WASHINGTON -- Not even three weeks ago, the Padres were the darlings of the National League West.
They had inched within one game of first place, were piecing together a plan to add pitching to bolster the staff and, despite injuries to several important players, were plugging along without trepidation in the least.
Then the bottom fell out on their 10-game road trip, which is why manager Bud Black is hoping that returning to friendly Petco Park can help pull them out of their funk.
"Anytime you can change direction to change momentum, it's a good thing," Black said.
On Sunday, the Padres finished their longest road trip of the season with an 11-7 loss to the Nationals in front of 31,483 at Nationals Park, a loss that extended their season-high losing skid to nine games.
The Padres won the first game of this road swing through Miami, Boston and Washington and dropped the last nine, falling to 40-49 this season. Overall, they've dropped 12 of their last 14 games.
The last time the Padres lost nine consecutive games was between August 24 and Sept. 3, 2011.
"That was a rough one, no doubt," Black said. "We have been taking a few on the chin."
San Diego pitcher Robbie Erlin (1-2) allowed nine earned runs in four innings, including a grand slam to Ryan Zimmerman and then another home run to Anthony Rendon as part of a six-run third inning that essentially erased any hopes early of the Padres ending their skid.
"This is a tough one. But it comes down to how you throw the ball and today, everything was elevated," Erlin said.
Erlin became just the Padres' fourth starting pitcher since 2009 to allow nine or more earned runs in a start. The others were Kevin Correia (2010), Tim Stauffer (2011) and then Edinson Volquez, who accomplished the dubious feat earlier this season against the Rockies.
"Robbie was throwing strikes, for the most part, but not commanding the fastball," Black said. "This is a learning experience for a rookie pitcher. But he'll learn over time the importance of commanding the fastball."
Whereas the Padres had trouble scoring early on this road trip but got decent pitching, it was exactly the opposite during these three games in Washington. The pitching staff allowed 24 runs in the series.
"We've had a couple opportunities to win games on this trip, but haven't executed a pitch," Black said.
If there was an encouraging sign to take back to San Diego for the last seven games leading up to the All-Star break, it's that the offense appears to be coming around. And the team is heading back to Petco Park, where it is 25-18 this season.
"If we play like that, the way we did here, we'll be fine," said Padres catcher Nick Hundley, specifically speaking about the offense. "It's time for us to go home and get on track."
The Padres scored five runs on Friday, had four on Saturday -- and had a late lead -- and then scored seven runs Sunday, the most that they've scored since getting nine on the first day of the road trip in Miami.
The Padres took some shots at Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who entered the game with a 1.17 ERA at home -- the best in the big leagues.
San Diego had hits in each of the first two innings and then got a run in the third after Strasburg plunked Carlos Quentin with a pitch and Chase Headley -- who went 6-for-13 in the series -- chased Quentin home on an RBI double.
Then in the fourth inning, Strasburg allowed a one-out walk to Hundley before Alexi Amarista got all of a pitch, sending it into the second deck in right field for a home run, his fifth of the season.
Strasburg allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings with two walks and nine strikeouts.
"He's got great stuff, but I thought when he saw him at our place, his fastball command was better earlier in the year. He battled through some tough innings [Sunday]," Hundley said of Strasburg.
Amarista and Headley each had three hits and the Padres finished with 12 hits. The Padres scored one run in the eighth inning on an RBI single by Quentin.