Pitching thrives, but Padres' bats falter in inconsistent '14

Pitching thrives, but Padres' bats falter in inconsistent '14

SAN DIEGO -- There was a palpable tone of lament in Jedd Gyorko's voice recently when he talked about the offensive struggles that essentially waylaid the Padres' season as far back as April.

And, no matter how good the team's pitching was, the dearth of runs made it extremely difficult to win, according to the Padres' second baseman.

"Anytime you have the pitching we did, there is no reason why we shouldn't have been better than we were," Gyorko said. "All we needed, on most days, was three or four runs a game. That's all. But when you dig yourself a hole like we did, it's tough to climb out."

The Padres' struggles cost general manager Josh Byrnes his job in June, as he was dismissed after two and a half years.

The team hired a first-year general manager in A.J. Preller from the Rangers, giving him a five-year deal, convinced his eye for talent evaluation will help get the franchise -- one that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2006 -- headed in the right direction.

They'll certainly need a whole lot more offense to get there.

The Padres, who were shut out 19 times in 2014, were hurt early by injuries to key players in addition to underperformance, especially offensively. There had been years in manager Bud Black's previous seven seasons where three or four hitters were cold at once, but not six or seven.

Yonder Alonso, Will Venable, Carlos Quentin, Chase Headley (traded in July to the Yankees), Cameron Maybin, Cabrera, Gyorko and Yasmani Grandal -- players the team was depending on -- all finished below where they had been before in batting average and, for many of them, overall offensive production.

"The position player grouping is platoon oriented, and that can work, but it required a few big guys in the middle to provide an offensive foundation for which the platoons can be worked around," said an NL Central scout. "Even if some of the players they have overachieve, there still isn't that force which scares other clubs anywhere in the lineup. I'm not sure I see that player on the roster right now."

Strong pitching kept the Padres afloat, as Tyson Ross took a very big step forward in 2014, Ian Kennedy logged 200 innings and finished with over 200 strikeouts. Andrew Cashner was very good. The bullpen was strong, even after All-Star Huston Street was traded to the Angels in July.

The team played better from July on, oddly enough after Headley and Street were moved in deals before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

'I think [manager Bud Black] deserves a ton of credit for what he's done," the NL Central scout said. "… They have played extremely hard for him and the fundamentals look to have improved. He and his staff deserve a ton of credit for what they have done."

Record: 77-85, third place, National League West.

Defining moment: By the end of May, the Padres were in fourth place and 10 games back in the NL West and had already had their share of offensive trouble. But nothing like what awaited them in June, as the team hit just .171 -- the lowest single-month mark for a team in the modern era (or since at least 1914).

There was a Tim Lincecum no-hitter in there during the team's June swoon as part of four shutouts. All told, the team scored two or fewer runs in 18 of their 27 games. They finished the month 11 games out of first place in the division, meaning if they hit even a little, they could have made up some ground.

What went right: The way rookie pitchers Jesse Hahn and Odrisamer Despaigne, both of whom began the season in the Minor Leagues, more than held their own after earning promotions. Both figure in the team's rotation plans in 2015 in some capacity.

Ross, whom the Padres got from the A's in the winter of 2012 for two Minor Leaguers, took a big step forward in his development, becoming one of the top starters in the league, approaching 200 innings and 200 strikeouts while landing on the NL All-Star team.

Rene Rivera, who made the team as a third catcher, outplayed Nick Hundley and later Grandal, winning the job and never giving it up. At 31, Rivera set several career-best marks in offensive statistics and led all of baseball in caught stealing while also stealing strikes -- pitching framing, anyone -- for his pitchers.

Outfielder Seth Smith, acquired in the winter to combat the team's woes against right-handed pitching, was good against lefties, especially in the first half.

Super utilityman Alexi Amarista filled in more than admirably at shortstop for oft-injured Cabrera and his defensive metrics were better than average.

Also, the pitching -- starters and relievers -- was strong and consistent all season, despite a change at the back end of the bullpen when Street was dealt.

What went wrong: A lot, mostly on offense and then (again) in terms of keeping players healthy.

First, let's tackle the health issue. Quentin played in 50 games, Cashner missed 71 games with two disabled list stints. Cabrera, an All-Star in 2013, slumped badly and found the DL twice. Alonso, Headley, Gyorko and Maybin missed time with injuries.

Pitcher Josh Johnson, a free-agent signing, never threw a single inning and needed Tommy John surgery. Cory Luebke needed a second Tommy John surgery.

Biggest surprise: How about the emergence of Hahn, who was acquired in the winter from the Rays, as well as the emergence of Despaigne? Hahn was good from the moment he arrived from Double-A, tossing six scoreless in his second start against the Mets in New York. Despaigne tossed seven shutout in his first start in San Francisco and was very good pitching at spacious Petco Park and was a good value on a Minor League deal for $1 million.

Hitter of the Year: Smith. He filled a specific need (crush righties) and he did that well during the first half of the season and all 12 of his home runs came against right-handed pitching. Smith hit .354 in May and .358 in July and earned a two-year contract extension. Rivera wasn't far behind, though, as he reached career bests in most offensive categories.

Pitcher of the Year: Cashner had two shutouts and Joaquin Benoit had a sub-2.00 ERA, but if you are looking for the best pitcher in 2014, then look no further than Ross. An All-Star for the first time, he won 13 games and had a club-record streak of 14 consecutive quality starts. He's becoming a complete pitcher, as evidenced by the three-hit shutout he threw against the Reds on July 2.

Rookie of the Year: Has to be Hahn, who didn't pitch much like a rookie, showing he could fare well away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park just as well as pitching at it. He allowed only four home runs and went eight starts without yielding a long ball, unheard of for a young kid trying to find his way and cut his teeth at the big league level.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.