When is “early” not early anymore?
When is “early” a thing that’s said to rationalize, to soothe?
In the baseball world, at 39 games played for the Padres, the word “early” rolls off the tongues of fans, players and coaches easily, almost like a magic spell — something that washes away the team’s troubles with a shrug and a wave of the hand.
The troubles are there, though. Actually, at barely a quarter of the way through the season, with a team that’s only one game below .500, let’s not call them troubles. They’re concerns, ones to be watched carefully, curiously.
They start with the pitching staff.
Normally the most solid presence of the organization, this season’s staff – from the rotation to the bullpen — has been unusually substandard, with a collective ERA of 4.43 (by comparison, the team’s ERA was 3.03 through 39 games in 2014). It sits in the top five of Major League Baseball in earned runs (172). The peculiar thing is that the starting rotation as a whole is struggling, with each member juggling good and bad starts almost randomly. Take Ian Kennedy, for example, who had four innings of no-hit ball against the Nationals Sunday before unraveling in the next two and allowing six runs. Washington would go on to win the game, 10-5.
On six occasions this season, the Padres have allowed 10 or more runs.
“A lot of it is confidence, a lot of it is momentum,” Padres manager Bud Black said after the game. “We haven’t really gotten on a pitching roll. We have one good start by a starter, then the next guy might scuffle. Then here comes another good start, then a couple bad ones. We’re not getting that contagious effect of good pitching.”
Inconsistency has also plagued the offense, to a lesser degree. The team has been shutout six times, but also boasts sixteen games with five runs or more, and is in the league’s top ten for runs scored — a huge improvement over the 2014 Padres, who spent most of the year in the cellar in every offensive category.
Still, it starts and ends with the pitching, Black maintains.
“There’s some fundamental pitching principles we’re not really on top of,” he said. “That’s the thing we have to correct first. The pitching right now has got to get straightened out.
“It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes one good game, then you follow it up with another one. There’s no magic formula.”
Buddha – yes, Buddha – once said: “The trouble is, you think you have time.”
Too easily, “early” can become too late.
The Padres aren’t there yet, but if the inconsistency continues, they could be soon.