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One setback won't derail Padres

One setback won't derail Padres

NEW YORK -- The San Diego Padres are precisely the kind of team that nobody would want to play in October, because their pitching is capable of completely shutting down the opposition.

The question would be getting from here, late August, to there, the postseason. At the close of business on Wednesday night, after beating the Mets, 7-5, the Padres were once again leading the National League Wild Card race. But they were also dealing with a potentially damaging development.

The Padres are a pitching-first operation. They have the lowest-team ERA in the Major Leagues, but they entered Wednesday night's game tied for 14th in the NL in runs scored. Still, if you're going to be long in one area and short in the other, pick pitching for the long suit.

Jake Peavy checked the imposing Mets' attack well enough to emerge with his 14th victory of the season, giving up two runs on only two hits over six innings. He had a few bouts of atypical command problems, walking five, but in the end, it was a strong performance. Peavy also didn't hurt his position as the NL strikeout leader, fanning 11 Mets in those six innings.

It was an electric atmosphere, an announced crowd of 50,060 at Shea Stadium, as one of baseball's best pitchers beat the team with the NL's best record.

"If you don't have adrenaline flowing through your veins when you're pitching here, I don't know if you're alive," Peavy said with a smile. "And then you have the planes flying over just adding to the decibel level."

But this was an example of what Peavy and the Padres do best, taking a fine offense out of its game. If you look at the Padres' pitching staff as an intact group, you have difficulty imagining this team not making the playoffs, no matter what offensive shortcomings might be present. The problem is that one of the most prominent pitchers on this pitching-rich club has tightness in his lower back.

That would be Chris Young, the Major League leader in ERA at 2.12. Young recently returned from the disabled list after an oblique strain, but he felt discomfort in his lower back and some restriction in movement during his Tuesday night start against the Mets. On Wednesday, he returned to San Diego for tests on his back.

"This is not uncommon for pitchers to have a soreness in one area, and then compensate for that and end up having it impact another [area]," said Padres manager Bud Black. "I think this is a classic example of that."

Initial tests on Young's back were "somewhat encouraging," Black said. The Padres believe that Young may not have to miss more than one start, and that he will not have to be put on the DL.

Still, the back is a notoriously tricky part of the human anatomy. What would normally be a highly optimistic view of what the next six weeks holds now has a bit of a shadow hanging over it. But even if Young misses significant time, the rest of San Diego's pitching is not going to evaporate. None of the success this staff has had this season can be considered a fluke. But it will be nearly impossible to duplicate what Young has accomplished so far.

"We do lead the league in pitching, we've pitched pretty well all year and I don't think it should drastically fall off," Black said. "With that said, we have almost 140 innings of Chris Young with about a 2.00 ERA, which is awfully nice. And we're going to miss that if he doesn't pitch again, which we don't think is going to happen.

"If he misses one start, and he comes back, that's a big bonus. If he misses two starts, that's a bit of a blow. But you consider yourself a team, and hopefully, the depth is there and the other guys pick up the slack, whether it's the bullpen, whether it's the offense, whether it's the starter who replaces Chris and goes out there and does a credible job."

Wil Ledezma, a long reliever on the current staff, and Tim Stauffer, who has pitched very well recently at Triple-A Portland, appear to be the leading options if the Padres require another starter. The long season not only demands pitching quality, but pitching quantity as well.

"This team, to be what it wants to be, we've got to have Chris Young healthy," Peavy said. "But while he's out, we've all got to take the responsibility, bullpen and starters, to take up the slack."

What the Padres had envisioned for themselves this season was winning the NL West. With this pitching staff, that was a completely realistic goal. It isn't the Padres' fault that the Diamondbacks have come on faster than anybody outside the Arizona organization imagined.

The Padres' current position, with a one-game lead in the NL Wild Card race and some questions about Young's overall well-being, is not like being in charge of the division. But with a reasonably positive diagnosis for Young, and with this much pitching talent still on hand, it also isn't a crisis.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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