The next 10 days should be crucial to Los Angeles’ season, as the Dodgers face the NL West-leading San Diego Padres seven times with a chance to tighten the race - or fall out of it.
The third-place Dodgers (53-46) trail the Padres (58-39) by six games as they open perhaps their most critical stretch of the year. After this three-game set, Los Angeles visits second-place San Francisco for three contests before a four-game home series against San Diego.
The Dodgers come in on a badly needed hot streak, defeating New York 1-0 on Sunday to give them four wins in five games since a six-game losing streak. The surge has been spurred by the rotation, which has allowed one earned run in 37 innings in that span.
That’s been enough to overcome a lineup that has generated nine runs and a .186 average during the stretch.
Los Angeles now faces a San Diego staff that owns the best ERA in baseball at 3.27.
“I know we’re capable of more,” manager Joe Torre told the team’s official website. “I don’t think there’s a bad time to play (the Padres). I think it’s a time where we have to find out if we can respond to the challenge, and that’s the only way I look at it right now.
“It’s all going to come down to how well we pitch and do other things. We haven’t scored a lot of runs.”
Billingsley had his own terrific outing Wednesday, tossing a five-hitter in a 2-0 win over the Giants. That came after he struggled through seven starts with a 1-3 record and 5.91 ERA.
The right-hander has thrived against the Padres, going 5-1 with a 2.54 ERA in seven starts. He pitched 7 1-3 innings of a combined four-hitter in a 1-0 win at Petco on May 16, helping the Dodgers complete the only series sweep of San Diego this season.
The Padres own the best record in the NL and are 19 games above .500 for the first time since 1998, when they finished a franchise-best 98-64 and reached the World Series.
“You can look at 19 games over .500 all you want, but if you don’t finish on top of the division it doesn’t really matter,” said first baseman Adrian Gonzalez(notes), who is 1 for 18 with a solo homer in his last six home games against the Dodgers.
San Diego has won eight of 10, defeating Pittsburgh 6-3 on Sunday to sweep the three-game set as it heads into this key series against a division rival.
“We don’t think too far ahead,” manager Bud Black told the team’s official website. “We like to keep in the present. We know that every series, no matter who we play is important. We think (that mentality) is good for this group of players.
“That’s when we play our best.”
Black will give the ball to Jon Garland(notes) (9-6, 3.61), who is 5-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 10 home starts. The right-hander wasn’t nearly as sharp on the road Wednesday, yielding four runs in five innings of a 6-4, 12-inning win over Atlanta.
He is 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers this season.