Dodgers look to gain on Padres

Their recent hot streak notwithstanding, the one thing the Dodgers haven't been able to do as they have inched back toward the .500 mark is gain much ground in the National League West standings. If nothing else, they at least have a real chance to do that this weekend.

The Dodgers will face the division-leading San Diego Padres for the first time this season starting Friday night at Petco Park. The two teams haven't seen each other since a two-game series last Sept. 29-30. The Padres won both of those, the third and fourth games in a poorly timed, five-game losing streak for the Dodgers that almost got in the way of their second consecutive NL West championship.

This time, it is the Padres who are trying to stay on top.

In the opener, veteran right-hander Ramon Ortiz (1-1, 5.16) will make his first major league start since May 26, 2007. He has been mostly effective in his 14 relief appearances for the Dodgers, especially over the past five, when he has given up a total of four runs in 11 innings. He will be opposed by veteran right-hander Jon Garland (4-2, 1.71), who will be facing the Dodgers for the first time since finishing last season in a Dodgers uniform.

Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez is a .519 career hitter (14 for 27) with three home runs and 10 RBIs against Garland.

Left-hander Clayton Kershaw (2-2, 3.96) will go to the mound for the Dodgers in Saturday's twilight game (5:35 PT). Kershaw is coming off his best start of the season so far: he threw eight shutout innings at the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, giving up only two hits and putting the Dodgers in position to beat Ubaldo Jimenez.

The Padres have yet to announce a starter for Saturday.

Right-hander Chad Billingsley (3-2, 4.82) will pitch for the Dodgers on Sunday against Wade LeBlanc (2-0, 1.61), the ace of the Padres' staff so far this season.

The series also presents the possibility of Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton having to face Padres pinch-hitting specialist Matt Stairs, who had critical plate appearances against Broxton for Philadelphia in each of the past two NL Championship Series. Stairs hit a monstrous tiebreaking home run off Broxton in the eighth inning of Game 4 in 2008, then drew a one-out walk from an obviously tentative Broxton to kick off the Phillies' game-winning rally in the ninth inning of Game 4 in 2009.

This series begins a stretch in which the Dodgers will play five of their next seven games against the Padres.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.