(Sports Network) - While the National League West remains up for grabs as the regular season winds down, the San Diego Padres are once again beginning to assert themselves as the team to beat in the division.
Having bounced back from a rough recent stretch that eliminated their once- comfortable lead atop the West, the Padres will try to further distance themselves from the Colorado Rockies in the standings when the two contenders wrap up a key three-game series this afternoon from Coors Field.
The Rockies came into this set riding a season-best 10-game winning streak and had closed within 1 1/2 games of both slumping San Diego and San Francisco in the race, but the Padres have cooled off their competition by taking the first two tests of the series. And with the Giants losing to Los Angeles on Tuesday, San Diego now holds a 1 1/2-game edge on second-place San Francisco following last night's 7-6 decision over Colorado.
The Padres banged out 16 hits in support of starting pitcher Jon Garland (14-11) in Tuesday's triumph, although the veteran hurler didn't need much assistance after limiting the Rockies to three runs -- one earned -- and four hits over the first seven innings. Garland also helped his own cause by going 2-for-2 with a run scored at the plate.
San Diego jumped out to a 4-0 lead following David Eckstein's two-run double in the top of the fourth and had a 6-3 advantage after Matt Stairs belted a pinch-hit two-run homer in the eighth. Colorado would scratch home a run in the bottom of the frame, but Miguel Tejada doubled to begin the ninth and later came around on Nick Hundley's sacrifice fly to put the Padres up 7-4 entering the final half-inning of play.
That run would prove to be beneficial, as Colorado scored twice off closer Heath Bell in its half of the ninth and brought the potential tying run to second with just one out. However, Bell got Eric Young Jr. to bounce into a game-ending double play to hold on for his 42nd save of the year.
"Today was one of those days where I felt I didn't have my 'A' game," Bell said afterward. "I probably had my 'B' or 'C' game and then you have to find a way to get people out. I made a couple of good pitches and got myself out of a jam."
"It's disappointing, obviously very frustrating this time of the year too," Hammel said of his performance. "It's so important to come out and play good baseball. Obviously the Padres were prepared for me. I got ambushed [Tuesday]."
San Diego, which hasn't swept a series at Coors Field since April 6-8, 2001, will send 12-game winner Clayton Richard to the mound today in hopes of accomplishing the feat. The left-hander has delivered a quality start in each of his last six appearances, including a no-decision against the Rockies on September 5 in which he allowed two runs (one earned) and scattered nine hits over six innings.
Richard backed up that effort by yielding just one run and two hits through six frames against San Francisco this past Friday, though he wound up with a hard-luck loss in a 1-0 setback to the rival Giants.
The 27-year-old is no stranger to the Rockies, having faced Colorado five times already during the course of this season. Richard has gone 1-1 with a 4.40 earned run average in those games, but surrendered nine runs over a combined 12 2/3 innings in a loss and a no-decision at Coors Field earlier in the year.
In seven career clashes with Colorado, Richard is 1-1 with a 4.32 ERA.
The Rockies counter with Jorge De La Rosa, who's won three consecutive decisions and beat the Padres in a head-to-head meeting with Richard in San Diego earlier this month. The southpaw worked six innings in that September 5 matchup and gave up two runs on six hits to help his team post a 4-2 win.
De La Rosa was more impressive in his latest outing, striking out a season- high 12 Arizona hitters and permitting two runs on five hits over six frames in Colorado's 13-4 rout of the Diamondbacks last Friday at Coors Field.
The 29-year-old is 5-2 with a solid 3.79 ERA in nine home starts this season and bested the Padres in Denver by firing seven shutout innings in his 2010 debut, which took place on April 9. De La Rosa allowed only one hit and fanned nine batters in that contest.
In 13 lifetime games (nine starts) against the Padres, De La Rosa is 2-2 with a 5.20 ERA.
Though the Rockies have prevailed in 11 of 17 bouts with San Diego this season, the teams have split eight games held at Coors Field.