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Rancho Santa Fe Sports

Jay Paris: It’s crystal clear to the Padres: they’re ready to compete

Following the Padres usually means being disappointed and here they go again.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,’’ Padres manager Bud Black said.

Rats. Guess we’ll just have to speculate like everyone else.

Black is back in Peoria, the Arizona hamlet in which the Padres hope they begin their rise from irrelevancy.

We know the local nine has finished 10 games under .500 in each of the past two seasons. We know the Dodgers continue to spend, the Giants continue to show impressive pitching and the Diamondbacks continue to rebuild.

The Padres? If you keep this among us, they might have something this season.

“It isn’t like we have a lot of things to figure out,’’ said Black, a Rancho Santa Fe resident entering his eighth season.

Hey if the team can actually broadcast its games on TV throughout North County, anything is possible, right?

But in wiggling the Padres’ rabbit ears it’s clear this squad, unlike others, could have chance to contend. And boy, how long has that sentence been produced on this trusty laptop?

“Anyone can win it, so why not the Padres?’’ catcher Nick Hundley asked, when previewing the National League West.

Oh, there are reasons and we’ll get there soon. But after a quick look, the Padres pass the eye ball test.

“I feel we can compete in this division,’’ outfielder Carlos Quentin said, after proclaiming his balky right knee fit. “Our team has balance.’’

That comes from someone who knows: Quentin plays with a chip on both shoulders.

While not head-and-shoulders above their divisional rivals, the Padres no longer need a telescope to see the pack. Every team has blemishes, but what’s clear is the Padres got busy cleaning up in the offseason.

The addition of starter Josh Johnson — if his elbow cooperates — gives the team a true ace to lead a rotation which reveals an emerging Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross.

The bridge to closer Huston Street wasn’t mucked up by politicians. Instead it’s smooth sailing with a projected Alex Torres working the seventh, giving way to Joaquin Benoit in the eighth.

Seth Smith provides a much-needed left-handed bat in an outfield which is five deep. Center fielder Cameron Maybin returns, joining Will Venable, Chris Denorfia and Quentin.

The infield is set with Chase Headley at third, Everth Cabrera at short, Jedd Gyorko at second and Yonder Alonso at first. Headley is likely the opening-day catcher as Yasmani Grandal gets his knee right.

So what can go wrong?

“We can’t have too many players missing big chunks of time,’’ Black said.

Long before the Obamacare web site crashed, a wave of Padres broke down the trainer’s door. Last year, like the year before, whatever aspirations the Padres had were erased by bumps, bruises and tears.

Combine that with the suspensions to Cabrera and Grandal for sprinkling more than, well, sugar on their corn flakes, and it was a compromised squad.

But as the team clangs the spring training bell hard off Bell Avenue in Peoria, it’s mostly all hands on deck. That optimism which drips from every clubhouse this time of year is evident.

What’s different are the sunny predictions arriving from elsewhere. More than a few veteran baseball insiders are picking the Padres as this year’s sleeper team.

“I think it’s a sign that we are closer to where we want to be,’’ Black said.

Where Black doesn’t what his charges is near trainer Todd Hutcheson. If — and it’s a big if — the Padres avoid the DL, just maybe they’ll be A-OK.

“When this team has been on the field, you’ve seen some good baseball,’’ Black said. “We feel good about the roster and some people in the game feel the same way.’’

We’ll get out of the way and let Black get going. Spring is here; the Padres are over there in the desert and just maybe them playing meaningful September games isn’t a mirage.

We’ll find out after 162 contests, unless unlike Black, you have a crystal ball.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jparis_sports.