With the political realm getting more and more depressing day by day, I figured I'd turn to a happier subject - the Padres! Not only are the Padres in first place, but they just swept the Dodgers to right the ship after a painful 10 game losing streak (though, to be fair, the Dodgers have given up).
Now, I have a theory about why the Padres have done so well this year - the weather. Okay, so last year, the Padres did very well down the stretch, having one of the best records in baseball for the second half of the year. Unfortunately, their first half of the season was so awful that it didn't mean all that much. Regardless, it looked like going into this year, the Padres would do about the same, or better, if they got good production from their young players.
Here's the thing - they didn't. Everth Cabrera, Will Venable, Tony Gywnn, Jr., and Kyle Blanks have all underperformed this year. But the Padres have been in first place since May for one big, big reason - totally and completely ridiculous pitching. If you look at the stats, you'll see that the Padres lead the league in almost every pitching category, and their bullpen has an ERA of around 2.* So, to win, the Padres' offense doesn't need to be good, just not terrible. And the offense this year falls between mediocre and reasonably good.
A lot of people point to Petco Park as the key reason for the Padres' success, others point to the Padres' talent in the bullpen. Both of those are factors, but the key difference, the one that is getting the Padres to the playoffs (hopefully), in my humble opinion, is the weather.
The weather in San Diego this summer has been completely bizarre - the low cloud formation that plagues us every spring (aka, "May Gray," "June Gloom" or "El Velo") lasted until mid-August. With the low clouds comes relatively cool weather, and higher humidity, both of which make the baseball break more when its pitched, and move less when its hit. So as the pitcher throws the baseball to a hitter at Petco, his curveball curves more in the cool, humid air at Petco, making the ball harder to hit. And then when the ball is hit, because its traveling through thicker air, the ball travels less than it normally would. All of this makes for a superior pitching. The Padres' hitters, meanwhile, are used to the conditions and have already adjusted for it.
Part of what makes me think that the weather has a role here is that when the low cloud thingy stopped in mid-August, the Padres went on a ten game losing streak, with the bullpen giving up leads almost every night. Then, the low clouds and cool weather returned, and suddenly the Padres are back to playing as they have all season.
*For you stat geeks, I know that ERA is a bad indication of a pitcher's abilities, but I don't understand all the sabermetrics stuff. I'm sure that there are a few statistics to describe how awesome the bullpen has been, and please share them if you want.