Padres and Reds Contenders for the Pennant?

Sounds pretty crazy right? It very well could be crazy (I laughed a little bit just thinking about it). But as of right now, it is possible that San Diego and Cincinnati could end up battling it out for the National League Pennant. Just like Cincinnati, the Padres have been one of the big surprise teams of the first half.

Still, I seriously doubt it comes to that. The N.L is too wide open to count out the Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Mets, Rockies and Giants. However, the Padres have been one of the most consistent teams throughout the first half and have the best run differential in the N.L (+68).

San Diego is in first place in the N.L West, but Los Angeles, Colorado and San Francisco aren't far off. Everyone expected those three teams to be better than San Diego this year. So how are the Padres doing this?

Pitching...... Pitching, pitching, pitching.

Jake Peavy who?

San Diego leads the majors in team ERA with 3.14 and a WHIP of 1.21. They're fourth in strikeouts with 633 (tied with the Dodgers) and they have the fourth best strikeout-to-walk ratio with 2.49. Yet, none of the San Diego pitchers made the All-Star team. Someone please tell me how that makes sense.

Here's another question: How many of you knew who Mat Latos before the season started? If you're a fantasy baseball buff, you probably knew he was a highly touted prospect, but if you're a casual baseball fan, or fan of a particular MLB team not names the San Diego Padres, chances are you didn't even know they brought him up last year. And if you did, you definitely didn't know that he spelled his first name with one t......

The 22-year-old right hander has had an incredible first half. He currently leads the team in ERA with 2.62 and his 0.96 WHIP is tied (with Josh Johnson) for second in the majors. Oh, and he also leads his team in wins with nine. The starting rotation has been carrying the load for this team and performing beautifully.

There's a problem though, when the batting lineup only has one player batting .300 or better, that isn't a very good sign. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is the only good (he's great) hitter on the team. He leads the team in homers (17), RBI (54), runs (46) and OPS (.929). But the rest of the lineup is batting in the low .200s. That's a problem.

We mentioned it here before on the site, I don't know why anyone pitches to him? Gonzalez does have 16 intentional passes which is second in the NL to Albert Pujols who has 21. The next closet guy has 7. However, one could make the argument that he should be leading the NL in intentional walks by a wide margin. If you walk him, exactly who is it that hits behind him that you would be fearful of that would knock him in with any consistency?

Pitching is vital, especially down the stretch. But unless San Diego makes a move for a big hitter to protect Gonzalez and another one to get on regularly in front of him, this looks to me like one of those teams that will not be able to sustain its winning ways to the end. Asking the Padres pitching staff to carry the load for the entire season just doesn't sound reasonable.

With that said, while it may not sound reasonable, had you asked me before the season started about the prospects of where the Padres would be at the All-Star break, I would have said 4th behind the Rockies, Dodgers, and Giants. Therefore, going so far as declaring that the pitching staff absolutely can't not carry the team the rest of the way would be a foolish decree. It just doesn't seem likely.

If you would have told me before the season started that half way through the season that two of the leading candidates at the half way point to battle for the N.L pennant were the Padres and Reds, I would have questioned your sanity. While I still think it's improbable, at the moment however, it's my sanity that is being questioned. - Michael Klopman

Michael, a Penn State Graduate writes for Xtra Point Football, Around the Horn Baseball, and works on the sports page at the Huffington Post.

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