Thanks to their domination of the Dodgers, the Padres instead are a half-game up in the division, passing Los Angeles with a 2-1 victory Sunday.
San Diego has won eight of the last nine meetings. The Padres are 13-4 overall against Los Angeles and 7-1 at Dodger Stadium.
"There's no rhyme or reason to it," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said.
The Padres, atop the division for the first time since Aug. 9, go for their third straight win in the four-game set on Monday night at Dodger Stadium, their final regular-season meeting.
The Dodgers won the opener 3-1 behind Greg Maddux, and the Padres bounced back with an 11-2 victory on Saturday night.
"We don't want them to win three out of four at our park," Lowe said. "We need to play the last game as if it's a must-win."
Branyan agreed, from the Padres' perspective.
"We're in first place by a half a game, and tomorrow's game really separates the men from the boys, I believe," he said. "If we can go up a game and a half with 14 games left in the season, we'll be looking pretty good."
Bochy figures the race will remain tight down the stretch.
"We're right there. We know it," he said. "It's neck and neck. It's great to get this one. To come back after a tough loss and win two straight is big."
Los Angeles manager Grady Little also believes it will go down to the wire.
"It was a tight game in a tight pennant race -- and it's going to remain that way," he said.
While the Dodgers dropped out of the division lead, they are one game ahead of Philadelphia for the wild card.
Sledge singled to right off Jonathon Broxton to score pinch-runner Khalil Greene from second base. Josh Bard singled with one out, Greene came into the game and Geoff Blum walked.
With the bases loaded, Broxton (3-1) struck out Brian Giles and retired Josh Barfield on a foul pop to keep the Dodgers within one run.
Scott Linebrink (7-3) shut out Los Angeles in the eighth, and Hoffman pitched the ninth for his 39th save in 43 chances, and his career total is just three shy of Lee Smith's major league record.
After Young held the Dodgers to one hit during his six shutout innings, Russell Martin homered off Cla Meredith with one out in the seventh to tie it at 1-1.
Martin's shot over the fence in center was his ninth of the season and ended Meredith's franchise-record string of 34 scoreless innings. The San Diego reliever hadn't allowed a run in 28 appearances dating to July 17.
After the game, Meredith wasn't too concerned with his streak.
"I can look at it and praise myself, but there's a lot more important things going on right now -- including this afternoon and the way we won that ballgame," he said. "So as long as things like that are happening, there's no way I'll be able to reflect on anything personal right now."
Branyan hit his fourth homer with two out in the sixth to break a scoreless tie.
The lone hit allowed by Young, who has been sensational on the road this year, was Kenny Lofton's infield single in the third. Young walked five and struck out four.
Although he did not get a decision, Young remained unbeaten in his last 23 road starts going back to a loss on June 20 of last year with the Texas Rangers. He's 9-0 on the road since that defeat, including 6-0 this year.
Lowe scattered seven hits, walked one and struck out nine -- one more than his previous high this year and one less than his career best.
- Dodgers 1B Nomar Garciaparra, recovering from a strained left quad, was not in the starting lineup, but pinch-hit in the ninth, striking out. He's expected to be back in the lineup on Monday.
- The Padres stacked their lineup with left-handed hitters against Lowe. Excluding switch-hitters Bard and Blum, the only right-handed hitters in their starting lineup were Mike Cameron and Young.