The month of July has not been kind to the San Diego Padres. For starters, they lost three of their first five games, following a month in which they went 15-12 and began creeping toward mediocrity.
Then, Eric Show threw a pitch that hit Chicago Cubs star Andre Dawson in the face, prompting a brawl and some ill feelings.
The Cubs swept the three-game series, and the Padres went to the all-star break with the major leagues' worst record.
But for some reason, optimism reigns in the San Diego clubhouse. Maybe it's because the rest of the season can't be any worse than the first two months, when the Padres won a total of 12 games. Maybe it's because players are getting used to the style of feisty rookie manager Larry Bowa. Or maybe it's a result of recent lineup moves and trades.
"We have a lot of raw talent, but you can only win so many games with raw talent when you're going against veterans," Bowa said.
Nearly every member of the Padres roster was born in the 1960s, the notable exceptions being infielders Tim Flannery and Garry Templeton, and pitchers Show, Rich Gossage and Ed Whitson.
"It's frustrating, but you have to be realistic. Every time we play, we're outexperienced," Bowa said. "I still worry about what we're doing, but the bottom line is, we've improved from April. We're still making mistakes now, but it's nowhere near like it was."
Flannery, San Diego's second baseman, is one of the team's few veterans, and the only Padre who has been around since the '70s.
"We've got things going back the other way now," he said. "It's frustrating, but I realize that's how I got here. It's better than 1980, when we still had a lot of old players -- at least we're getting better this time."
While trying to shake up the squad, Bowa has continually revamped his lineup, and team officials have swapped a number of others.
Early this month, the Padres traded versatile Kevin Mitchell, starting pitcher Dave Dravecky and reliever Craig Lefferts to San Francisco for third baseman Chris Brown and pitchers Mark Davis, Keith Comstock and Mark Grant. Last December, San Diego received Mitchell and outfielders Stan Jefferson and Shawn Abner from the Mets for outfielder Kevin McReynolds, pitcher Gene Walter and others.
All three of the former Giants pitchers have jumped into action; Brown, an all-star last year with San Francisco, and Jefferson are starting. Bowa said both trades will be "great in the long run" for his team, and a short-term help for the Giants and Mets.
But Bowa also knows the trades left him with less experience. And mental mistakes, he said, have been the cause of many of the Padres' problems.
"I think some of the younger guys were caught in a conflict as to whether or not they belonged here," said Tony Gwynn, who leads the league in hitting . "They thought making mistakes meant you weren't playing the game right, but it's okay to make them sometimes."
But Bowa said youth is not his only problem. He said a lack of power has hobbled the Padres. "If our pitcher fails, we're in trouble," he said. "We don't have the attack to come back. You can't just ask a singles hitter to hit home runs."