Barring a major collapse, the Arizona Diamondbacks are headed to their first division title since 2007 after consecutive last-place finishes in the NL West.
Ian Kennedy's emergence as a staff ace - and NL Cy Young Award candidate - is perhaps the biggest reason for that success.
Looking to become the NL's first 19-game winner, Kennedy hopes to beat the San Diego Padres for the fifth straight time Thursday night at Chase Field.
The Diamondbacks completed a 4-2 road trip with Wednesday's 5-3 win over Colorado. Combined with the Giants' loss to the last-place Padres earlier in the day, the victory pushed Arizona (82-61) seven games ahead of San Francisco with 19 to go.
"We're closer to the initial finish line," manager Kirk Gibson said.
Kennedy (18-4, 2.96 ERA), who will try to reduce the Diamondbacks' magic number from 13, is surging again.
Since his seven-start winning streak was snapped with a loss to major league-leading Philadelphia on Aug. 18, Kennedy has won three straight starts while posting a 0.86 ERA. One of the wins during his current run came against San Diego on Aug. 28, when he allowed one run in seven innings of a 6-1 victory.
Kennedy, who also beat the Padres in July and won his last two starts against them in 2010, will try to become the fourth pitcher in Diamondbacks history with at least 19 wins, joining Randy Johnson (three times), Curt Schilling (twice) and Brandon Webb.
"It doesn't happen when you're on a bad team," Kennedy told the Diamondbacks' official website, adding that anything over 15 wins was "icing on the cake for me."
The right-hander had nine wins in 2010, his first season with the Diamondbacks.
After putting a dent in San Francisco's playoff hopes, San Diego (62-81) will have several chances to slow Arizona's drive. Including this contest, the Padres will face the Diamondbacks seven times in the next 10 games.
Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Giants was the Padres' second in 13 games. Cameron Maybin had two hits, including an RBI triple, and crashed face-first into the wall snaring a drive by Justin Christian to open the game.
"That's the kind of intensity we have to bring day in and day out, no matter where we are in the standings," said Maybin, batting .274 this year but .167 (5 for 30) in eight games against Arizona. "We can make it tough on guys who come in here or if we are on the road, just not lay down."
The Padres, however, are 4-7 against the Diamondbacks, and managed only two runs while being swept in a three-game set Aug. 26-28 in Phoenix.
San Diego's Cory Luebke (5-8, 3.29) will try to avoid losing his third consecutive start while posting his first win of the season over Arizona. The left-hander is 0-2 with a 6.57 ERA in four games, including two starts, against the Diamondbacks.
Justin Upton has gone 4 for 7 with two homers this season against Luebke. Upton hit his 28th homer Wednesday and went 6 for 13 in the series against the Rockies.
"You can't get too far ahead of yourself," Upton said. "There's a lot of baseball to be played and crazier things have happened."
Luebke is coming off his shortest outing since moving into the rotation in late June. He allowed five runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings of Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Rockies.