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San Diego Padres 2014 Preview

<p>San Diego has recorded back-to-back 76-86 seasons and hasn't tasted the playoff since losing in the NLDS in 2006. Outfielders Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin, third baseman Chase Headley and suspended shortstop Everth Cabrera all are expected to lead the Padres back to the playoffs and missed time last season.</p>

San Diego has recorded back-to-back 76-86 seasons and hasn't tasted the playoff since losing in the NLDS in 2006. Outfielders Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin, third baseman Chase Headley and suspended shortstop Everth Cabrera all are expected to lead the Padres back to the playoffs and missed time last season.

The Padres took a gamble on starting pitcher Josh Johnson and hope fellow right-hander Ian Kennedy can regain his dominant form, but that's a big if. San Diego is loaded with right-handers and Andrew Cashner will lead the rotation on Opening Day.

Cashner led the Padres with a 3.09 earned run average last season and was second in wins with a 10-9 record in 31 games (26 starts). Eric Stults had an 11-13 mark in 33 starts. Cashner and Stults were the only two pitchers with 10 or more wins.

Cashner is hoping for more victories this season and was excited to get the nod on Opening Day -- the first of his career.

"He's the guy we want to start the season with. I like what we've seen out of Cash, his development in so many different areas the last 12 or so months leads us to believe he's going to be a guy in the front of the rotation who can do great things for us," Padres manager Bud Black said.

Joaquin Benoit was added to bolster the bullpen and the hard-throwing righty will set up closer Huston Street.

2013 FINISH (76-86) - Third Place (NL West)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Joaquin Benoit (RHP), Josh Johnson (RHP), Alex Torres (LHP), Seth Smith (OF)

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Luke Gregerson (RHP), Brad Boxberger (RHP), Mark Kotsay (OF/INF), Logan Forsythe (INF)

PROJECTED LINEUP: Everth Cabrera (SS), Will Venable (CF), Chase Headley (3B), Carlos Quentin (LF), Yonder Alonso (1B), Jedd Gyorko (2B), Seth Smith (RF), Nick Hundley (C)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Andrew Cashner (RHP), Ian Kennedy (RHP), Josh Johnson (RHP), Tyson Ross (RHP), Eric Stults (LHP)

PROJECTED CLOSER: Huston Street (RHP)

MANAGER: Bud Black

WILL THIS BE A BOUNCE-BACK YEAR FOR HEADLEY?

Headley was thought to be the face of the franchise and could still be if he stays consistent. He had a brilliant 2012 season with a career-high 31 homers to go with 115 runs batted in through 161 games, but dropped off last season. He played 20 games less and his power numbers fell, too, as he batted .250 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI.

A lot is expected to Headley this season. Headley agreed to a one-year deal in January and has hit .269 with 80 homers and 369 RBI over seven seasons since breaking into the majors with the Padres in 2007.

Headley, a switch-hitter and 2012 Silver Slugger award winner, is battling a calf injury and should be ready for Opening Day. He is not the only one expected to lead the Padres offensively, as Quentin, Cabrera, Will Venable and Jedd Gyorko bring pop to the plate. Gyorko led San Diego with 23 homers and 63 RBI last season, while Venable had 22 homers and 53 RBI.

Cabrera appeared in 95 games after he was suspended for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. He still had 31 RBI -- his most since 2009. Seth Smith joined the Padres in the offseason and batted .253 with eight home runs, 40 RBI and a .329 on- base percentage in 117 games for the A's last season.

WAS IT WORTH KICKING THE TIRES ON JOHNSON?

The answer to that question is yes if Johnson can revert back to his days with the Marlins. Once a candidate for the Cy Young Award, Johnson has been plagued with injuries the past three seasons and the Padres decided to take a chance on the veteran righty.

Johnson is already on the mend and will miss the start of the season with a strained flexor muschle, but Padres catcher and battery mate Nick Hundley believes in him.

"His talent is undeniable," Hundley said. "If he's healthy, knowing his mindset and skill set, he's going to be really good for us. There's a reason this guy made a couple of All-Star teams."

Johnson made 16 starts for Toronto last season and went 2-8 with a 6.20 earned run average. Now he's back in a National League he once dominated, especially in 2009, when he compiled a 15-5 record in 33 starts with a 3.23 ERA. He led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010.

Cashner and Kennedy will most likely precede Johnson in the rotation, which has the luxury of pitching in the spacious confines of Petco Park. Tyson Ross and Stults will round out the starting five. Kennedy made 10 starts with San Diego after a trade with rival Arizona and the former All-Star posted a 21-4 record back in 2011. The Padres would love to see those results once again.

The Padres won't have to worry about Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard anymore, as the two combined to allow 144 runs last season.

CAN THE PADRES AVOID ANOTHER SLOW START?

They say World Series are won in April. The Padres haven't followed that plan the last few years and look to alter their early-season struggles in 2014.

San Diego stumbled to a 9-20 beginning in 2012 and, of course, the club was marred with injuries and an ineffective pitching staff. What is going on in southern California that has ravaged the Padres' last two seasons early on?

The Friars were 5-15 at one point last year and they've had enough.

"We've gotten off to a bad start two years in a row and we want to reverse that trend," Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said.

Black said in order to avoid another April/May disaster, the Padres will make sure what they do at the end of spring training won't wear them down. Headley and Quentin weren't at full strength and pitching was awful. Headley missed the first 14 games with a thumb issue. He hopes to be giving a thumbs-up this time around.

"We've got to make sure we do the very best we can to stay healthy as we get into the middle part of March and guys start getting their legs under them as Opening Day approaches. If that means slowing some guys down earlier, we'll do that," Black said.

X-FACTOR: EVERTH CABRERA: A lot goes into the leadoff spot in a lineup and Cabrera will be the man to get the bats going. He's not a power hitter, but can run the bases well, hit for average and be patient at the plate. Signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, Cabrera batted .283 with four home runs, 31 RBI and 37 stolen bases, but appeared in just 95 games after receiving a 50- game ban for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. He's clean now and will be mainstay at the top of the order.

OUTLOOK

Considering the Padres were plagued by injuries a year ago, they still managed to finish third in the NL West and record 76 wins. But that's not going to get you to the postseason via winning the division or wild card. There are several questions that need answering: Is Cashner the real deal at the top of the rotation? Can Headley become the leader in the clubhouse once again? How much patience do the Padres have in Black as manager? With a young core intact and back together for another year, expect about 80-85 wins for the Padres.

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