Young right-hander Mat Latos is a big reason why the Padres have been on top of the NL West most of the season.  He gets the call Thursday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers and Padres meet in the rubber-game of their three-game set in a matinee affair in San Diego with Vicente Padilla and Mat Latos taking the mound for their respective clubs.

Mat LatosSan Diego’s (59-40) surge to the top of the National League Western Division has been fueled by pitching. The Padres are No. 1 in the majors with an earned run average of 3.26 and the bullpen has been even better posting an ERA of 2.79. On Wednesday night five SD pitchers retired the final 19 LA batters en route to a 6-1 win. It was the Padres first home win over the Dodgers in five games this season and just the second in seven tries overall. Their latest victory also solidified their spot as the top ‘money’ team in MLB earning +2,302 units overall. They’ve more than doubled the earnings of the team behind them in the "dollar division."

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Despite being six-games out the Dodgers still feel like they’ve still got a shot at winning the West. At least that was the message sent by General Manager Ned Colletti who acquired Scott Posednik from the Royals in exchange for two minor-league players.

The 34-year-old Podsednik, who is hitting .309 with five homers, 44 runs batted in and 30 stolen bases, will join the team in time for this afternoon’s game. With Manny Ramirez serving his third stint on the disabled list and backup Reed Johnson still out, Podsednik will bring immediate stability to the fluid situation in left field.

With an eye on trimming their division deficit the Dodgers send Padilla (4-3, 3.41) to the mound in hopes he can continue his string of strong starts. Since his return from a nearly two month stint on the DL due to elbow issues,  Padilla has been one of LA’s most dependable starters allowing just six runs in six starts. He’s been even better over his last three outings surrendering just two runs and six hits in 21 innings. He’ll need to be good again today as he faces one of the premier hurlers in the NL.

Mat Latos (11-4, 2.48) has become the unquestioned ace of the Padres staff and he’s been downright dominant since early May. After going 1-3 and posting a 5.47 ERA in his first five starts he’s down an about face going 10-1. Latos leads the league in BAA and WHIP (.193 and 0.97) and is among the NL leaders in wins, ERA and strikeouts. He’s also been a steady revenue source for San Diego supporters this season with the team going 13-5 in his 18 starts.

Meanwhile the Padres and Latos are approaching an interesting fork in the road. The club had planned to limit his innings this season but the 22-year-old prodigy is making the club rethink its stance. Latos has worked 112 2/3 innings this season and quickly approaching his 2009 total of 123 innings (including the minors).

Manager Bud Black had hoped to keep his workload somewhere in the 150-180 range but with the team in first-place and the playoffs in clear view Black is having second thoughts. Does he risk an arm injury (Steven Strasburg anyone) or does he adhere to the wishes of General Manager Jed Hoyer who wants to see Latos make at least 26 starts.

The Padres opened as 140 baseball betting favorites for this afternoons tilt with the total at 6½. If the number seems low consider that six of the seven series meetings have stayed ‘under’ the total while eight of the last nine games overall have stayed on the low side.

The acquisition of Podsednik will help the Dodgers but it’s not enough. They’re still a bat or two short and their bullpen needs help. However they’ve got six more games with the Padres over the next nine days and Trader Ned could still have a deal or two up his sleeve. As for the Padres they aren’t in a position to play it safe yet and for that reason I think NL batters will see plenty more of Latos this season.