Six Thoughts: Aggressive Padres, Petco Park, the Torre Threat
The seven years Black spent with the Angels under Mike Scioscia affirmed to him the wisdom of astute and aggressive baserunning, and instilling the confidence in players to take chances, which takes time. Black wanted the same for the Padres after becoming their manager four years ago but didn't have the personnel or the organizational backing to get it done. Now he does. No more are the Padres painfully slow and timid on the basepaths. Mystified for years by the club's refusal to embrace the speed game -- 2006 being an exception -- Padres fans only wish it happened sooner at spacious Petco Park.
• The MVP of San Diego's 6-0 finish to its recent homestand was the team's ballpark, which boosted Padres pitchers and brutalized visiting hitters. The Padres are used to Petco, and when the weather is chilly like it's been, it can turn hitters' psyches into mush.
"It neutralizes visiting clubs," said Padres second baseman David Eckstein, who roped a game-winning home run down the left-field line to beat the Giants. "It's true especially at night. It neutralizes the teams that rely on power. You have to really get it here to hit it out. I think it helps us out a lot."
Eckstein said two blows by D'backs shortstop Stephen Drew would've gone for home runs in Arizona's ballpark. He said Giants hitters Pablo Sandoval and Bengie Molina acted like two of their well-struck launches would've been home runs elsewhere.
I've watched games at Petco since it opened in 2004. Once a hitter or two gets Petco'd -- sees a potential home run or double or triple get swallowed up -- I've seen entire offenses go into the tank. Sometimes for a game. Sometimes for a series. Swings get too long as overcompensation. Or hitters lose their discipline.
• At both Dodger Stadium and Petco Park, Giants utilityman Eugenio Velez appeared lost in the outfield. Sad to say, Giants shortstop Edgar Renteria is slowing down in the field. The Diamondbacks, meantime, acted like they were playing in a bandbox, not Petco Park. In three games games there, D'backs hitters swung at only 10 first pitches. Patience is well and good, but Padres pitchers, or any pitcher with half a clue, will be more apt to attack hitters at Petco, especially in chilly weather. In fairness to both the Giants and D'backs, each club was thinned by injuries, more so the Giants.
• Fairly or not, the scouting community continues to muse that Dodgers manager Joe Torre is a threat to the long-term health of Dodgers relievers, and concerns are only rising now that Torre is in his walk year. The thinking goes that Torre will be even more inclined to tax relievers because this probably will be his final season with the club and the window is closing on its World Series chances. The problem as I see it is L.A.'s starters aren't working enough innings. That's on them, not Torre.
• Whatever challenges await the Giants, the relationship between general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy seems likely to remain a strong one. It's ironic because Sabean and Bochy seldom talked to one another when Bochy was managing the Padres from 1995-2006. When Sabean interviewed Bochy in October 2006, the two hit it off, and they since have forged a strong working relationship. Both live in the same condo complex, within walking distance of San Francisco's bayside ballpark.
"We're both very competitive," Sabean said. "The game's our life, especially during the season. There really aren't any distractions. More and more, as Bruce has managed longer, he's found out that the game's year-round now, including with the manager and his availability for meetings or personnel decisions or time spent with the fans promoting the team. He's evolved as the position's evolved."
Bochy, too, said he's grown in his four seasons with the Giants.
"I can't give you really one example," he said. "Part of it's Brian. With the decision-making process that we go through, you see different ways to do things. You look at the big picture a little differently. It does change how you see things."
• Bochy seems happy in San Francisco, although if his team continues to play like it did against the Padres, he won't be happy, period. As San Diego's manager, Bochy used to live in Poway, a bedroom community 25 minutes from downtown San Diego. Now, he lives in downtown San Francisco and often walks to the ballpark or back home.
"I'm doing the city living thing," he said. "I love it. I love this no-driving thing. I'm really enjoying it. Great city. Fun city. The city itself, the surrounding areas, the fanbase -- it's been a great experience for me and my wife. We love it there."
He said fans recognize him on the streets of San Francisco.
"They're very supportive," he said. "They'll ask, 'How's the team?' They may have a suggestion on lineups, but they're great. They're really into baseball. You walk into the city, they want to talk baseball."