The Dodgers' win Wednesday night moved them to within 3 1/2 games of the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot after St. Louis lost in Houston. Los Angeles will look to cut a little further into that Wild Card deficit when it sends left-hander Chris Capuano to the mound in another must-win game.
A victory won't come easy against a Padres team that has gone 30-20 since the start of August and sits just six games behind the Dodgers in the standings.
"I'm not stunned by San Diego. They are tough to play against," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "They always end up with good pitching. They put some speed together and Chase [Headley] is legit in the middle. They put a lot of pressure on you. You better be on your toes."
While the Dodgers are going for back-to-back victories for the first time since Sept. 14-15, Capuano is simply looking for his first win since Aug. 12. Capuano, winless in his last seven starts, is just 2-9 with a 4.84 ERA since June 23, when he sat at 9-2 with a 2.60 ERA.
In his last two outings, Capuano has allowed eight runs (seven earned) while lasting just 9 1/3 combined innings.
"I felt good, I felt strong," Capuano said after allowing four runs over five innings last Thursday to the Nationals. "I just kind of made a couple of mistakes with runners on base tonight."
The Padres, looking to deliver a devastating blow to their NL West foe, will counter with rookie Casey Kelly.
Kelly has had an up-and-down start to his career, going 2-2 with a 5.55 ERA in his first five starts. He's allowed five-plus earned runs in two of those outings, while holding the opposition to two or fewer in the other three.
His focus on Thursday will be limiting his walks after he handed out four free passes in a loss to the Giants last Friday. The right-hander had issued just four walks in his first four starts combined.
"Walks are the thing that will kill you," said Kelly, who lasted just 4 1/3 innings while throwing 91 pitches in that four-walk performance. "You need to stay in control and get ahead of guys."
Dodgers: Mattingly not waving white flag
A quick look at the lineup Wednesday night might have left some fans thinking Mattingly had given up on his club's playoff chances. The skipper insisted that wasn't the case.
Mattingly kept four starters -- Shane Victorino, Mark Ellis, Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis -- out of his starting lineup, but cited injuries and matchups as the reason. Victorino was scratched because of lingering soreness in his sprained left wrist and Mark Ellis was sick all day and on IV fluids.
"You can perceive it how you want it," Mattingly said before Wednesday's victory about the suggestion he was conceding. "That's not the case. This is what I feel gives us the best chance to win. Mark Ellis and Vic can't play. A.J. hasn't hit this guy. He can use a day and today is that day."
Padres: Second-half surge ensures winning record at Petco
For the seventh time in nine seasons, the Padres will finish the year with a winning home record.
Despite a slow start, the Padres have gone 24-9 at home since July 16 and enter Thursday's series finale 41-36 at Petco Park with just four home games remaining.
"The idea is always to play well at home," manager Bud Black said. "You want to play well everywhere, but most teams have a tendency to play well at home, so it's a good thing we're getting there and closer to that, especially after the way we started."
Headley is 3-for-6 with a double, a homer and four RBIs this season against Capuano.
The Dodgers clinched their second straight season series victory over the Padres with Wednesday night's win. Los Angeles is 10-7 this season against the Padres after going 13-5 in last year's meetings.