(Sports Network) - If the San Diego Padres fail to reach the postseason, the team's lack of scoring down the stretch could wind up being the reason why.
With a pivotal series on the horizon, the Padres hope their sputtering offense is able to break out in tonight's clash with the Chicago Cubs from Petco Park.
San Diego has lost its last three contests and lost ground in both the National League West and wild card races following yesterday's 5-2 setback to the Cubs. The defeat pushed the Padres two games behind rival San Francisco for first place in the division with five remaining in the regular season, and 1 1/2 games in back of front-running Atlanta in the wild card standings.
Following tomorrow's finale of this four-game set with Chicago, the Padres will travel to San Francisco for three straight meetings with the Giants to decide the NL West champion.
Alfonso Soriano was the difference-maker in Tuesday's matchup, as the Chicago outfielder belted a two-run homer in the top of the sixth inning to snap a 2-2 deadlock and added a solo shot in the eighth to account for the final margin.
The Cubs also received a strong showing from starting pitcher Ryan Dempster (15-11), with the veteran holding San Diego's slumping bats to two runs and just four hits while racking up nine strikeouts in seven innings.
"I'm just trying to finish as strong as I can," Dempster said. "It's a nice win for us."
Padres starter Mat Latos (14-9) was dealt his fourth straight loss after being reached for four runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings of work.
Nick Hundley had a two-run homer off Dempster in the bottom of the fifth, but San Diego mustered only three other hits over the remainder of the night. The Padres were shut out in Monday's opener of this series and managed just six hits in a blowout loss to Cincinnati the previous day.
"Here's the deal," said Padres manager Bud Black. "We know where we are. We have to get the bats going."
Black should be able to count on his starting pitcher tonight, provided Chris Young is able to maintain his recent level of performance. Since returning from a five-month absence while recovering from a strained shoulder, the towering right-hander has yielded only two runs and six hits in a combined nine innings in no-decisions against St. Louis and Cincinnati.
Young was able to last five innings and throw 72 pitches in Friday's encounter with the Reds, limiting the NL Central champions to one run and three hits in his team's eventual 4-3 win.
The Princeton product is 2-1 with a 3.63 earned run average in six career starts against the Cubs, with both wins having taken place at Petco Park.
Chicago, which improved to 10-4 since September 13 and has now prevailed in three of its last four tests, turns to Randy Wells tonight for the final start of his second full season in the majors. The right-hander has played a part in his club's late-season surge by winning his last two starts, both in impressive fashion.
Wells surrendered only one run and five hits over eight sharp innings to down St. Louis on September 14, then followed up with 7 2/3 shutout frames to lead the Cubs to a 2-0 victory over San Francisco that helped the Padres' cause this past Wednesday. The back-to-back strong efforts upped his 2010 record to 8-13 and lowered his ERA to 4.28.
The 28-year-old also pitched well in a tough-luck loss to San Diego at Wrigley Field on August 17, allowing just one run and three hits while coming out on the short end of a 1-0 verdict. In his lone career appearance at Petco Park, Wells was touched for three runs and fanned seven batters over seven innings in a loss on May 23, 2009.
Despite its two defeats in the first two games of this series, San Diego still has won nine of its last 12 bouts with the Cubs. The Padres swept a four-game set from Chicago at Wrigley Field between August 16-19.