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Cubs Aim To Win Fourth Straight Series

(Sports Network) - Though the San Francisco Giants remain right in the thick of the National League playoff race, the club's recent lack of offense is becoming a concern.

Fresh off a shutout loss that knocked them out of first place in the NL West, the Giants hope to bounce back in tonight's finale of a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs from Wrigley Field.

San Francisco came out on the short end of a 2-0 decision to the Cubs on Wednesday, the team's third loss in five games. With San Diego defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers last night, the Padres moved a half-game in front of the Giants for the West's top spot. San Francisco is also a half-game back of Atlanta for the lead in the league's Wild Card standings.

The Giants have now mustered two runs or fewer in eight of their last 11 contests and been shut out four times over that span. They've won twice by 1-0 scores during that time period as well, including Tuesday's opener of this series.

San Francisco wasted another solid effort from starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez by failing to take advantage of some early scoring chances in last night's game.

A Freddy Sanchez double followed by Aubrey Huff's single put runners at first and third with one out in the first inning, but Chicago's Randy Wells struck out both Buster Posey and Pat Burrell to keep the Giants off the board. Jose Guillen led off the second with a double, but wound up stranded at third when Wells retired the next three hitters.

"I had a few opportunities to score and didn't do it," Posey remarked. "I came up in the first and didn't get the job done."

Wells (8-13) went 7 2/3 innings without allowing a run and yielded six hits while fanning six on the night. The right-hander received all the support he would need on Kosuke Fukudome's solo homer in the third inning and an unearned run in the fifth.

Sanchez (11-9) was charged with both runs (one earned) and gave up just four hits while striking out six before exiting after 5 2/3 innings.

The victory was the seventh in the past eight games for the resurgent Cubs, now 18-8 since Mike Quade replaced the retiring Lou Piniella as manager on August 23.

"We're trying to win games and show we can win games consistently," said Wells.

San Francisco's slumping offense will face another challenge tonight in Chicago's Ryan Dempster, a pitcher who hasn't surrendered a run in winning his last two trips to the mound.

Dempster held Florida to four hits over seven shutout innings this past Friday, following up a splendid start at Milwaukee on September 11 in which he permitted only three hits and struck out eight through seven scoreless frames.

The veteran right-hander has won six of his last eight decisions while posting an excellent 2.41 earned run average over that nine-start stretch. One of those victories came against the Giants in San Francisco, where Dempster was touched for four runs -- one earned -- in 6 2/3 innings in the Cubs' 8-6 verdict on August 10.

Dempster is just 4-7 lifetime versus San Francisco, though, with a 3.89 ERA over 22 overall appearances (12 starts).

The Giants counter with promising rookie Madison Bumgarner, a recurring victim of the team's recent offensive woes.

Bumgarner has given up a total of four runs in 26 innings over his past four starts, but doesn't have a single win to show for his work. San Francisco has been shut out in each of his last two outings, and he left a September 6 clash at Arizona with the game scoreless with one out in the top of the eighth inning.

The 21-year-old was reached for nine hits and a pair of runs over 5 2/3 frames against Milwaukee on Friday, with the 3-0 loss dropping his 2010 ledger to 5-6.

On the positive side, all of Bumgarner's wins this year have come on the road, and the young lefty has amassed a stellar 2.14 ERA along with a 5-3 record in his nine away starts.

The 2007 first-round pick got a no-decision in his first-ever encounter with the Cubs, which took place August 9 at AT&T Park. Bumgarner pitched 5 2/3 innings that night and gave up three runs on nine hits.

The Giants did take three of four meetings from the Cubs in that August series, but have now lost in six of their last eight games played at Wrigley Field.