In a race that will seemingly come down to the last week of the season, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers remain locked in an airtight battle atop the National League West. As of July 26, the Dodgers had a 57-46 record and stood two games on top of the Friars, who are mired in a losing stretch that has seen the team drop eight out of 13 games since the All-Star break. The Arizona Diamondbacks, winners of seven in a row, now sit in second place, only a game and a half back of Los Angeles.
It is amazing to think that the Padres (54-47) are still contending when you consider that they have the lowest team batting average in all the majors, at .242. Their 415 runs scored rank them 28th out of 30 teams.
"The team batting average just doesn't do justice to the type of bats we have collectively as a team," catcher Michael Barrett said. "We have good at-bats and that's what I look at more than anything, is what kind of at-bats we have. And we have timely hitting. If you don't get timely hits you're not gonna win, and we seem to be able to do that. Hopefully, it continues and guys start to catch fire. That's what matters most."
Barrett is one of two high-profile acquisitions the Padres picked up in June. He came to San Diego on June 20 in a trade with the Cubs for backup catcher Ryan Bowen and minor-leaguer Kyler Burke. Since his arrival in San Diego, Barrett is hitting .263 with 21 hits and eight RBIs in 23 games.
He is getting more comfortable at the plate, behind the plate and, more important, in the city.
"[My family] is really excited about being here and being a part of this team, and being in this city, and it's nice to get settled in a little bit more," he said. "Our family has enjoyed San Diego "” the weather and all the great things to do."
In addition to Barrett, the Pads added some pop to their lineup when they traded for Oakland A's outfielder Milton Bradley on June 29. Bradley "“ perhaps most famous for having an altercation with a fan while a member of the Dodgers in 2005 "“ has carried much of the offensive load since his arrival in San Diego. In 14 games as a Friar, Bradley is hitting .340 with three home runs, nine RBIs and 11 runs scored. His 427-foot home run to straightaway center field on July 18 versus the New York Mets is one of the longest hits at Petco Park this year.
The team hopes that Bradley's postseason experience and success will come through if they make it to October baseball. In last year's American League Championship Series, while a member of the A's, Bradley hit .500 with two doubles, two home runs and 5 RBIs in only four games.
Despite Bradley's hot start, manager Bud Black knows that it's going to take more for the Friars to continue winning.
"For us to be successful, it's gonna take a collective effort," he said.
Much like what has been the story all year, the Padres pitching staff continues to be the best in the major leagues, boasting a league-low 3.38 team ERA and leading the league with 14 shutouts.
Starters Chris Young (1.82) and Jake Peavy (2.47) rank one and two respectively in the National League in ERA. They were both rewarded with berths in the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco on July 10, along with closer Trevor Hoffman.
The team recently made a shakeup to the bullpen, trading setup man Scott Linebrink to the Milwaukee Brewers for three minor league pitchers on July 25. Linebrink was one of the best bullpen pitchers in baseball over the last two years but has struggled mightily in 2007, giving up nine home runs in only 45 innings while only striking out 25.
The battle at the top of the division is sure to last through the dog days of summer. With three teams so close at the top of the division, the title might ultimately be decided by who refuses to blink.