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The San Diego Union-Tribune and the North County Times do a yeoman’s job on everything Padres-related, and on baseball pretty much all the way around. But if all you’re reading is the local baseball “expert” opinion, including this one (OK, especially this one), a little out-of-town perspective is in order.

For one, you can always count on the Hendersonville Times News (that’s Hendersonville, SC) for an objective opinion. Sports writer Jeremy Darnell, in a column called “Cheap Seats” no less, predicts a National League West crown for the Padres. Not that he’s particularly excited about it:

“Saying they are the cream of the NL West is something akin to saying ‘The safest neighborhood in Falluja.’” Ouch.

Darnell continues:

The Padres also have one of the best back ends in baseball. Cla Meredith and Scott Linebrink are devastating as setup men, and the ageless Trevor Hoffman still makes hitters look like that Bugs Bunny cartoon with his changeup. … So break out the champagne Padres fans, your NL West dynasty will continue. You stay classy, San Diego.

Newspapers in seemingly every major league city have been talking about their town’s team acquiring Scott Linebrink for months. Somehow, some way. The Philadelphia writers have been particularly hopeful, probably for no good reason, and the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo notes the following: “We know Kevin Towers and Theo Epstein like to deal. We know Red Sox scouts are keeping a close watch on Padres reliever Scott Linebrink.” OK.

  • On the national scene, SI.com cites a positive in ranking third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff fourth in its top ten rookies list. Meanwhile, columnist Tom Verducci predicts:

This just in: The Yankees probably won’t win this year, either, even if they do have the best team on paper heading into Opening Day. The World Series? It’ll be all SoCal — the Angels over the Dodgers.

  • Fair or unfair, and he’s far from alone in the assessment, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale places a lot of the responsibility for the Padres 2007 success on the broad shoulders of Kouzmanoff. Says so right in the title.

The consensus isn’t about whether Kouzmanoff can handle the thinking that his performance will make or break his club’s season and sail on through; just that that’s the thinking.

And remember, glove conquers all.

— HOWARD COLE

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