They are, but only by the slimmest margin.
Tim Lincecum looked every bit a two-time Cy Young Award winner and had a two-run single as the San Francisco Giants roughed up San Diego ace Mat Latos to win 6-1 Sunday and cut the struggling Padres' lead to less than one percentage point.
The Giants won three of four games after having lost nine of their first 11 against the Padres this year. Overall, the Giants have won 10 of 14 while the Padres have lost 13 of 17. San Diego scored only five runs in the four games and has scored four or fewer runs in each of its last 16 games.
San Diego (80-62) leads San Francisco (81-63) by .5634 to .5625. Colorado is just 1½ games back after winning its 10th straight.
"To be able to look back at it, we lost 10 in a row and we're still in first place," Latos said. "Whether we're sharing it or not, we lost 10 games and we're still in first place. Obviously that right there can make a statement. If we keep taking series like we've always tried to do, we still should have no problem with winning it."
The Padres and Giants close the season with a three-game series at San Francisco Oct. 1-3.
"This thing looks like it's going to the wire," said San Francisco's Bruce Bochy, who was forced out as manager of the Padres after they were eliminated from the 2006 playoffs by St. Louis. "Right now, we just have to worry about what we can control."
Rookie Buster Posey hit a two-run homer off Latos (14-6), who had his worst start since April 26. The Giants ended Latos' big league-record streak of 15 straight starts of five or more innings with two or fewer runs allowed.
"It's something that I was able to accomplish, and I'm thankful for it," Latos said of his streak. "It wakes you up to a whole different aspect of baseball. To be able to have that kind of success for such a long time, you're bound to have a bad one and it makes you appreciate the little things more."
Latos, who came in leading the majors with a 2.21 ERA, was gone after four innings. He allowed five runs and seven hits, struck out four and walked two. His ERA rose to 2.43. They were the most runs he'd allowed since tying his career-high by giving up seven runs in a 10-1 loss at Florida on April 26 while lasting just 2 2-3 innings, the shortest outing of his big league career.
"I just had a bad outing," Latos said.
The previous time he gave up three runs was in a 3-2 loss at Philadelphia on June 4.
Lincecum (14-9) has won three straight starts following a career-worst five-game losing streak. The two-time Cy Young Award winner held San Diego to one run and seven hits in seven innings and struck out nine to take over the NL lead with 208. He is the fourth pitcher in Giants history to have more than 200 strikeouts in three consecutive seasons.
Posey homered to right with two outs in the first and Aubrey Huff aboard on a single.
That lead helped Lincecum.
"You have to take advantage of every run you get and turn it into shutdown mode after that," said Lincecum, who added that his slider was the best it's been in a while.
"You hit around Latos the way we did, especially when we haven't been able to do much against him, this series is huge," Lincecum said. "Coming out and scoring two runs in the first inning is huge. It set the pace."
Jose Guillen hit a sacrifice fly in the third and Lincecum hit a two-run single in the fourth that landed just inside the left-field line.
San Diego broke through against Lincecum in the fifth when Will Venable legged out a leadoff triple to right and scored on David Eckstein's two-out single to center.
San Diego's Chase Headley said Lincecum was consistently ahead in the count and threw all his pitches for strikes.
"He's as good as there is when he's on," Headley said. "He pitched a good game."
Headley said it was "unfortunate" that the Padres are scuffling offensively. "It seems like we kind of had everyone go into a funk at the same time. The only good thing about that is, sometimes you get everyone out of the funk at the same time, too. We would have liked to play better this series, but we didn't. We're still tied for first. It's not the end of the world. We can still go out and play well, and if we do, that we're going to be in the playoffs."
NOTES: Padres RHP Chris Young was encouraged by his third rehab start, in which he allowed three hits in 5 2-3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and one walk for Class A Lake Elsinore on Saturday night. Asked if he feels good enough to pitch in the bigs again this year, he said: "Yes. No doubt about it."