"Beats being in second place," said manager Dave Roberts, who promised when his club was at its lowest that it would rebound as it has.
"Beats being in fourth place. This is what we expected. Made it a little tough on ourselves early, but we righted the ship. We've got a long way to go."
The Dodgers are 8-3 in July and 35-17 since May 24. Their .676 winning percentage since June 1 is the best in the National League.
All-Stars Ross Stripling, Matt Kemp and Kenley Jansen played key roles in the series finale. Stripling battled through six scoreless innings in an unexpected pitchers' duel with Tyson Ross. Kemp joined Andrew Toles and Joc Pederson delivering RBI singles in a three-run seventh inning. Jansen needed 29 pitches, but took over the NL lead with his 26th save.
"It's still going to be a tough race," said Jansen. "Three more games until the All-Star break, then it's the playoff push. It's time to go. It's a great feeling. I'm using first place as my motivation every time I go out there. Everybody was saying how terrible the Dodgers' team is this year. Just use that as motivation, and the whole team did it, and it's awesome to be in first place."
Jansen has reflected his club's struggles. He coasted through Spring Training, then had a minor hamstring injury, then was horrible in April, when he had only three saves. And even though his velocity has slipped from earlier seasons, his strikeouts are down and his walks are up, he's still an All-Star.
"Those guys made Kenley work," said Roberts. "There was a stretch where I thought he was dialed in, the last couple of outings, I think he's been searching and hasn't had that lane with the cutter consistency."
Jansen -- who has said often he won't coast through a Spring Training again -- was a little more critical of his first half.
"It's been a battle this year. I'm not going to lie," he said.
If Jansen wasn't sharp, newcomer Dylan Floro was again. In three appearances since the Dodgers traded for him on July 4, he has retired 11 batters for 12 outs. San Diego's runs were charged to Daniel Hudson, but Wil Myers' two-run double was off Scott Alexander.
Stripling, added as an All-Star replacement on Wednesday, pitched six scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 2.08, second-best in the NL. He allowed six hits, struck out five with one walk and made 90 pitches. But he considered himself lucky.
"It was a battle," said Stripling. "I wasn't missing many barrels. The last pitch was a curveball right down the middle and just a laser at [shortstop] Chris Taylor. A little bit of luck. It's easy to feel happy about that because you didn't have your best stuff and escape with six zeros and a win. It's pretty cool, doesn't happen every day, especially in the big leagues."
The two Rosses dueled on even terms for six innings. Stripling allowed baserunners each of the first five innings, but turned away the Padres with runners in scoring position in three of those innings. Ross was effectively wild early, issuing three walks through three innings, but holding the Dodgers hitless until Pederson snapped an 0-for-20 slump with a one-out double to left-center in the sixth.
Pederson was stranded, but the Dodgers broke the scoreless tie in the seventh. Taylor, with a double, was the first of seven consecutive batters to reach base. A flare single by Toles (recalled on Tuesday) scored Taylor and chased Ross. Craig Stammen relieved and hit Kiké Hernandez and Chase Utley with pitches to load the bases for Kemp.
The former Padre, batting for Stripling, singled home Toles with Hernandez thrown out at the plate by left fielder Myers. Kemp is 6-for-13 with nine RBIs as a pinch-hitter this year. Pederson's broken-bat single scored pinch-runner Logan Forsythe and ended Stammen's outing.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Pederson came into the game with an 0-for-19 slump. But he broke up Ross' no-hitter with a one-out double in the sixth inning and drove in the decisive third run with a two-out, broken-bat single in the seventh that ended Ross' night.
SOUND SMART With the three-game series in Monterrey, Mexico, counting as a San Diego home series, the Dodgers have no more games scheduled at Petco Park this year. Meanwhile, Arizona still hasn't played a game in San Diego this season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS It seemed that Cody Bellinger was safe at first base on a dribbler in front of the plate in the fourth inning. Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer couldn't glove catcher Austin Hedges' throw, but home-plate umpire Jordan Baker called Bellinger out for running inside the baseline. Roberts argued the call, to no avail.
HE SAID IT "If we can be in first place in three days heading into the All-Star break, that would be a good feeling." -- Stripling
UP NEXT Walker Buehler returns from the disabled list to start against Felix Pena and the Angels in Friday's 7:10 p.m. PT opener as the Freeway Series resumes at Dodger Stadium. After a Minor League rehab start and a five-inning simulated game on Sunday, the club believes Buehler is healed from a microfractured rib.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.