For A.J. Preller, risk and reality is a balancing act

AJ Preller

As the Padres inch closer to MLB’s July 31st trade deadline, general manager A.J. Preller’s job gets tougher.

This is not a team that is 20 games under .500, nor is it a team that sits perched atop the division with a wide lead. It is, instead, in a more precarious position: Hovering between “Oh crap!” and “We still have a chance!” mode.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s always good to have a chance (cue Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber); it’s just that it makes Preller’s decision a more difficult one.

Who goes? Who stays? If the Padres win seven of the ten in this homestand, does Justin Upton remain a Padre? If the team finds itself on the other side of that stat, does that mean Preller moves several pieces at a feverish speed?

Is getting a few games within .500 promising enough to stand pat?

“We don’t have any set number or anything like that,” Preller said Monday. “We have a sense of what we need to do to improve our team. We factor that in more than, ‘If we go 7-3 in our next ten, that means we’re a good team.’ We’re not really looking at it that way.”

The Padres are in the midst of a five game win streak, dating back to before the All-Star Break. It’s the longest win streak of the season. Lest you point out the records of the Rangers and the Rockies – (fair point) — factor in that San Diego also beat the San Francisco Giants on Monday night, who currently sit second place in the division. And, they did it without Justin Upton.

Meaning, the roster that A.J. Preller built seems to maybe sorta possibly have found their groove, and it’s riding on the back of a surging Matt Kemp. It might not be a World Series winning groove, but it’s their groove, and it beats the tired dance they were doing in the first half.

But is it enough? Take emotion out. Is it enough to overcome the division or move up five or six spots in the Wild Card race, especially since most of the teams they face in the second half have a losing record?

Maybe.

“You try to be realistic, but you understand that especially with the second Wild Card, and what’s happened in baseball the last few years…” Preller paused. “Like, I don’t know where Kansas City was late in the season, but I remember them being right around .500 and pretty deep into the season, they end up going on a real big run. So, you try to be realistic in what you have — we’re trying to evaluate exactly where we’re at — and then how it pertains to moves, we evaluate that on an ongoing basis and decide what’s best for the short and long term.”

Besides hitting the ball better, the Padres seem to also have found the rotation they thought they had when the season first started.

“We’re definitely at somewhat of a middle ground right now, where you’re trying to evaluate how good your team is and whether or not we can make a run,” Preller said. “But, I think the one thing we feel like is that with the pitching we’ve gotten over the last two or three weeks, that gives you a chance to go three out of four, five out of seven, seven out of eight, that you’re going to need when you’re six, seven, eight, ten games back from being in the playoff spots.”

It was the strong pitching they expected all along. It came late, as did the consistent hitting.

For Preller, maybe too little, too late.

Or maybe, better late than never.

 

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