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Submitted by Wayne Allyn Root on Sunday, May 8, 2016 at 10:58 AM


In the early part of the season the National League West has been the division that nobody wants to get control of. Everyone is packed within three games and it's a closeness based on shared mediocrity. The San Francisco Giants lead with a record of just 16-15. It's divisions like this that invite us to look at "shock the system" opportunities. Is there room for a longshot to come out of nowhere and cash a good price on the futures market?

The Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are the co-favorites in this division, with the Arizona Diamondbacks at 9-2. The Colorado Rockies are a 12-1 shot. The real horse worth watching here is the big 60-1 longshot, the San Diego Padres.

I don't want to oversell the Padres in this space, but it's tough to see why San Diego is perceived as this much worse than the rest of the division. They have pretty good pitching and for a franchise on a small budget, have done a nice job in picking up worthwhile reclamation projects. Let's break this lineup down...

Any team that plays in spacious Petco Park has to be built on pitching and the 2016 edition of the Padres are no exception. James Shields is at the top of the rotation and though his record is just 1-4, the ERA is 3.23 over six starts. Shields also has value that goes beyond his wins and ERA - he's a workhorse that chews up a lot of innings and saves wear and tear on the bullpen over the course of the summer.

Behind Shields are three young arms that are worth a serious look. Colin Rea has made six starts and has a 3.82 ERA. Cesar Vargas has gone to the mound three times and the 24-year-old has a dazzling 1.10 ERA. Drew Pomeranz was liberated from the hopelessness of pitching for Colorado and has found a home in San Diego. Pomeranz's ERA in his six starts is 2.12
The combination of Shields and three live young arms is a good one, something that handicappers need to keep an eye on - at the very least, to cash in good spots on the moneyline on a night-to-night basis. With the exception of Shields, these aren't pitchers the public appreciates.

There are concerns in the bullpen. Fernando Rodney is 39-years-old in the closer's role and has been up and down in his career as it is. The rest of the pen is still being sorted out by rookie manager Andy Green. One thing worth noting though is that the Padres almost always produce a good bullpen, even in years when the team itself is a lost cause.

It's offensively that the real problems come up. San Diego doesn't hit well and while the park has a lot to do with it, when you're in the bottom quadrant of the National League in virtually every significant offensive category, you're also just bad. There's a painful lack of depth in this lineup.

But...there are some reasons for hope. Wil Myers' career appeared to have washed out when he left Tampa Bay, but he's found a home at first base in San Diego, having hit six home runs with an on-base percentage of .352. Jon Jay, the former centerfielder for a pennant-winning team in St. Louis is now covering ground for the Padres and also doing a good job in getting on base. Jay was an underrated sparkplug on the Cardinal teams he was a part of and he still is today.

And the most interesting reclamation project is Matt Kemp. The former Los Angeles Dodger seems like he's been around forever, but he's only 31-years-old. And he never "washed out" in Los Angeles. He just couldn't stay healthy and eventually got squeezed out by a numbers problem. The fact he had to play centerfield in another big ballpark with bad hamstrings exacerbated his health problems.

But the presence of Jay in San Diego means that Kemp's hamstrings can take an easier load in rightfield. And he's shown he can still hit, with eight home runs and a .570 slugging percentage. He needs to be more consistent getting on base, but in a way that's a good thing - it shows there are areas where the Padres can reasonably expect to get better.

If all things were equal, I wouldn't talk about San Diego winning a division. But in the world of handicapping all things aren't equal - the Padres are 60-1 simply to win a division where no one is playing much better than .500 ball after nearly six weeks. If you want to shock the system you have to take some cautious risks and that price is a generous one to take a look at.