Here's what to expect as the Pirates head to San Diego this week.
Game times and pitching matchups
Tuesday, 10:10pm: Francisco Liriano vs. Colin Rea
Wednesday, 10:10pm: Jeff Locke vs. Drew Pomeranz
Thursday, 9:10pm: Gerrit Cole vs. James Shields
The Padres' ill-advised attempt at relevance last season has left their roster in disarray, as this week's pitching matchups suggest. Heading into the 2015 season, Rea had never pitched above Class A+, and Minor League Ball's listing of the organization's top 20 prospects heading into that season didn't even mention him, even though the Padres had already traded most of their good minor-leaguers at that point. But after a 2015 season in the high minors that was fine but didn't really answer many questions, he's been pressed into duty.
The Padres acquired lefty Pomeranz over the winter in a deal that sent Yonder Alonso to Oakland. Pomeranz is certainly still interesting, in that he's a 27-year-old former top pick who's had bits of big-league success and gets more than his fair share of swinging strikes with his fastball. But he's never really gotten established as a starter, having split his time between the rotation and the bullpen, and he's already been traded three times, for increasingly marginal-looking returns.
Shields, meanwhile, is a holdover from the Padres' 2014-15 offseason. He wasn't as bad last year as everyone seemed to think, and was, more than anything, a victim of PETCO Park, which inexplicably decided to allow a ton of home runs last year. (The park seems to be acting more like itself so far this season, although it's hard to tell whether it will stay that way.) But the Padres would surely like to be out from under his contract, which pays him $65 million from the beginning of this season through 2018.
C Derek Norris, Christian Bethancourt
1B Wil Myers
2B Cory Spangenberg
SS Alexei Ramirez
3B Alexi Amarista
UT Adam Rosales
IF Brett Wallace
LF Melvin Upton Jr.
CF Jon Jay
RF Matt Kemp
OF Jabari Blash
OF Travis Jankowski
This isn't a strong group. Wil Myers at first base makes a lot more sense than in center field, but the Padres' outfield is probably worse than last year's, unless you believe that Melvin Upton Jr.'s hot .289/.333/.489 start is real. (It actually might be -- he also hit .278/.342/.458 in the second half last season.) The team's struggles to assemble a good infield are well-documented, and one of their better infielders, Yangervis Solarte, is on the DL with a hamstring strain. One interesting player to watch is Jabari Blash (pictured), a Virgin Islands-born Rule 5 pick who hit 32 home runs in the upper levels of the Mariners' system last year.
CL Fernando Rodney
Fernando Rodney has pitched well this season after thriving down the stretch in 2015 with the Cubs; we'll see if his struggles with the Mariners early in 2015 are behind him. It's too early to get much of a read on the rest of the bullpen, although after the reliable Kevin Quackenbush and the competent swingman Carlos Villanueva, it looks sketchy to me -- Perdomo is a Rule 5 pick, Ryan Buchter is a minor-league vet who's never gotten a significant chance before now, and Brad Hand was never particularly impressive with the Marlins. (In the Padres' defense, Perdomo is a hard thrower and Buchter has put up strong numbers at Triple-A, and plenty of good relievers' careers begin with teams taking the sorts of gambles the Padres appear to be taking now.)
The Padres are 4-9 and began their season with a disastrous series against the Dodgers in which they were outscored 25-0. They helped make up for that by scoring a ton of runs in Colorado, but then they lost three of four to the Phillies and two of three to the Diamondbacks. Predicting the outcome of a three-game series is senseless, but this looks like a good series for the Bucs. And don't forget, San Diego is where this happened last year.