Jay Paris: Nothing can dampen the enthusiasm for Padres

It could be a rainy Monday and not even that would get the Padres down.

“I really like this team,’’ San Diego slugger Matt Kemp said.

What’s not to like and we find out Monday afternoon in Los Angeles.

The Padres open the season against the Dodgers, but with something other than hope and their fingers crosses.

Not since 1998 have expectations been this high for a squad that had cornered the market on losing and producing a lackluster offense.

While the Padres haven’t had a winning season since 2010, last year reached a new low. The Padres were a one-note song – good pitching – as their bats were always off-key.

Runs, thanks to a dreadful .226 team batting average, were tougher to produce than a cheap parking space close to Petco Park. It was in that environment – with general manager A.J. Preller being hired in August – that brought us to where we are today.

“We got a lot of good dudes here,’’ Kemp said.

Roaming the outfield is Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton, and yes, I had to rub my eyes when seeing it for the first time, too.

Third base shows Will Middlebrooks. At catcher is Derek Norris.

We think the Friar mascot is still on board, but with Preller, one wonders.

The Padres, whose home opener is Thursday against the world champion Giants, still have the faith.

But they also have legitimate weapons in the lineup, proving that their backers’ prayers were answered.

Not only will the fresh bats produce lightning, but what if some holdovers produce as expected?

Jedd Gyorko missed 51 games with a bum foot in 2014. Yonder Alonso’s cranky wrist derailed his season. Carlos Quentin’s balky knees were just that, and if he makes the team, it’ll be as an expensive role player.

In having some offensive cards to play, manager Bud Black isn’t restricted to manufacturing runs.

A Padres rally that was built on a walk, hit-and-run and sacrifice fly has gone the way of seniors playing at Kentucky.

The Padres aren’t Wildcats but just maybe they’re worthy of a National League wild-card playoff berth.

Or, maybe they knocked the Dodgers’ $2 zillion payroll off its perch atop the NL West.

Hard to say if the Padres can do either.

Or is it?

This time last spring few had Kansas City as World Series worthy.

“Hey, nobody expected the Royals to do what they did, right,’’ Kemp said, knowing the answer. “Why not us?’’

There are reasons as no team is constructed minus shortcomings and the Padres have nearly as many question marks and exclamation points:

Can the outfield proved consistent defense? Is Alexi Amarista an every day shortstop? Are there enough left-handed bats, and arms, to give the Padres balance?

All legitimate concerns. But all in all, the Padres are ready to win and when did we say that last – with a straight face?

“It’s just a matter of going out and making it happen,’’ said Kemp, whose 17 homers in last year’s second half were more than any Padre hit the entire season.

Breaking well from the gate – not the team’s strong point recently – would bode well. Of the Padres’ first 20 games, 17 are against NL West foes.

New ace James Shields can’t pitch in every one on them, but if he shines, others in the rotation will try to match him.

Rancho Santa Fe’s Shields was among Preller’s biggest hauls. That Preller, an Encinitas resident, accomplished it minus trading off other pieces is huge.

Consider Preller didn’t lose starters Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy and Andrew Cashner.

Preller also retained top prospects Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges and Matt Wisler.

Whistling past the graveyard?

Not Padres supporters this year when eying a season where there’s optimism inside and outside the clubhouse. The revamped Padres won’t sneak up on anyone and that’s a good thing.

With Preller dominating the offseason news cycle, Black is eager to take a lap around the league with his new riches.

There’s a reason Black wore a wide grin in spring training – he can’t wait for opening day.

And that goes for a patient Padres fan base, which has endured its share of gloomy days.

Monday’s forecast doesn’t include rain. Not that it would dampen the excitement for a Padres season full of promise.

Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him at jparis_sports and at mighty1090.com

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