If only the San Diego Padres had both Jake Peavy and Mat Latos in their 2010 rotation. Then you could really truly consider them one of the best teams in the National League.

For now, the Padres have the best record in the NL despite possessing just one of those two dominant starting pitchers. San Diego is sitting at 22-12 after sweeping the San Francisco Giants in a three-game series for the second time this season.

The 22-year-old Latos produced the finest outing of his young career on Thursday by throwing a one-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory over the Giants. He also drove in the game’s only run off fierce lefty Jonathan Sanchez, the pitcher who no-hit the Padres last summer.

The stellar performance prompted reminders of Peavy, the former Padres staff ace traded to the Chicago White Sox last summer. If Latos can keep delivering like this and become the ace San Diego needs, then the Padres are really going to be competing for a playoff spot this season.

Latos faced just 28 batters in his gem on Thursday and the hit barely traveled 80 feet. Eli Whiteside led off the San Francisco sixth with a hard shot back to the mound. The ball caromed off Latos and between short and third and Whiteside narrowly beat Padres third baseman Chase Headley’s throw to first.

Latos (3-3) hasn’t allowed a run in any of his three victories this season. Thursday’s effort was his second standout performance in a row – he tossed eight shutout innings against Houston in his previous start.

He hasn’t walked a batter in 17 innings over his last two starts – that’s amazing for someone who hasn’t even pitched 100 major-league innings yet.

It also was the second time Latos beat Sanchez by a 1-0 score this season, the other coming on April 20 at Petco Park.

Good thing Latos can swing the bat a bit. The rest of the Padres have just three hits against Sanchez in 15 innings this season.

Latos has been billed as a phenom and he looks more than capable of living up to the billing. But get too good too fast and all San Diego fans know what that will mean – he’ll price himself out of town.

Kind of like Peavy, who had no interest in departing the only organization he’d ever known.

But if you can’t have both, it’s nice to have one. Latos is the type of ace that can soon be competing for Cy Young Awards. He’s that good.

Now if the Padres only had some hitters – they have yet to act on my free advice from April 15 to sign Jermaine Dye – to go with the stellar pitching they have received thus far this season.

Then you could make a solid argument that the Padres are the class of the NL West instead of renting the top floor until either the Giants, Colorado Rockies or Los Angeles Dodgers put everything together. (The only noise the Arizona Diamondbacks are going to make will be over the new immigration laws of the state.)

For now, only the American League’s Tampa Bay Rays have a better record than the Padres. Nobody foresaw such a thing occurring prior to the start of the season.

And they now have the stopper they need to make a legitimate run – a guy named Mat Latos.


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