(Sports Network) - The San Diego Padres were in serious danger of falling out of first place in the National League's West Division, but a couple of games against the fading Los Angeles Dodgers seems to have gotten the surprising squad back on track. The division leaders will try for a three-game sweep of this late-season set when the two rivals square off again this evening at Petco Park.
San Diego had seen its once-commanding lead atop the NL West shrink to only one game after losing 10 straight contests heading into this series, but has been able to rebound somewhat by earning a pair of wins over the Dodgers this week. The Padres remained just one game up on hard-charging San Francisco, though, after the Giants defeated Arizona on Tuesday.
Following tonight's tilt, the Padres will host San Francisco in a critical four-game series beginning on Thursday.
San Diego prevailed last night behind another outstanding effort from Mat Latos, with the young hurler firing seven outstanding innings to lead the way in a 2-1 decision.
Latos (14-5) yielded just one run and four hits in addition to racking up 10 strikeouts and setting a new Major League record in the process. The 22-year- old became the first pitcher in history to allow two runs or less while lasting at least five innings in 15 consecutive starts.
"I didn't know about [the record]," said Latos afterward. "It's great to be able to set a record, but my career's not going to be defined as setting one record. My career's going to be defined on my reliability."
Aaron Cunningham and Adrian Gonzalez each knocked in runs to give Latos all the support he would need, while All-Star closer Heath Bell finished off the victory by recording the game's final five outs for his 39th save of the year.
Latos outdueled Dodgers youngster Clayton Kershaw (11-10), who permitted just two runs on five hits and struck out six over seven innings in a tough-luck result.
Los Angeles mustered just five hits in suffering its fourth straight loss and eighth setback in its last 10 games. The two-time defending NL West champions are now one game under .500 (69-70) for the season and 10 behind the Padres in the standings.
"I don't know how many clubs look good losing," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "It's been the same situation -- we've had trouble through the middle of our batting order putting anything together offensively."
The Dodgers will be trying to prevent matching their longest losing skid of the season and hope to break out against untested Padres pitcher Cory Luebke. The rookie makes his second major league start this evening since being called up from Triple-A Portland when rosters expanded in September.
Luebke was hurt by the long ball in his big league debut, serving up a pair of two-run homers in five innings of work in a 4-3 loss to Colorado on Friday. The left-hander gave up five hits in all and walked two while striking out three.
The 25-year-old, a supplemental first-round selection by San Diego in the 2007 draft, went a combined 10-1 with a 2.68 earned run average in 19 games (17 starts) between Portland and Double-A San Antonio prior to his promotion.
Luebke will be opposed tonight by Chad Billingsley, a pitcher who's enjoyed plenty of success when facing the Padres in the past. The Dodgers' right- hander owns a 10-5 record along with an excellent 2.48 ERA over 21 career meetings (17 starts) with San Diego and has flourished at Petco Park, where he's gone 5-2 with a 2.20 ERA in 13 career visits (nine starts).
Billingsley threw six shutout innings to defeat the Padres in San Diego on July 27, but did take a loss against the Friars in Los Angeles on August 5 after surrendering three runs in another six-inning stint. He's 2-1 with a splendid 1.40 ERA in three encounters with San Diego this season, with both victories taking place at Petco Park.
The 26-year-old is coming off an outstanding effort in his most recent start as well, limiting San Francisco to two unearned runs and just two hits while fanning seven over eight sharp innings on Friday. The performance improved Billingsley to 11-8 with a 3.54 ERA in 26 mound trips this season.
These two NL West foes have split 14 meetings so far this season, as well as eight bouts held in San Diego in 2010.