|First-place Diamondbacks open series against last-place Padres|
SAN DIEGO - That knocking you hear coming from the visiting clubhouse at Petco Park is opportunity.
And it belongs to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks open a four-game series against the San Diego Padres Thursday night holding a 1 1/2-game lead in the National League West -- with a golden opportunity to open a little more space between them and their closest pursuers in the division.
As the Diamondbacks are engaged with the last-place Padres, Arizona's closest pursuers -- the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers -- will be playing teams with playoff hopes.
A number of things point favorably in Arizona's direction going into Thursday night's opener:
--No team in the National League has a worse record than the Padres.
--The Padres were just swept at home in a three-game series by the Los Angeles Angels.
--The Padres are 2-18 this season in the first game of a home series and 10-29 overall in series openers.
But there are also a couple of things that should concern the Diamondbacks, who are 7-3 against the Padres this season and 3-0 against the Padres in San Diego.
The Padres recently went 6-4 against three other teams in the playoff hunt -- the Cubs, Brewers and Phillies. And the Cubs and Brewers series were on the road.
Rookie right-hander Jacob Nix (1-0, 0.00 ERA) will be making his second major league start for the Padres Thursday night. In his debut against the Phillies last Friday night, Nix worked six scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
Not only that, close to 100 family and friends of Nix drove down from Orange County to see his debut. And their reaction to every strike changed the crowd dynamics at Petco Park. Will Nix's followers again pump up the house to rally behind the 22-year-old?
Make no mistake, Nix is one of the Padres' top prospects. He has a five-pitch mix, although close to 60 percent of his pitches are the sinker or a four-seam fastball. Nix was a candidate to win a spot in the Padres' rotation in the spring until a groin injury put him on the disabled list until late May.
Between the time of his return and his promotion to the Padres, Nix made 10 minor league starts (nine at Double-A and one at Triple-A) and had a 1.84 ERA.
Nix will be opposed by the Diamondbacks' Clay Buchholz (5-2, 2.67) on Thursday.
Buchholz is a 34-year-old right-hander who was signed by the Diamondbacks as a free agent on May 4. He has made 11 starts for Arizona, allowing 21 runs (19 earned) on 57 hits and 16 walks with 55 strikeouts in 64 innings. In addition to his excellent ERA, Buchholz has a 1.14 WHIP and a .236 opponents' batting average as a Diamondback.
He has faced the Padres once this season and twice in his career. Both those previous outings were also at Petco Park. He has wins in each of those two previous appearances against the Padres, allowing four runs on 14 hits and three walks with 13 strikeouts over 12 1/3 innings. On July 29 of this season, he allowed three runs on six hits and three walks with seven strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings against the Padres in San Diego.