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So the saying goes. A ballplayer may complain, but as of right now, San Diego Padres fans cannot. Not in good faith, anyway.

Even with the gut-wrenching loss Sunday night, you could feel the heart of a club grow stronger. It’s fitting that struggling Marcus Giles made the final out, ending what might have been another incredible five-run bottom of the ninth, and striking out looking for that matter, but that’s OK. He’ll live, and so will the Pads.

Sure, you can complain about the offense. Knock yourself out. You play the cards you’re dealt, and that’s what the team did. The result was a great first half. And while the “anything can happen in baseball” expression applies to most things related to the sport, it doesn’t apply to the rest of the 2007 season. There are three things which can possibly occur, and only three things.

Two likely scenarios have the Padres winning the division, in a close race over Los Angeles, or the Dodgers and Padres flip-flopping spots, with the loser in either case taking the Wild Card. The other possibility, probably a stretch, has San Diego being edged out of the playoffs by a second-place team from NL Central or NL East.

That’s it. Nothing else can happen. The Colorado Rockies cannot win anything, nor can the Arizona Diamondbacks. The San Francisco Giants aren’t even in the conversation.

There is zero chance of the Padres truly beating themselves out of a postseason birth. No way. They’re too good a club.

The team might want to consider its pension for ejections and suspensions though. Wouldn’t be a complete waste of time to discuss the wisdom of veteran starting pitchers losing their cool with umpires and opposing batters, especially in the early innings. Just a little constructive criticism; take it for what it’s worth.

But all in all, a successful first half. Bud Black has a half-season of experience under his belt, and a shot at Manager of the Year. Kevin Towers showed patience where it mattered most – at third base – and the club is better for it. Three pitchers on their way to San Francisco, 500 saves for Trevor Hoffman, and the best club earned run average in baseball.

A welcome addition in Michael Barrett. And we’ll just see about Milton Bradley.

For an All-Star Break breakdown of the team as a whole, please return for my next blog.

— HOWARD COLE

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