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Originally Published: July 9, 2010

How will Padres react when adversity strikes?

By Eduardo Perez
ESPN
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We see it every year: A team snags the division lead at the All-Star break only to collapse in the second half. So far, the San Diego Padres have zoomed through the first half of the season, posting a National League West-leading 50-35 record. So why do I think they're ripe for a second-half stumble?

For starters, they play in one of the deepest divisions in baseball. Currently, four teams sit within five games of the lead, including the Colorado Rockies, who are a notoriously good second-half team. The Rockies have experienced this before; they know how to win when it matters. San Diego can't let them stay in the NL West picture.

Mat Latos
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMat Latos, 22, leads the Padres in wins (10), ERA (2.45) and strikeouts (99).
Count on the Los Angeles Dodgers being in the mix down the stretch, too. These are teams that, on paper, are far superior to San Diego. The Padres have a lot of games left against the Rockies and Dodgers -- 22, to be exact. And, really, any team in the NL West -- with the exception of the Arizona Diamondbacks -- can get hot and jump into the lead.

Regardless of who it is, teams are going to play the Padres a lot tougher knowing the success they had in the first half. They were a combined 48 games under .500 in 2008 and '09, but now they're contenders, and other teams are starting to realize that.

With the Padres, you know what they have offensively. Adrian Gonzalez always has been the team's focus, and this season has been no different. He leads the Padres in nearly every major offensive category -- batting average (.300), home runs (17), RBIs (54), on-base percentage (.396), OPS (.926), and on and on.

I'm not concerned with Gonzalez wearing down, but he does need some help. The Padres have to be players at the trade deadline for another bat -- someone who can consistently contribute in their pitcher-friendly ballpark. In the past, a lot of offensive players have gone to play in Petco Park and haven't been able to live up to expectations.

But what concerns me most about San Diego is its young pitchers. Can they continue to withstand the pressures of low-scoring, tight games -- which there will be plenty more of in Petco? A lot of these young starters haven't been in many pressure situations in the big leagues.

Mat Latos is the perfect example. His 10-4 record and 2.45 ERA are a big reason for the Padres' success, but he is only 22 years old. This has to be a concern for the team's front office. The Padres need to go out and acquire another veteran starter at the trade deadline to offset their youth. Jon Garland is really their only starter with a lot of big-game experience.

Don't get me wrong, Heath Bell and the other pitchers in the bullpen have been great thus far. So, too, have most of the starters. This team is built on speed and pitching. The speed isn't going anywhere. The players are always going to cover a ton of ground in that outfield, but the pitchers have to be able to withstand the rigors of the second half. It's a long season; it's a grind -- and it's even harder playing with the division lead.

This team has yet to go through a rut. It hasn't endured a losing streak of more than three games in the first half. San Diego has played consistent baseball, and one of the hardest things to do is maintain that consistency throughout the year. We won't know whether the Padres can realistically contend for the NL West title until we see how their young players respond to being in a slump.

Eduardo Perez is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."

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