(Sports Network) - Strong pitching has propelled the San Francisco Giants into first place in the competitive National League West, and the playoff hopefuls will be counting on another sharp effort out of Jonathan Sanchez in tonight's middle test of a three-game road series with the Chicago Cubs from Wrigley Field.
San Francisco hurlers have produced a sensational 1.01 earned run average over the team's last 10 contests, with the Giants holding the opposition to two runs or less in all but one of those games. The club received another gem in Monday's opener of this set, as Matt Cain teamed up with three relievers on a two-hit shutout in a 1-0 squeaker over the streaking Cubs.
Cain worked the first six innings and yielded Chicago's only two hits (both singles), but was engaged in a duel with Cubs righty Carlos Zambrano and left with the contest still scoreless. Buster Posey finally ended the stalemate in the top of the eighth, when the rookie catcher belted a solo homer off Cubs reliever Andrew Cashner (2-6).
The victory, San Francisco's second straight and fourth in six outings, kept the Giants a half-game in front of San Diego in the NL West standings after the Padres defeated Los Angeles on Tuesday.
"This is something we've kind of been a part of, but not really to this extent," Cain told MLB.com about playing in a heated playoff race. "We're obviously wanting to go out there and do our business. As long as we take care of our business, good things will happen. We're playing like every game counts, which it does."
The Giants have been able to count on Sanchez down the stretch, as the talented lefty has compiled a 2-0 record along with a tremendous 0.67 ERA over his past four starts and struck out 31 batters in 27 innings during that period. He's unbeaten (3-0) over his last six assignments, with San Francisco coming out on top in five of those games.
Sanchez was terrific once again in besting the rival Dodgers this past Thursday, racking up a career-best 12 strikeouts and yielding just two runs -- one earned -- and four hits over seven innings. He fired a combined 12 shutout frames over his previous two starts, a win at Los Angeles on September 5 and a no-decision on the road to San Diego five days later.
The 27-year-old did not fare well in his only career start against the Cubs, which took place at Wrigley Field last season. Sanchez walked six batters in four innings that night and surrendered four runs in taking a loss.
He'll be taking on a Chicago team that's still been playing hard despite being out of the postseason mix. The Cubs had a season-best six-game winning streak halted last night and fell for only the second time in their past 10 tilts. Since interim manager Mike Quade replaced the retiring Lou Piniella on August 23, Chicago has generated a 17-8 record.
Zambrano threw six scoreless innings in Tuesday's setback, with the fiery right-hander registering eight strikeouts and working around five walks while giving up only three hits.
Quade will hand the ball to Randy Wells this evening, with the right-hander seeking to atone for a poor showing against the Giants in San Francisco last month. The Illinois native was knocked around for seven runs (six earned) and eight hits in a five-inning no-decision at AT&T Park on August 12, with Pat Burrell hitting two of three Giants' homers off of him.
Wells pitched considerably better in his last start, holding the Cardinals to a run and five hits with no walks over eight sharp innings at St. Louis on September 14. He hasn't notched a win at home since July 23, however, and is just 3-8 with a 4.40 ERA in 17 starts at Wrigley this year.
The 28-year-old lost his only other career encounter with the Giants, permitting five runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings last September at AT&T Park.
The Giants had lost in five of their last seven trips to Wrigley Field prior to yesterday's triumph, but took three of four bouts from the Cubs when these teams met in San Francisco last month.