Top Spot On The Line

Taking three of four from the Arizona Diamondbacks last week allowed the San Diego Padres to close the gap as they seek their third straight NL West title.

San Diego (75-61) now will try to extend its slim division lead when it meets Arizona (76-62) at Chase Field on Monday to begin the final regular-season series between the clubs.

The Padres trailed Arizona by three games before taking the series in San Diego a week ago. After taking two of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers while Arizona lost two of three to Colorado, the Padres begin play in this three-game series with a lead of less than one percentage point over the Diamondbacks.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made San Diego -120 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 9 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 64% of bets for this game have been placed on Arizona +115 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

"They've been calling it the wild, wild West," San Diego catcher Michael Barrett told the Padres' official Web site. "And now I see why."

Greg Maddux (10-9, 3.79 ERA), who starts the opener for the Padres, has won multiple NL Cy Young Awards and 343 games in his career - but hasn't beaten Arizona in nearly seven years, and is just 1-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 17 career starts against them.

Facing the Diamondbacks on Wednesday, the right-hander didn't get a decision despite an outstanding effort. He allowed one run and eight hits with five strikeouts over seven innings, and enters this series not having walked a batter in five starts spanning 42 innings.

"That's phenomenal," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He's a phenomenal strike thrower. And he's a phenomenal ball thrower, too. I mean, he can throw a ball when he wants and he can throw a strike when he wants. That's what makes Greg Greg, is his ability to command the ball."

Maddux, who holds the NL record by not issuing a walk in 72 1-3 straight innings, says he doesn't worry about it.

"Strikeouts and walks are overrated. I think I've just been fortunate enough to be in a position where I haven't had to walk anybody," he said.

Maddux was with Atlanta on Sept. 7, 2000 when he tossed a four-hitter in a 4-0 win over Arizona. Since then, he's 0-8 with a 6.06 ERA in 13 starts against the Diamondbacks.

Now, he'll try to help the Padres bounce back from a 5-0 loss Sunday to the Dodgers that prevented San Diego from completing a three-game sweep.

Monday's contest starts a nine-game road trip for the Padres, who also will visit the Rockies and Dodgers. San Diego is 35-30 on the road this year, and owns the second-best road winning percentage in the NL behind the East-leading New York Mets.

"The next nine days on the road will be big," said Black, whose team has dropped four of six in Arizona this season.

The Diamondbacks also know pressure could be on them as they to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002.

"We've got to keep doing what we're doing," Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew told the Diamondbacks' official Web site. "Gosh, it's going to be a race to the finish, so we have to approach every series, every game like it's the most important."

Arizona has lost nine of its last 14, including Sunday's 4-3 defeat in 10 innings to Colorado. Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb struggled for the second straight start as he gave up four runs and five hits over seven innings, and Arizona left 10 runners on base.

Micah Owings (6-7, 4.51), who opposed Maddux on Wednesday, gets the start in the opener of this series. The right-hander allowed one run and three hits in seven innings, but didn't get a decision.

Owings is 0-3 with a 4.08 ERA in six appearances - five starts - at home since beating Tampa Bay on June 20. He's yet to record a decision in two starts against the Padres in San Diego this season, but has a 1.38 ERA.

by: Dave Michaels - thespread.com – Email Us

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