It's really amazing, when you think about it, that the Padres are in position to earn a playoff berth if the season ended today. Manager Bruce Bochy deserves a lot of credit for shepherding this bunch of misfits towards October. He has not used the same lineup more than five times this season, and has had to deal with a host of injuries and poor performances by veterans.
Bochy is plugging holes right now with the likes of Geoff Blum, Russell Branyan, Mike Piazza and Cla Meredith. These guys were all on the scrap heap not too long ago. Sure, the Padres' opening-day payroll was a respectable $69.9 million, but look at where that money was spent (or perhaps more accurately, wasted).
Outfielder/first baseman Ryan Klesko hasn't played all season, yet he is earning $10 million. Starting pitcher Chan Ho Park has been sidelined for over a month with intestinal bleeding, and was not effective when he did pitch this season (7-7, 4.68 ERA). He is making $15 million. Even Brian Giles, the Padres' supposed star in right field, is having the worst full season of his career. He is currently hitting .266 with 12 homers and 67 RBI. Hardly the stats the Padres expected from their $9 million investment. In those three players alone, the Padres have committed $34 million of their $69.9 million payroll (48.6%) to players who have given them very little in return.
This team is not dominating, by any means. Their offense has scored just 617 runs, the second-fewest in the N.L. Their pitching staff leads the N.L. with a 3.99 ERA, but their ace, Jake Peavy, is 8-14 with a 4.31 ERA. Bochy has effectively managed his bullpen, and has squeezed enough out of his starters. He has mixed and matched his offense successfully enough to squeeze out enough run support more nights than not.
Bochy has been criticized in the past for consistently producing mediocre teams, but I contend that this 73-67 team is not mediocre. They are the kind of team that, should they qualify for the postseason, could pose all kinds of problems. The Padres shape up better in a winner-take-all scenario than they do in the 162-game marathon that is the regular season. Bochy deserves a lot of credit for putting the Padres in that position. He isn't writing Beltran, Delgado, Reyes and Wright into his starting lineup every game. He isn't putting Pedro and Glavine on the mound. He is making do with a patchwork group, and doing it quite well.