With a roster mixed with unproven players and veterans who might not be in San Diego after the midsummer trade deadline, the Padres entered the season without a clear identity.
After a month of games, however, they have made one thing plain as day: If you like shutouts, you’re going to enjoy this season.
The Padres were shut out seven times in the season’s first 25 games. At that rate, they not only would obliterate the team record of 23 shutout losses in a season, set in their inaugural season of 1969 and matched in 1976, but they also would destroy the major-league mark of 33, set by the 1908 St. Louis Cardinals.
What’s remarkable about the early season shutout showcase is that the heart of the Padres’ order — Wil Myers and Matt Kemp — is hitting well. Just imagine how the shutouts might pile up if or when those two go into a slump in sync.
This is not just the Petco Park effect. Four times since they moved downtown in 2004, the Padres have managed to keep their shutout losses to single digits. Heck, that first season in the East Village, they were shut out only three times. Three.
This year’s Friars matched that in the first series of the season.
Given that the Padres actually entered the week ranked ahead of 10 teams in total runs scored, we know they’re not without ability. But they need their hits to come in bunches. This is not a “bloop and a blast” ball club. They entered this week in the bottom three in the majors in home runs and slugging average.
So, as spectators, we have a couple options. We can curse as the Padres leave runner after runner stranded at first base, or we can embrace the empty. Go gaga for the goose egg.
After all, the zero has a certain beauty of its own. It’s both a number and a shape, brings a certain symmetry, along with a certain defeat.
Nearly 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians had a hieroglyph for zero. The symbol nfr also meant beautiful, pleasant, good.
Padres fans need not fret over fruitless lineups. There is room in sports to love zero. After all, tennis renamed zero love.
So let’s not get overwrought about naught. Let’s find something to love about love.
Yeah, yeah — what about winning? Yes, that’s the goal. But if it isn’t already clear to you that this Padres team isn’t sniffing the postseason, then you’re in for a tortuous 162 games. At some point, you’ve got to accept reality and find something to enjoy over the course of the season.
So far, Padres fans have been witness to two masterful performances by future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw in his two 2016 starts against the Friars. Sixteen innings, four hits, 23 strikeouts, no runs. That’s Sandy Koufax good. Might not be fun to be on the wrong side of it, but it’s baseball at its best, something to remember and appreciate.
My baseball fandom was locked in at the first game I attended in person. The Padres were soundly beaten, but Hank Aaron homered twice for the Braves. Baseball-Reference.com says they were homers Nos. 707 and 708 for Hammerin’ Hank.
The loss for the Padres meant nothing in the long run, but I was hooked on the game. I checked out a Hank Aaron bio from the library in the offseason and devoured every word, learning about Mobile, the Indianapolis Clowns and the Braves’ history in Milwaukee before they headed to Atlanta. Then I was glued to the TV when Aaron blasted homer No. 715 the following April on “Monday Night Baseball.”
The moment didn’t turn me against the hometown team. It turned me on to baseball.
Some kid was watching his or her first game when Kershaw shut down the locals on Opening Day, and that kid might have marveled just the same. Or maybe you caught the Phillies’ Vincent Velasquez on TV, mowing down the Padres in his 16-strikeout three- hitter. If you were smart in the early innings, that was your chance to add him to your fantasy team.
The Padres might be effectively out of it already, but there’s no reason your fantasy team should suffer for it.
Kenta Maeda showed that his minuscule ERA in Japan was no fluke when he delivered doughnuts to the Padres in that season-opening series, and he’s been just as good since. Johnny Cueto gave the Giants some return on his $130 million contract by putting up a stop sign at third base to the eight Padres who managed to get on against him.
So, nil doesn’t always equal nothing. There has been something to see in each of these shutouts.
So skip those hot dogs and forgo those nachos. We’re going to have to leave plenty of room for the bagels.
Shaun O’Neill is a freelance writer and longtime North County resident. He welcomes comments and story suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.