News, Analysis & UpdatesMay 7, 2004

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The Team To Beat

By Glen Shikunov

Just one month into the season, that’s all. But is that what everyone is thinking? Of course not, we’re panicking! Our fantasy team is struggling, our favorite team hasn’t scored a run in three games, and for crying out loud, some of us are down to two selections left in Wicked Weekend.

It’s certainly been a season of surprises so far, and many more lie ahead. The NL West has been as surprising as any division so far, and might even be home to this year’s team to beat. In the baseball world, when you hear “the team to beat,” you automatically think Yankees, right? Well, sure, even though they are just a handful of games over .500, the Bronx Bombers are still the team everyone is gunning for, but you didn’t think I was going to sit here and analyze the Yankees, did you? They don’t need analyzing, they need Jeter to get on base, Sheffield to avoid being sucked into the steroids controversy, and Contreras to spend his time in A-ball figuring out how to throw a strike. In spite of these problems, nobody would be surprised to see New York making a run for the title this fall. The team that people seem to miss on the radar is the Padres.

San Diego made several major signings during the offseason and has significantly improved its roster. While David Wells may not be quite as important a factor as Bruce Bochy thought he would be, he can still teach the young staff some things from his career while throwing his pitches in the strike zone.

Jake Peavy is turning into a power pitcher as we speak. Going after Barry Bonds with fastballs is a challenge most players decline. He also has a very nice changeup to go along with a devastating slider. Brian Lawrence is another young gun who seems to have the arm of a workhorse, having thrown 210 innings in each of the last two seasons while posting a decent ERA.

Adam Eaton is a great compliment to the staff and is turning into a strikeout pitcher (146 Ks in 183 IP in 2003). Ismael Valdes was a below average pitcher with the Rangers, but moving into a better environment with a new pitchers’ ball park should get him more wins and improve his ERA. With Trevor Hoffman back and Rod Beck expected to return as his set-up man soon, the Padres’ pitching staff is looking young and strong.

With the offseason additions to the offense, the Padres filled every hole in their lineup. Sean Burroughs is a gem that many people overlook. He’s a lefty slap hitter who has been handed the leadoff spot. While his speed is only slightly above average, he will still steal around 25 bags. He has worked on his patience in the offseason and should be able to walk more, which should help keep him at the top of the order.

Phin Nevin with a healthy shoulder? Yes, he’s back, and he’s showing flashes of his old self. While some of Nevin’s power is gone following his surgery, he should still hit at least 25 homers with some nice RBI numbers batting in the cleanup spot. Brian Giles was a great addition last year, and although he has struggled so far, he is a career .300 lefty hitter with good power and average speed, who does not leave many men on.

The final addition was Jay Payton, who has solidified the outfield with his all-around ability. Payton has power, makes contact often, and has great baserunning instincts. Ryan Klesko needs to get back to basics after a somewhat disappointing 2003 campaign, but he also has good career numbers and is always a threat thanks to his power-speed combination.

Overall, the Padres have a solid team with talent and potential at every position. The staff seems to get better every year, and they now have their hall of fame caliber closer back. Veteran David Wells should be able to teach the young guns a thing or two, and Brian Giles could be among the NL’s best outfielders if he raises his game and plays up to his potential. Watch out for the Padres, as they have a great chance at the prize this year.

Glen Shikunov, known as Zito is God in the Forums, is the proud owner of five Padres on his fantasy squad.

What do you expect from the Padres this season? Are they truly the team to beat? And more importantly, which Friars will make a fantasy impact?

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