SAN DIEGO (AP) – Is this any way to try to win a division?

The San Diego Padres have again dropped below .500 while continuing to lead the NL West, making them the first team to top a division with a losing record this late in the season.

That’s quite a distinction.

Even more amazing is that as awful as the Padres have played since June 1 – they’re a stunning 15 games under .500 in that span – no one else in the NL Worst has been able to catch them for more than two days.

“I think it’s been a while since there’s been a division that’s struggled as much as us, or has been devastated by injuries as much as we have,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I think sometimes everybody loses sight of how hard every team has been hit by injuries.”

The Padres got another painful reminder on Sunday when, while en route to being swept by Philadelphia for the second time in three weeks, shortstop Khalil Greene broke his left big toe diving for a ball.

Greene went on the disabled list Monday and will be out for two to three weeks, costing the Padres one of their most consistent bats.

The only Padres regulars from the opening day lineup who haven’t spent time on the DL are right fielder Brian Giles and left fielder Ryan Klesko. Third baseman Sean Burroughs’ bat was so sickly that he was demoted to Triple-A on July 23.

The NL West truly is sad-sack. At 58-59, the Padres lead the Arizona Diamondbacks (56-63) by three games. That’s the same lead the Padres enjoyed on May 31, when they’d just finished the best month in franchise history, going 22-6 to jump to 33-19.

The Los Angeles Dodgers (53-64), written off by most everyone long ago, are only five back. San Francisco (50-66) is 7 behind. The Colorado Rockies, the worst team in the NL at 44-74 and the second-worst in the majors, are a mere 14 games behind the Padres.

If the Padres were in any other division, they’d be no higher than third. If they played in the NL East, they’d be last.

Oh, and by the way, Padres season ticket holders can now buy playoff tickets.

San Diego has had plenty of chances to bury its rivals, and probably should have a double-digit lead by now.

After All-Star Jake Peavy beat the Diamondbacks 4-1 on July 16, the Padres were 50-42 and had a 6-game lead.

“We’ve got a foot on their throats,” Peavy said then. “I hope we can break their backs tomorrow, put some distance between us.”

They didn’t, of course.

“I guess we got a reprieve,” Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said the next day after a 6-1 Arizona win.

The last team to lead a division with a losing record in August was Texas, which topped the AL West at 52-62 on Aug. 11, 1994. The players’ strike began the next day, wiping out the rest of the season.

This division race, if that’s what it can be called, is “definitely different,” Diamondbacks left fielder Luis Gonzalez said.

“It definitely doesn’t seem like there’s one team really jumping out there to take the initiative to run away with this thing, which is good for us because we’re behind San Diego,” Gonzalez said. “So we’re just going to go out there and keep playing hard and hopefully we can get on one of those winning streaks that we haven’t had all year.”

The Padres first dipped below .500 in late July, and Arizona caught them on the 31st, pulling ahead by percentage points. The Padres regained the lead two days later. Typical of the way their season has gone, they went 5-1 on a trip to Pittsburgh and Washington, then lost four of six at home against the New York Mets and Phillies to tumble below .500.

“Back in May, when the Padres went something like 22-6, they had a chance to slam the door, throw the lock around the handle and close it off for everybody else,” Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. “And it didn’t happen. So it’s not a matter of anybody putting on any type of serious charge thus far, it’s a matter of teams just winning some games here and there.”

The defending division champion Dodgers won 12 of their first 14 games this year to equal the best start in franchise history.

Since then, “there really has been no point in our season where we’ve ever done anything that resembles some type of a positive run,” Tracy said.

Padres center fielder Dave Roberts, who won a World Series ring with Boston last year, knows about rallying. His stolen base in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the AL championship series helped spark the Red Sox to their unprecedented comeback against the New York Yankees.

Now he’s trying to help the Padres stay afloat through the final seven tenuous weeks of the regular season.

“I’ve never seen this in baseball, let alone in the NL West,” said Roberts, who played for the Dodgers for 2 seasons before being traded to Boston last year.

No team has won a division in a non-strike year with a losing record.

“It’s going to take over .500 ball to win this division, I firmly believe that,” Bochy said.

The Padres keep hoping to regain their May magic, reach the playoffs for the first time since playing in the 1998 World Series and take their chances from there.

“I know we’re talking about it because of our record, but it’s also a case where I don’t think we’re going to fear who we play because their record is better than ours,” Sweeney said.


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