Prior to Opening Day, a radio host in Dallas called the San Diego Padres “horrible.” Of course, he wasn’t the only skeptical media member.

Matt Baxendell of put the Padres in last place in the NL West, with fewer than 70 wins. To fulfill Baxendell’s prediction, San Diego would have to finish 48-80 the rest of the way. Barring injury, I just don’t see that happening.

None of the ESPN writers picked the Padres to win the division. In fact, every ESPN baseball analyst , from Karl Ravech to Buster Olney to Buck Showalter, picked San Diego to finish dead last in the division.

Christopher Harris, an ESPN Fantasy Baseball analyst, called Mat Latos a potential fantasy bust by saying, “he could just flat-out struggle, as most young pitchers eventually do.” Latos currently holds a 3-3 record and a 3.32 ERA. The righthander also threw a one-hit, complete game shutout against the Giants this past Thursday.

Now, I’m not saying the Padres will win the division, causing every writer to eat their words, because I know the season is still young. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

I will say, however, that the Padres are defying the odds at this point in the season. At 22-12, San Diego sit atop the National League’s Western Division following their three-game sweep over the Giants.

The Padres know they can’t lose focus now. It doesn’t get any easier from here.

The next few weeks could be telling for this club. If San Diego comes out with a winning record, and continues to play good baseball, they could be for real.

But, if they struggle against these good teams, critics will talk about San Diego as a team that can only hang with division opponents.

The Padres return home tonight for the first of their three weekend games against NL West rival Los Angeles.

From there, San Diego has a two game home set with San Francisco before heading north for a three game stay in Los Angeles and a three game stand at Seattle.

May is only the beginning. The Padres will face their toughest competition in June. They’ll take on some of the American League’s best clubs, including three game sets against Toronto, Seattle and the AL East leading Tampa Bay Rays. San Diego also has a four-game set at Philadelphia.

The Padres success has mainly come from their pitching. The San Diego staff leads the majors with a 2.61 ERA.

Their starters have exceeded expectations. Jon Garland leads the rotation with a 4-2 record and a 1.71 ERA. He’s become the ace of the rotation while Chris Young has been sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Young went on the 15-day disabled list just six days into the season. He still hasn’t returned. The rest of the rotation has picked up the slack, especially young right-hander Tim Stauffer. Stauffer has given up just one earned run in 23.1 innings pitched.

The Pads are also playing well without a lot of help from their slugger first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s is hitting .265, surprisingly low for him, and has just four hits in his last 21 at bats. He hasn’t had an RBI since May 1st, and Gonzalez’s last home run came back in Cincinnati on April 25th.

The question now becomes, can the Padres maintain the high level of play they’re putting out at this point? It’s a question that most would say no to. If the team is playing this well without Gonzalez’s bat, I would ask what will happen when he does get going at the plate?

The bullpen has been solid and the offense has put up enough runs to secure leads. And the team is finally stealing bases. Players have gotten into scoring position, allowing hitters to find ways to drive them in.

The system is working and, if it continues, Bud Black could be off the hot seat. At least for now.

The Padres may not be the best team in baseball, we can all agree to that, but they’re one of the surprises so far this season.

Many observers still believe the Padres will bottom out at some point. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

The Padres sit atop the National League West, and they’re playing good baseball. But there’s still a long way to go.

Like I said before, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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