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Padres-Dodgers Preview

AP - Sports

A series with the last-place San Diego Padres appeared to be a good opportunity for the Los Angeles Dodgers to begin building a lead atop the NL West.

Instead, a gutsy decision by the Padres has cost them that lead.

Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will try to help the Dodgers rebound from a bizarre defeat Sunday when these teams conclude this three-game set.

Los Angeles (48-41) entered the All-Star break losing 15 of 20, but the club still held a one-half game lead on San Francisco.

That's turned into a one-half game deficit for the Dodgers after blowing a two-run, eighth-inning lead in a 7-6 loss to the Padres (35-54) thanks to a strange and daring play.

Pinch-runner Everth Cabrera decided to steal home when Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen turned his back walking on the mound. The closer hurriedly threw the ball over catcher A.J. Ellis and to the backstop, allowing Cabrera to score, and Will Venable followed from second on the error, giving the Padres the lead for good.

"We just got that big second strike on their guy and the crowd got fired up and really loud," Ellis said. "I had my head down and just made a mistake. I need to be more heads-up and pay more attention. You can never let your guard down. I've got to be more responsible there. So that was on me. We were one strike away from winning that game, and you've got to be ready for anything.

"It was a great heads-up play by Cabrera. I'm going to give him all the credit in the world."

Though the Dodgers had a 10-game home win streak against the Padres snapped, they have to be thrilled with what they've seen from Kemp and Ethier in this series.

Kemp has five hits in the first two games after missing 51 with a hamstring injury. He's hitting .444 with seven homers and 19 RBIs during a 14-game hitting streak against San Diego.

Ethier has a .484 average with five homers and 16 RBIs in his last nine home matchups with the Padres after getting three hits and four RBIs - two on a homer - Saturday. He went 0 for 2 and was hit by a pitch in a 2-1 victory to open this series Friday after returning from a strained left oblique that landed him on the disabled list earlier this month.

A sore elbow has forced the Dodgers to scratch Chad Billingsley from his scheduled start Sunday, so Chris Capuano has been moved up a day in the rotation to take his place.

Capuano (9-4, 2.91 ERA) is coming off one of his worst outings in 2012, giving up season highs of five earned runs and nine hits in five innings of last Sunday's 7-1 loss to Arizona. He had allowed six runs over his previous 28 innings.

The left-hander has been brilliant at home, going 5-1 with a 1.83 ERA in nine starts. Capuano hasn't had nearly the same kind of success in two outings versus San Diego this year, going 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA and eight walks in 11 innings.

The Padres will counter with Jason Marquis (1-5, 3.71), who will try to win for the first time since June 13. The veteran right-hander is 0-4 with a 4.60 ERA in five starts since.

He took the loss again last Sunday, allowing three runs and two homers in five innings of a 4-2 defeat to Cincinnati.

He's lost his last three visits to Chavez Ravine behind a 5.79 ERA. However, he's held Kemp and Ethier to a combined 3 for 38.

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