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Padres third baseman Manny Machado celebrates with shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. during a game from the 2019 season. Photo via San Diego Padres Twitter
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Sports Talk: Spring is in the air and hopes are high for hungry Padres

Spring is eternal and some jest that the same goes for the San Diego Padres and their losing ways.

But the Padres, who begin spring training this week, promise this season will be different.

The chatter from team officials states that this is the breakthrough year, the six months of winning baseball that is on payoff for a string of shoddy play, a stretch that has few rivals in the team’s less-than-storied history.

The Padres aim to avoid matching a dubious club mark, the one which started when they began.

When the Padres had that new-car smell as the new kids on the major league baseball block in 1969, they christened a string of 10 straight seasons of playing sub-.500 baseball.

If they produce one more stinker, the Padres will once again be riding a not-so-perfect 10.

But it’s too early to talk wipeouts; there’s no better time to let one’s cup runnenth over with optimism. Spring is in the air and ditto the belief that the Padres will escape the cellar, break from the cycle of four straight 90-loss seasons and be this year’s surprise squad.

Sounds good to patient Padres fans, the ones dressed in their throwback brown uniforms hoping a pot of gold resides on the other end of the team’s rebuilding rainbow.

For the Padres to shine like the Arizona sun, here are five conversation points to ponder before lifting the curtain against the visiting Colorado Rockies on March 26.

The 411 on the corner infielders

Third baseman Manny Machado and first baseman Eric Hosmer account for a whopping $411 million of the Padres’ payroll, with Machado leading all of the team’s check-cashers with a $300 million deal.

Machado was sensational in the field last year but his offense in the second half trailed off like interest in a team which needed binoculars to see the playoff race.

Hosmer had 99 RBIs last year, but he’s not allowed to puff his chest out over that accomplishment. He’s barely hit .200 against lefties in his two years in S.D. and his wins-above-replacement metric was a negative, which in some ways proves that the team would be better off with him not playing. That’s a stretch, but it’s no tall tale that this tandem has to play to its pay scale.

Fit Fernando

San Diego once had a pro team with a lightning bolt for its logo. Young shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. provided the Padres with electric play on his own by displaying a bat with pop, legs that churned and a glove that reminded some of Ozzie Smith’s. But an athlete’s best ability is durability and that’s where Tatis fell shy.

He has to stay on the field for the Padres to be competitive.

For starters, let’s take five

The rotation has some interesting candidates, a mix of rebounding veterans and wet-behind-the-ears, wannabes.

Right-hander Garrett Richards could be a positive as he bounces back from Tommy John surgery and Chris Paddock, another righty, has the look of a No. 1 ace. Right-hander Dinelson Lamet is back, lefty Joey Lucchesi has matured and righty Zach Davies is a fresh arm. Right-handers Cal Quantrill and Michel Baez, and southpaws Adrian Morejon and MacKenzie Gore, are knocking on the door.

With the Padres’ stacked bullpen, new manager Jayce Tingler is seeking arms to reach the fifth inning and not much more.

Put me in coach

That great line from John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” is a classic and but it leads to this question for the Padres: who’s patrolling the middle of the outfield?

Manuel Margot was shipped off in a trade for hard-throwing reliever Emilio Pagan. Tommy Pham was acquired from but he’ll likely land in left field. Trent Grisham is another newbie, but he’s not a true centerfielder even though be stationed there.

Franchy Cordero? Wil Myers?

Maybe Myers as the Padres would appreciate receiving dividends from their ill-fated deal with Myers, one that has him collecting some $60 million over the next years and derailed his trade value in the offseason.

Here’s the catch at catcher

Austin Hedges is a magician with the glove but his bat makes rallies disappear. Francisco Mejia has more life in his lumber, but not enough to claim the job from Hedges on an everyday basis. This position could be split between the two as Preller continues to look for alternatives.

What’s really different, the Padres’ brass hopes, is that it falls together in 2020. What’s clear is it is well past time for the Padres to start winning.

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