Up again, down again: Padres slip to second

Up again, down again: Padres slip to second

LOS ANGELES -- Treading water is certainly one way to keep your playoff hopes afloat, which is essentially what the Padres did on a 10-game road trip that concluded Thursday with a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

The setback sent the Padres a half-game back of the Giants in the National League West and also a half-game back of the Braves in the NL Wild Card standings heading into their three-game series that starts on Friday at PETCO Park against the Reds.

A break-even road swing through three cities that have proved treacherous in the past for the Padres -- Denver, St. Louis and now Los Angeles -- saw the team go 5-5 and lose one-half game to the Giants during that critical stretch.

"We went through three tough teams," Padres manager Bud Black said. "All in all, when you look back you want more out of it. You would have liked to have won all 10 games. But realistically, it turned out OK."

But to do more than just stay afloat, to accomplish more than the status quo and in order to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Padres will have to do much more over their final 10 games.

Starting with scoring more runs, insisted Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn.

"If we score runs, we are confident about our chances to win ballgames," Gwynn said. "We don't have to score a lot of runs, but there has to be a sense of urgency offensively."

That didn't happen Thursday, though Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (11-13) had a lot to do with that, limiting the Padres (85-67) to one run on five hits over eight innings as the Dodgers (74-79) managed to avoid getting swept in front of a crowd of 33,040.

Scoring runs has proved difficult at times for San Diego. In four games on this road trip, the Padres scored four or fewer runs, essentially meaning that no matter how good their pitching is and has been all season -- the team is second to only the Giants in staff ERA (3.42) -- they have to simply score more runs to reach the playoffs.

"Our guys like challenges," Black said.

The Padres are 12-38 when they score three or fewer runs this season. That they've won 12 of those games is a credit to their pitching, though it's obvious the pitching staff can't bail them out every night.

This is certainly a big one, as the Padres play their next seven games at home before they play three games in San Francisco to end the season.

San Diego pitcher Mat Latos (14-8), who allowed a combined 13 earned runs in his last two starts, fared better Thursday, allowing three runs over five-plus innings. He walked one and struck out four but bemoaned his lack of command after the game.

"Everything was up," said Latos, who has won once since Aug. 19 and has now lost his last three starts. "I didn't have a feel for the slider. My changeup was good, that's about it."

Kuroda certainly didn't look like he was going to stick around long after the start that he got off to, allowing consecutive singles to Will Venable and David Eckstein to begin the game. The Padres took a 1-0 lead on Miguel Tejada's RBI groundout but did not score again, as Ryan Ludwick bounced into a double play to end the inning.

From there, Kuroda essentially cruised. He got three ground balls and three of the hits he allowed came to the same hitter, Venable. The team had two runners in scoring position the entire game.

"That's more like it. [Kuroda] threw a lot of pitches in the first inning, and yet his pitch count tonight was very economical," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He was dominant tonight; it was great to watch."

The Dodgers, who scored four runs in the series, got a run back in the bottom of the first inning off Latos as Andre Ethier lined an RBI double down the right-field line. It marked the sixth first-inning run Latos has allowed in his last three starts.

"I need to get aggressive," Latos said.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.