(Sports Network) - The San Diego Padres enter the season's post-holiday second half in possession of the National League's best record when they visit the Washington Nationals to begin a three-game series at Nationals Park.
The Padres, who finished 20 games out of first place last season, sit four games in front of the NL's West Division pack so far this year and hold a 1 1/2-game edge over Atlanta for the best overall mark in the 16-team league.
San Diego also has a league-best 22 road wins in 36 opportunities, a total they'll try to add to with 26-year-old lefty Clayton Richard on the mound to face the Nationals for the second time this season and third in his career.
The Indiana-born Richard took a 5-3 loss in a home date with Washington on May 28, allowing four hits and four runs in seven innings. The verdict evened his lifetime mark against the Nationals to 1-1 with a 3.29 earned run average in 13 2/3 innings.
Richard is 2-1 in six starts since the loss, including consecutive defeats of Florida and Colorado in his last two outings, in which he combined to surrender just 10 hits and two runs - with 15 strikeouts - in 13 innings.
He is 3-1 in six road starts in 2010.
Washington counters with veteran right-hander Livan Hernandez, who starred in the postseason for the 1997 Florida Marlins when Richard was just 14 years old.
A 162-game winner in the major leagues overall, Hernandez has picked up 12 of those victories in 27 career starts against the Padres.
He got a no-decision against them the last time around, however, allowing eight hits and two runs in a May 30 game won by San Diego, 3-2.
In six starts since, he is also 2-1, including a 2-1 triumph over Kansas City on June 21 for his most recent win. His last two starts have resulted in no- decisions and the Nationals are 10-6 overall when he pitches.
Hernandez is 4-1 in nine home starts this season with a 1.75 ERA.
On Sunday in Washington, Jason Bay knocked in four runs as the New York Mets used an early surge to beat the Nationals, 9-5, in the finale of a four-game set.
Ryan Zimmerman blasted a three-run homer and added an RBI single for Washington. Craig Stammen (2-3) was victimized for seven runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings.
In San Diego, Tony Gwynn singled in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Padres to a dramatic 3-2 win over Houston to finish off a four-game set.
Yorvit Torrealba led off the decisive frame with a single and moved to second base on an Aaron Cunninghamsacrifice bunt before Everth Cabrera was given an intentional pass.
Pinch-hitter Matt Stairs then walked to load the bases and Gwynn followed with a bouncing ball through the middle to deliver Torrealba to give the Padres their third straight win in the series in their final at-bat.
Heath Bell (4-0) worked a scoreless top of the ninth to earn the win after Houston had scored to tie the game in the eighth.
San Diego took two of three from the Nats earlier in the year and is 15-6 against them since the start of the 2007 campaign.