The difference between the Nationals and the pennant-chasing Dodgers was distinctly obvious, never more so than on the scoreboard, where Los Angeles used a six-run first inning to bury the Padres, 10-1, at Dodger Stadium.
"We fell behind early and couldn't recover," Padres manager Bud Black said.
The victory by the Dodgers, coupled with the D-backs' loss to the Cardinals, put Los Angeles' magic number at three games, meaning it could clinch the National League West as early as Thursday -- against the Padres (61-96), who lost their contender status in April.
The Dodgers (82-75) pinned six runs on rookie Wade LeBlanc in a fitful first inning for the left-hander, who was making his fourth Major League start and already his third against this same Dodgers bunch.
On Tuesday, the Dodgers, if nothing else, looked like they had a good idea of what to look for in LeBlanc, who doesn't throw especially hard but features a dandy changeup and can run into trouble when his fastball command is amiss.
Such was the case Tuesday.
LeBlanc's first inning went like this: walk, double, two-run double to Manny Ramirez, walk, three-run home run to Nomar Garciaparra, single, single. All that before LeBlanc could get a single out in the first inning.
"Wade had a tough one out of the chute," Black said. "A couple walks in there, he got behind in the count and couldn't seem to get ahead in the count. His ball was up a little bit in the first."
LeBlanc, who earned his first Major League victory in his last start in Colorado, lasted 2 2/3 innings, yielding seven runs on seven hits with four walks in his final start of the season.
Afterward, he lamented his latest start, if for no other reason than he feels his four starts with the Padres (1-2, 8.20 ERA) aren't representative of the pitcher he is.
"I think there's been flashes, but I've been nowhere as consistent of where I need to be," he said. "I have to figure out what makes a Major League pitcher and a Minor League pitcher."
The Dodgers success at the plate wasn't limited to facing LeBlanc. Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger allowed three runs in a two-inning stint, including a three-run home run to Blake DeWitt in the fifth inning as Los Angeles stretched its lead to 10-1.
On offense, the Padres, who scored 23 runs in the three-game sweep of the Nationals, did not fare nearly as well against Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley (16-10), who did give up nine hits but just one run over six innings.
Playing their first game without hitting coach Wally Joyner -- who resigned on Monday, a move that became official on Tuesday -- the Padres looked very much like the same team that struggled to score while leaving scads of baserunners (10 on Tuesday).
Truth be told, the Padres had two fewer hits (12) than the Dodgers but failed to string a few together, especially when it mattered most. Rookie Chase Headley had three hits to raise his average to .275, the highest it's been since July 13.
Edgar Gonzalez added two hits and drove in the Padres' lone run, starting at second base, where he figures to get the majority of starts over the last five games of the regular season over fellow rookie Matt Antonelli.
"Our guys swung the bats fine," Black said. "We couldn't bunch all those hits into one inning. He [Billingsley] spread them out a little bit."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less