Is this the year Padres throw elusive no-no?

Top 3 starters among reasons to believe franchise's drought coming to end

Is this the year Padres throw elusive no-no?

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Seven-thousand, four-hundred, eighty-eight games and counting ...

That's how long the Padres have existed as a franchise, and it's also how long the Padres have existed without their elusive first no-hitter.

It's a tired refrain, really: A Padres pitcher takes a no-no into the latter stages of a game. The conversation inevitably turns to that dubious drought. Then, a batted ball finds a patch of grass in the outfield, and the talk turns to when that elusive no-hitter will finally come.

Why not 2016?

"You look at the history of no-hitters, perfect games, it's not always guys with fantastic stuff," says Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley. "There's a game here or there almost every year where you wouldn't predict a no-no. ... We've had multiple cases where we're three outs away, four outs away, six outs away.

"Can it happen, absolutely? Will it happen? It has to happen sometime."

Predicting a no-hitter is undoubtedly a fool's errand. Bud Smith has one. Greg Maddux does not. Recently-retired Philip Humber has one. Pedro Martinez does not.

Rare feats: No-hitters

Still, there are three legitimate reasons to believe that this 2016 San Diego team is capable.

1. The pitchers
In Balsley's eyes, the front end of the Padres' rotation -- Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and James Shields -- has no-hit stuff. It's easy to see why.

Ross limits hard contact as well as anyone in baseball and posted a strikeout rate above 25 percent in 2015. Cashner has two one-hitters to his name, and Shields has gone the distance five times while allowing two hits or fewer.

Cashner's one-hit shutout

"It could happen to any Major League pitcher," said Balsley. "But we have the type of guys who could string a great game together."

2. The defense
The 2015 Padres defense didn't do its pitching staff many favors. That should change this season -- specifically up the middle.

Jon Jay and Melvin Upton Jr. give the club a much rangier outfield, and Alexei Ramirez and Cory Spangenberg solidify the middle infield. (Not to mention Derek Norris' improvement as a pitch-framer.)

Historically, a no-hitter without a defensive gem is rare. It would seem the Padres have fielders capable of providing that moment of brilliance.

3. League-wide trends
Over the past five years, Major League Baseball has seen 25 no-hitters, the most plentiful stretch in the sport's history. That five-year stretch has also seen the lowest league-wide batting average since divisional play began.

Makes sense. Fewer hits means more no-hitters. And there are two specific reasons why that's been the case.

The league-wide strikeout rate of 20.4 percent in 2015 was the highest in history. At the same time, there's been a revolution in defensive positioning. In essence, fewer pitches are being put in play -- limiting the volatility of batted balls. And when defenses get tested, there's more information available ensure fielders are in the right spot.

"Any time there's a ball in play, anything can happen," said Minor League pitching coach and former Padres hurler Jimmy Jones. "There's a lot involved, a lot of intangibles."

Padres pitchers have combined for four National League Cy Young Awards and three ERA titles. Randy Jones, Jake Peavy, Ed Whitson, Kevin Brown and Bruce Hurst have all donned San Diego jerseys without accomplishing the feat.

"There have been some great pitchers in San Diego," said Jimmy Jones. "When you're talking about it being a fluke -- it probably is. Look at everybody that's gone through there. Even Randy Jones back then, he'd get ground ball after ground ball, and be done in an hour and a half. It's amazing to me he never threw one."

Jimmy Jones would know a thing or two about bad luck and no-hitters. In his 1986 Major League debut in Houston, Jones was nearly perfect. He allowed one blemish on the night -- a triple by opposing pitcher Bob Knepper. Instead of carving himself a place in the history books, Jones is simply one of 17 Padres pitchers with a one-hitter.

Andrew Cashner on near no-no

Among the most legendary close calls are Clay Kirby -- who was pinch-hit for, while carrying a no-no -- and Chris Young, who allowed a pinch-hit homer with two outs to go.

But no one has ever come closer than Steve Arlin in 1972. Arlin carried a no-no with two outs in the ninth, when Denny Doyle's chopper over the third baseman spoiled his shot at history.

"You have to have a lot of things go in your favor," Arlin said at the anniversary of his near no-no in 2013. "The umpire has to be doing a decent job, you have to be scoring runs -- I pitched a one-hitter against the Mets and it was 0-0 into the 10th inning. That kind of stuff has to go right for you. Sometimes it doesn't."

Last August in Colorado, everything fell into place for Matt Kemp, who became the first player in Padres history to hit for the cycle. There are reasons to believe the Padres could be in line for some similar good fortune in 2016 in their quest for that elusive no-no.

Kemp's triple for the cycle

But in Jones' eyes, there's another drought he'd like to see snapped first.

"Of course [a no-hitter] would be an unbelievable feat -- for the team, for the fans," Jones says. "But I'd rather have a World Series."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.