Padres host Dodgers in key series

J. Upton among NL leaders in runs produced

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

The Padres return to Petco Park Friday night to open a three-game series against the National League West-leading Dodgers.

Although there are 100 games to go in the season, this is an important series for the Padres, who enter the weekend with a 31-31 record -- putting them five games behind the 35-25 Dodgers and 3 1/2 behind the reigning World Series champion Giants.

Were the playoffs to start today, the Padres would not be a party to them. They currently rank fifth in the race for the two wildcard berths.

The Padres have already played the Dodgers nine times this season and are 3-6 against their neighbors 120 miles to the north. After Sunday, the Padres have only seven more games against the Dodgers and won't face them again until Labor Day Weekend.

An interesting sidelight to this weekend's series is that the Dodgers will pit their top two starters -- Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke -- in the first two games against the struggling back of the Padres rotation.

Kershaw faces Odrisamer Despaigne Friday night. Kershaw is 5-3 on the season with a 3.36 earned run average. However, he has allowed only two runs in 22 innings over his last three starts. Despaigne is 3-4 with a 4.72 ERA this season. He is 2-2 with a 4.31 ERA at Petco Park.

Greinke faces Ian Kennedy Saturday in a match of right-handers. No. 1 Padres starter James Shields (7-0) faces the Dodgers' Mike Bolsinger (4-1, 2.08 ERA) in Sunday afternoon's series finale.

FROM THE SCORECARD:
• Left fielder Justin Upton has accounted for 66 runs this season - runs scored (39) plus RBIs (39) minus home runs (12) - the fourth-highest total in the National League. Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt leads the category with 78, followed by Miami's Giancarlo Stanton (76) and Washington's Bryce Harper (72). Upton has had a hand in 24.3 percent of the 271 runs scored by the Padres. Upton is also the only National League player with 12 steals and 12 or more homers.

• Right-handed relief pitcher Brandon Maurer has allowed one run in 20 relief appearances dating back to the start of May. Over his last 21 innings, Maurer has allowed the one run on nine hits and four walks with 17 strikeouts - an ERA of 0.43. The run las lowered his season ERA from 4.50 to 1.74. Opposing hitters are batting .157 against Maurer.

• Closer Craig Kimbrel's save Thursday in the extra-inning game in Atlanta was his 15th straight in his career in extra-inning games. The streak began after he blew his first extra-inning save opportunity with the Braves in May of 2011. To get a save in an extra-inning game, a closer must protect the lead against the home team. Kimbrel's streak is the longest since the Yankees' Mariano Rivera converted 18 straight extra-inning save opportunities from 2001 through the end of his careet in 2013.

• Second baseman Cory Spangenberg was 6-for-12 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored in the three-game series in Atlanta. Spangenberg has an active four-game hitting streak, going 7-for-16 with three doubles and four RBIs -- raising his batting average from .234 to .257.