fullback Andrew Pinnock (knee) are questionable to be 100 percent when training camp … or even the 2008 regular season begins.
With Hardwick joining this group, it means four regulars (or 36.4 percent of the projected starters) will likely be hurting when the bell rings in the next season.
Sure, LaDainian Tomlinson took a lot of unjustified criticism for pulling himself from the New England game with a lingering knee injury.
Now it looks like Tomlinson will be among the healthiest offensive players when it all gets going again.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

USD Basketball: Powerhouse in the Making?

The University of San Diego didn’t quite make the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, but the Toreros definitely did make an impression.

Not only are they the first San Diego team ever to win an NCAA Tournament game with Friday’s overtime victory over heavily-favored Connecticut, but look what the future holds in store.

These Toreros, believe it or not, are a team of entirely underclassmen ... meaning everybody on the roster can come back next season.

Center Gyno Pomare and guard Brandon Johnson, the team’s mainstays, still have one year of eligibility remaining.

For starters, they will likely be joined in the line up next season by the likes of De’Jon Jackson, Rob Jones and Trumaine Johnson.

And to think that Jones and Trumaine Johnson have three years remaining ... and Jackson, the hero of the 70-69 overtime win vs. UConn, has two years to go.

The Toreros won’t get a shot at UCLA in the Sweet 16 after losing Sunday to Western Kentucky, but this team has a great future ahead under coach Bill Grier (assuming a bigger school doesn’t swoop him away one day with a better financial offer.)

Loyola Marymount dominated the West Coast Conference for awhile in the 1980s; then Pepperdine had a decade of dominance; followed by Gonzaga.

Who will have the next decade of dominance in the WCC?

Don’t be surprised if it’s the USD Toreros.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

USD has outside shot vs. UConn

All eight favored teams won in the opening session of the NCAA Tournament.

Does that bode poorly for the University of San Diego?

Let’s hope not.

The Toreros will be among the eight teams expected to lose during the second day’s early session of the tournament Friday.

Not only is the University of Connecticut an 11 to 12-point favorite over USD; the Huskies are a No. 4 seed playing the 13th seeded Toreros.

Not good!

USD really has one chance to win: the 3-point shooting of guard Brandon Johnson.

If he’s on, the Toreros have an outside chance (pardon the pun.) If not, hopefully the Toreros will come closer than San Diego State did in its 24-point loss to Florida in the opening round of the NIT Tournament.

USD will certainly be dominated inside by All-Big East Defensive Player of the Year Hasheem Thabeet, a 7-foot-3 sophomore center who averaged 4.5 blocked shots a game this season.

So Johnson, maybe with a little help from Rob Jones, will definitely need to keep shooting and succeeding!

Prediction: UConn 73, USD 64

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Headley should be Padres' left fielder

Chase Headley should be the starting left fielder for the Padres in 2008.


More than anything, it would be like history repeating itself.

In 1984, the Padres took rookie first baseman Carmelo Martinez and moved him to left field because Steve Garvey was already at first base.

Martinez turned out to be a somewhat adequate outfielder with pretty good power. Along with rookie center fielder Kevin McReynolds, he helped the Padres make it to the 1984 World Series.

Headley, a converted third baseman, wouldn’t be a great outfielder … but probably better than Martinez. He also has decent power and would not be a liability in the line up.

But here’s the big difference: Martinez was on a much more talented team in 1984 than Headley would be in 2008. Don’t expect the current Padres to make the World Series.

Why should Headley be the leading contender in left field?

Well, have you heard anything lately about center fielder Jim Edmonds improving from his strained calf?

Didn’t think so. Scott Hairston in center field and Headley in left sounds like a plan for now.

Monday, March 17, 2008

USD capable of pulling off NCAA upset

You know what?

The University of San Diego may have an upset in the making coming in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday vs. the University of Connecticut in Tampa, Fla.


These Toreros don’t seem to be intimidated on the big stage.

They went on the road in December and won at Kentucky, arguably one of the top four all-time national programs.

They won back-to-back games … albeit at home … against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament.

UConn will be a tall task in more ways than one. The Huskies feature All-Big East Defensive Player of the Year Hasheem Thabeet, a 7-foot-3 sophomore center who averaged 4.5 blocked shots a game this season.

Albeit the Huskies (24-8) have won 13 of their last 16 games, they’ve also lost three of six since a 10-game winning streak. And they were defeated by West Virginia, 78-72, in last week’s first round of the Big East Tournament.

USD (21-13) must try to offset Thabeet inside with 6-8 center Gyno Pomare, who has averaged 13.7 points and 7.4 rebounds.

As one might expect, the Toreros are a virtual unknown to UConn. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun mainly knows a little about Pomare.

“He's had some very good games. It's going to be an interesting battle, because we have a big guy, too,” Calhoun told the Connecticut media.

San Diego State? The Aztecs travel to Florida on Wednesday to play the two-time defending NCAA Champions in the NIT Tournament.

Say goodbye to the Aztecs!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Padres hit the Wall in China

The Padres … or at least half of them … are finding out how the other half of the world lives this week in Beijing, China.

A contingent led by Manager Bud Black is in Beijing to play the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday and Saturday nights (San Diego time) in a two-game exhibition series.

But the real adventure has been the sightseeing, according to media reports.

The San Diego contingent first took a trip to one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Great Wall of China.

Then four Padres signed autographs at a mall … Heath Bell, Justin Germano, Trevor Hoffman and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Baseball is basically a side-show to the city that will host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

What does this trip do for the Padres?

It gives those involved a chance to break the monotony during the middle of spring training, among other things.

Sure, they will be tired when they return to Arizona for spring training next week. Then it will set in that they had a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Jet lag will also set in, but they’ll have plenty of time to get over it before the March 31 season opener vs. the Houston Astros.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

USD is the real deal in San Diego college sports

Has the University of San Diego surpassed San Diego State in athletics, or what?

Now we have both the men’s and women’s basketball teams from USD as automatic qualifiers for their respective NCAA Tournaments.

Put that on top of the fact that USD hosted an NCAA Regional last year in baseball – at Tony Gwynn Stadium, no less, on the SDSU campus – and it tells you who has the real college sports program in San Diego.

Sure, the Toreros may have benefited from playing on their home court at Jenny Craig Pavilion in the West Coast Conference Tournament for both men and women.

So what? USD beat Gonzaga in each final … and the Toreros’ men and women are both in the NCAAs.

Try that for size, SDSU.

So what do the Aztecs have in basketball?

They have a men’s team ranked No. 4 and women’s squad ranked No. 6 going into this week’s Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.

The men have little chance of winning and advancing to the NCAAs … the women even have less of a chance than that.

And to think that people have considered USD the other school in local college sports for so long!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Padres counting on the old and injured

The Padres better hope the injury to new center fielder Jim Edmonds is not an omen.

Edmonds, 37, could conceivably still be on the sideline with a strained calf when the Padres open their season March 31 vs. the Houston Astros at Petco Park.

The former St. Louis Cardinal is just one of the aging and/or injury prone players the Padres are counting on in 2008.

Right fielder Brian Giles, 37, is coming off knee surgery.

No. 4 starting pitcher Randy Wolf hasn’t pitched in a regular-season game since last July due to a shoulder injury.

Three of the contenders for No. 5 starting pitcher are also dealing with 2007 injuries: Mark Prior (shoulder), Shawn Estes (Tommy John surgery) and Glendon Rusch (blood clot in lungs.)

Yes, it appears the team is banking on the unknown when it comes to battling back from injuries.

General Manager Kevin Towers told Channel 4 San Diego on Sunday that the Padres may need to go get another center fielder if Edmonds is still unhealthy in two weeks or so.

This is not a good sign for a team already hedging its 2008 season on the old and injured.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Toreros have something to build on

Coach Bill Grier was hired before this men’s basketball season to get the University of San Diego into the upper-quartile of the West Coast Conference.

Getting to be among the top two of eight teams in the conference is probably going to happen quicker than expected for the Toreros.

Already, USD has earned the No. 3 seed in Grier’s first season for the WCC Tournament this weekend at Jenny Craig Pavilion on the USD campus.

It would be a stunner if USD overcomes Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s to reach the NCAA Tournament, but don’t be surprised if it happens next year when the Toreros again host the WCC finals.

USD had two holdover players from the regime under former coach Brad Holland make the all-conference team this season: junior center Gyno Pomare and junior guard Brandon Johnson.

But the freshman class is something to really get excited about. Shooting guard Rob Jones was named to the all-freshman WCC first team and fellow freshman Trumaine Johnson is also going to be a solid player.

This year’s Toreros finished 11-3 in the WCC, their best conference record in 20 years.

And it’s only going to get better in years to come with the current freshman class led by Jones and Trumaine Johnson.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hoffman is key to Padres' playoff hopes

Trevor Hoffman has been so taken for granted that Padres’ fans may finally find out this season just how good he was.

Hoffman, the all-time Major League Baseball saves leader, could be counted on about 90 percent of the time to hold any lead in the ninth inning.

He proved human in his final two appearances of 2007.

First, there was the triple by Milwaukee’s Tony Gwynn Jr. off Hoffman that prevented the Padres from clinching a playoff berth.

Then, there was Hoffman giving up three runs to the Colorado Rockies in another game that could have propelled the Padres into the playoffs.

Either these were two blips on Hoffman’s great career, or they were a sign of things to come.

When Hoffman blew consecutive saves in potential playoff-clinching games, San Diego fans got a taste of what people in many others cities throughout baseball experience.

Nowadays, the hardest thing for a pitcher to do is record the final three outs.

Nobody has been better at that than Hoffman.

But if he slips at all from his personal high standards in 2008, the Padres’ chances of making the postseason are very minimal.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Padres reside in baseball's best division

In two 2008 baseball preview magazines at Barnes & Noble, the Padres are picked to win the NL West in one; yet the other selects them to finish in fourth place.

This is very representative of the way the division lines up for this season.

John Kruk of ESPN rightfully said Sunday that the NL West is the toughest overall division in baseball. Steve Phillips added that four of the five teams should finish over .500, which is exactly what happened last season.

(And to think the Padres won the division in 2005 with the same 82-80 record that placed the Los Angeles Dodgers fourth in 2007!)

Arizona probably peaked a year early when it won the division in 2007, and now All-Star Dan Haren joins Brandon Webb at the top of the pitching rotation.

Colorado made it to the World Series last year with an incredible run … but it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Rockies go from first to fourth place this season.

The Dodgers have a healthy Rafael Furcal at shortstop and Joe Torre to run the show … which makes them better on paper (but they always seem to underachieve.)

The Padres continue to have a great top-of-the rotation with pitchers Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Greg Maddux. Get left field straightened out and they should contend again.

Virtually all experts are picking San Francisco to finish last. But without troublemaker Barry Bonds around, the Giants have turned younger, happier … and could even escape the cellar if all goes right for them.

As the ESPN experts say, look for this to be the best division in baseball.