The Padres (75-69) trail division-leading Los Angeles by 1 1/2 games, and are the same margin ahead of Philadelphia for the wild card. Los Angeles closes out a three-game set with Chicago on Thursday, while the Phillies are off.
Mike Piazza hit a three-run homer and Adrian Gonzalez went 2-for-5 with two RBIs to continue his hot hitting in a 10-0 rout of the Reds on Wednesday. San Diego, which took the series opener 5-4 on Tuesday, has won nine of its last 13.
“We just have to keep plugging away at it,” Piazza said. “You’d figure at this point we’d be getting some clear scenarios for some teams, but that’s just not the case. We just have to hang in there. Teams can pick up ground or lose ground quickly.”
Wednesday’s win moved San Diego 3 1/2 games ahead of struggling Cincinnati in the playoff race. The Reds have gone 5-12 since Aug. 25 to slip into fifth in the wild-card standings.
“The only thing we have to do is play our game and win them one at a time,” Reds catcher Javier Valentin said. “If we win the game we’re playing that night, everything will take care of itself.”
Piazza’s homer moved him ahead of Gonzalez for the team lead with 22, his highest total since hitting 33 in 2002 with the New York Mets. He leads major league catchers in homers for the first time since that season.
Gonzalez has also been key for the Padres, going 9-for-19 (.474) with three doubles and four RBIs in his last four contests. His .293 average leads the team, while his 69 RBIs are second to Brian Giles (74).
“I go hot, I go cold,” Gonzalez said. “The more at-bats I get, the more chance I have to stay hot. I’m not the same hitter when I’m only playing twice a week.”
The 24-year-old first baseman has played a career-high 138 games this season after appearing in 59 over the previous two with Texas. He came to San Diego in a six-player trade in the offseason.
The Padres will send Clay Hensley (8-11, 3.87) to the mound Thursday looking to build on one of his best starts of the season. The right-hander scattered three hits over seven innings in a 2-0, 11-inning win over Colorado on Sept. 6.
He has allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his last 10 starts and has a 3.43 ERA in that span, but is only 3-4.
One of the two outings in which he gave up more than two runs came against the Reds on Sept. 1, when he allowed four in five innings of a 6-2 loss.
The Reds will counter Hensley with Aaron Harang (13-10, 3.83), who will try to win for the first time in five starts since beating Pittsburgh on Aug. 20. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA since that victory.
Harang appears to have a good chance to get back in the win column when he faces the Padres, as he’s 3-0 with a 2.60 ERA in four starts against them. He has not faced San Diego this season.
Harang has held the current San Diego roster to a .210 average, but has never faced Gonzalez or Piazza.
The Reds may be without center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. for the eighth consecutive game due to a dislocated toe on his right foot suffered Sept. 4. The 36-year-old Griffey is second on the team with 26 homers.