Cockcroft: San Diego Padres preview

It's no coincidence that the Padres' string of three consecutive winning seasons, capped by back-to-back division titles, began with the opening of their new ballpark, Petco Park, in 2004. A noted pitching-friendly environment, Petco has caused the Padres to mold their team around pitching, speed and defense. In 2006, for instance, San Diego ranked second in the majors in ERA (3.87), seventh in stolen bases (123) and ninth in errors (92).

That formula remains the name of the game in 2007, though it's the pitching San Diego is banking on getting the team back into October. Incredibly, the Padres made the playoffs despite a down year from ace Jake Peavy, who finished 11-14 and saw his ERA increase by nearly a run and a quarter. Still, Peavy's 1.231 WHIP ranked him ninth in the National League, and his 215 strikeouts were one off the league lead, so he didn't pitch nearly as poorly as the numbers indicate. He's one of three low-risk WHIP specialists at the front end of the San Diego rotation; Chris Young (1.132, 3rd in the NL in 2006) and free-agent signee Greg Maddux (1.219, 8th) are the other two. With Petco helping them, all three should be reliable fantasy starters, and Peavy could rebound to his old Cy Young form.

The back end of the rotation isn't bad, either, with the underrated Clay Hensley, who ranked 10th in the NL in ERA (3.71) and command specialist David Wells, who has a 4.02 ERA and 1.215 WHIP in 19 career starts at Petco. In the bullpen, closer and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, now 39 years old, was every bit as effective last year as in any other in his career. And setup men Scott Linebrink, Cla Meredith and Scott Cassidy combined for 18 wins and a 2.56 ERA, demonstrating the value of relief pitching in San Diego.