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Analysis : The Padres Are Better, but Battle's Not Over

July 12, 1987|BILL PLASCHKE | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH — For an analysis of the first half of the Padres' 1987 season, Manager Larry Bowa need not contact the Elias Sports Bureau, Bill James or Andre Dawson.

All the answers are right at his fingertips.

"I've been biting my nails since I was 6 years old. I don't think I can stop," said Bowa, who earlier this year actually bandaged them. "But maybe lately I have been doing it less."

The story of the Padres' first half indeed contains two halves.

There was that awful team they put on the field for opening day. They lost five before their first victory. Even their first noteworthy feat--a major league record-tying three straight homers in their first three at-bats of their home opener against San Francisco--was followed by their first major collapse. They lost that game, 13-6.

Before their third victory, they had already experienced three losing streaks--of five, four and three games. Before they won their first series, they had been swept in eight series.

On June 4, they lost in Montreal, 8-5, to fall to 12-42, 19 games out of first and on a pace to lose 117 games. Rarely a sentence went by that, if it contained the phrase "1987 Padres," did not contain the phrase "1962 Mets."

There was the manager's fight with Stanley Jefferson. There was the manager's fight with a wall. There were charges of Joey Cora fouling up this, Joey Cora messing up that, Joey Cora finally going back where he should have started the season in the first place, Triple-A Las Vegas. Now for the rest of the story.

Since June 4, the Padres have gone 18-15. And differences in other areas have been startling.

In the 54 games before June 5, the Padres' pitchers had a 5.07 earned-run average, allowed 74 homers (1.37 per game) and had one complete game.

In the 32 games after that, they compiled a 3.78 ERA, allowed 27 homers (0.84 per game) and had five complete games.

In the first 54 games, Padre hitters batted .253 with 191 runs (3.53 per game), 24 homers and 64 stolen bases.

In the next 32, they hit .267 with 147 runs (4.59), 27 homers and 33 stolen bases.

The Padres aren't near to being a great team. In the National League, they have scored more runs (338) than only the Dodgers (327). They have a better team ERA (4.60) than only the Pirates (4.68), and they walk nearly four batters (3.67) a game, also second-worst to the Pirates.

They still aren't a good team. They have been outscored by nearly 100 runs (435-338), they have only won 16 of 54 games against right-handed pitchers, and just 5 of 21 games on artificial turf. They have left an incredible 621 runners on base (7.2 per game, nearly one per inning).

Face it, they haven't been out of last place since the sixth game of the season. They've never been higher than a fourth-place tie, and that was when they were 0-1.

But they are a different team. One-third of their opening-day lineup is gone. One-third of their opening-day roster is gone. Most of their opening-months scars are gone.

And they are certainly a better team, such that few around the league think they will end up as baseball's worst team.

"Nobody around here looks at the newspaper anymore, nobody reads the standings," said infielder Tim Flannery, a veteran clubhouse watcher. "We only know we're not as bad as we were. And that those days don't matter anymore.

"Because of my injury, I was able to be on the outside looking in, " said Flannery, who missed all of May with a badly sprained ankle. "I saw what we were. And now I know, we're a completely different team."

Said Bowa: "It's taken this long for some of the guys to finally feel part of something."

A recent emotional setback has been the seven-player deal with San Francisco: Dave Dravecky, Craig Lefferts and Kevin Mitchell were sent to the Giants for Chris Brown, Mark Grant, Mark Davis and Keith Comstock. The club lost four of five games immediately after the trade, which often happens after a popular player such as Dravecky is shipped out.

But the players say they are beginning to adjust.

"When the trade came out, a lot of us were, well, disappointed," Flannery said. "We felt just terrible when Dave was gone. But I think we're settling out now, and we're starting to believe in the new guys, too."

Said Bowa: "Just when we're getting things going, we have a little upsetting of the chemistry. But it will work out for us down the road this year."

They must first stay healthy. Already, 10 players have been on the disabled list, more than the last three years combined.

They also must continue to work hard. Unlike many other losing teams, the Padres are still coming out for early batting practice. Pitcher Ed Whitson arrived at Three Rivers Stadium at 1:40 p.m. Friday for a 7:35 p.m. game, and a dozen players were ahead of him.

But more they anything, the Padres must forget what happened before.

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