Rockies take on Padres, with goal to keep pace in NL West

SAN DIEGO — On each of their first two trips into Petco Park this season, the Colorado Rockies have taken two of three games from the San Diego Padres.

The Rockies return to Petco Park on Thursday night for the opener of a four-game series and the luxury of a loss might be something Colorado can’t afford.

Arizona and Colorado are nearly in a dead heat for first in the National League West with the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers breathing down their necks.

With the possibility that the second-place team in the National League West might not make the wild-card game, every game has become crucial — particularly those against the last-place team in your division.

So the Rockies come to Petco Park needing wins — a split would not be good, three might be acceptable, a four-game sweep would be dandy.

Colorado will send out right-hander German Marquez (11-9, 4.21 ERA) in Thursday night’s opener against Padres rookie left-hander Eric Lauer, who will be making his first major league start since suffering a forearm strain on July 31.

Lauer has a 5-7 record with a 5.30 ERA. But in his three starts prior to going on the disabled list, he was 0-2 and allowed 14 runs on 18 hits and six walks in 11 innings — an 11.45 ERA to go along with a 2.18 WHIP.

Lauer has faced the Rockies once before. He made his major league debut back on April 24 at Coors Field, allowing seven runs (six earned) on six hits and four walks in three innings. One of the hits was a grand slam by Trevor Story.

The Rockies have feasted on left-handed pitching this season with a team batting average of .274, a .336 on-base percentage and a .463 slugging percentage for a .799 OPS against lefties compared to a slash line of .247/.312/.415/.727 against right-handers.

Marquez, meanwhile, is having better success against the Padres this season, although he has an 0-1 record in two starts.

Although he has made 58 career starts compared to 18 for Lauer, Marquez, a native of Venezuela, is only 3 1/2 months older than Lauer, who was one of San Diego’s three picks in the first round of the 2016 draft.

Over his career, Marquez has a 2-2 record against the Padres in seven games (five starts) with a 5.14 ERA, a 1.50 WHIP and a .288 opponents’ batting average. In 28 career innings against the Padres, Marquez has allowed 16 runs on 32 hits and 10 walks with 32 strikeouts.

But this season, he has allowed two runs on seven hits with a walk and nine strikeouts over eight innings in two starts. The loss came at Petco Park when he gave up two runs over six innings.

Marquez has a 23-17 career record with a 4.36 ERA. His 4.21 ERA this season is the lowest of a major league career that began on Sept. 9, 2016.

Of the three teams battling for the National League West title, the Rockies have had more problems (9-6) against the Padres than the Dodgers (12-4) and Diamondbacks (10-4).