Pitching is there - offense may surprise

The Padres apparently have the pitching to make a strong run at a third straight National League West title.

But will they score enough runs?

That is the major question facing the Padres coming out of spring training. Well, that and the health of No. 5 starter David Wells, who recently said that he has Type 2 diabetes, and the hope that the double-digit exhibition ERAs of Wells, closer Trevor Hoffman and setup reliever Cla Meredith are Arizona anomalies.

The Padres were high on their pitching going into spring training.

But things are going better than expected. Jake Peavy shows no signs of the post-World Baseball Classic malaise that shadowed him throughout the 2006 season. He looks more like the pitcher who led the NL in ERA in 2004 (2.27) and strikeouts in 2005 (216) and was 28-13 over the two seasons preceding last year's 11-14, 4.09 ERA campaign. Chris Young is in far sharper this spring than last, which preceded an 11-5, 3.46 ERA season. Sinkerballer Clay Hensley looks like the pitcher who had a 2.66 ERA after the 2006 All-Star break.

And then there is Greg Maddux, who at the age of 40 appears ready to add onto his 333-win total.

Hoffman, who enters the season as the all-time saves leader (482), has had poor springs before and always seems to be ready by Opening Day. The Padres are more concerned with Meredith, who had a stunning 1.07 ERA in 45 outings as a rookie last season.

As for the offense, manager Bud Black decided early in spring to install Marcus Giles rather than Terrmel Sledge as his leadoff hitter. That allowed him to spread his power throughout the lineup.

"I think we're going to get some production from every spot," said Black. "We don't have those one or two big bombers. But I think we have a lot of guys who will contribute."

When the Padres headed to spring training, Sledge was going to get the first shot at replacing the departed Dave Roberts in the leadoff slot. It never happened. As soon as the exhibitions began, Marcus Giles became the heir apparent in the leadoff spot, and brother Brian moved up a spot to No. 2. Meantime, Sledge, who showed improved power this spring, was dropped to the No. 8 slot. It makes perfect sense when you listen to manager Buddy Black.

"We're not going to have that one or two killer bats in the lineup," he said. "Our production is going to be spread from top to bottom." The 3-4-5 hitters could move around depending on who is pitching, but Black said it's his intention to keep the look right-left-right-left. The switch-hitting Bard is a further plus. Putting Brian Giles in the No. 2 slot makes perfect sense. His power numbers have slipped each of the past three seasons with the Padres. But his on-base percentage with the Padres is .391, and he's drawn 223 walks over the past two seasons. Gonzalez was the Padres' MVP last season, and he and Cameron had 46 homers and 165 RBIs between them. The big questions involve Bard, who becomes the starter after hitting .338 with nine homers in 231 at-bats as Mike Piazza's backup in 2006, rookie Kouzmanoff and Greene, who has finished each of the past three seasons on the disabled list.

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