(AP) — Only one-half game separates the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs in the race for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
A four-game series at Wrigley Field could be just what the Giants need to widen that gap.
Among the league’s best road teams, the Giants go for an eighth win in 10 tries on the North Side on Thursday night.
San Francisco (59-48) moved ahead of Chicago in the wild-card race after beating Atlanta 6-1 on Wednesday, while the Cubs (58-48) fell 7-5 at Pittsburgh to conclude a 5-1 trip.
“It’s getting about that time where we start hitting our stride, and everything’s coming together for us,” said Madison Bumgarner, who struck out nine in 7 1-3 innings.
The Giants have won 16 of their last 21 games, hitting .303 with a 2.98 ERA. That stretch includes taking eight of 12 on the road
Their 29-25 record as the visitors ranks third in the NL. San Francisco should feel right at home at Wrigley, where it’s won seven of the last nine games and hit .325 while taking two of three from Aug. 19-21.
Buster Posey may get the day off despite being a career .354 hitter at Chicago and going 5 for 9 with a homer, two doubles and two RBIs in his last three games. The All-Star catcher enters this matchup hitting .449 with 18 RBIs in his last 19 games after going 3 for 5 on Wednesday.
His .332 average trails only Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt (.339) in the NL batting race.
Matt Duffy is also on a tear, batting .383 with 14 RBIs and 16 runs in the past 21 games. His .310 average leads all rookies and makes him a contender for the league’s rookie of the year award with Chris Heston (11-5, 3.13 ERA), who faces Chicago for the first time.
The right-hander, who tossed a no-hitter June 9, is the rookie wins leader and owns the most by a Giants’ rookie since Matt Cain had 13 in 2006.
Heston, though, is coming off one of his shortest outings, giving up three runs and seven hits while throwing 93 pitches in 4 2-3 innings of Saturday’s 9-7 win at Texas.
He had a 0.95 ERA while going 3-0 over his four prior starts. Heston also hasn’t given up a home run in his last 12 outings, a span of 76 2-3 innings.
Despite their six-game winning streak ending Wednesday, the Cubs’ 31-24 road record is tied with Texas for the best in baseball. They’re looking to carry that success into this seven-game homestand, but they’ve dropped seven of their last 10 at the Friendly Confines.
“We’re coming off a tremendous road trip. There’s nothing to lament about these several days on the road,” manager Joe Maddon told MLB’s official website.
He’ll give the ball to Jason Hammel (6-5, 3.13), who allowed one run in 5 2-3 innings of Friday’s 4-1 win at Milwaukee. The right-hander yielded eight runs in 8 2-3 innings over his two previous starts after tightness in his left hamstring limited him to one inning of a loss to St. Louis on July 8.
“I saw 93, 94 and the ball down, which meant he could get over his front-side extension,” Maddon said Friday. “I thought it was a good sign.”
Hammel is 0-3 with a 3.19 ERA in nine starts against the Giants, but he’s held Posey to 2 for 11.
Rookie sensation Kris Bryant is batting .141 with 35 strikeouts in his last 22 games, including .118 with 18 strikeouts in nine at home.
Updated August 6, 2015