With San Francisco's comeback win over the Cubs at AT&T Park on Saturday and its triumph in the opener Friday night, the team can clinch the series victory Sunday, which would mark the Giants' eighth straight non-losing series. That string of success has brought them within four games of the first-place Dodgers in the National League West, aided by Los Angeles' recent struggles.
Overall, San Francisco is 14-7 in its last 21 games and is tied for the second-best record in the NL since May 5. The run of good baseball has begot good morale for a team trying to regain the NL West crown.
"It's a good vibe in the clubhouse and the dugout," said catcher Buster Posey.
"It feels like a family atmosphere in here," added starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner. "It's nice."
If there has been one area of slight weakness in recent games, though, it's been the Giants' offense. The team's bats have shown improvement after a subpar start to the season, but after crossing the plate twice Saturday afternoon, San Francisco has averaged just 2.9 runs over its last seven games.
But Sunday could prove an opportunity to break out of the offensive funk, given that the Cubs are sending left-hander Travis Wood to the mound. Wood is coming off a start that saw him give up six runs and four home runs over five innings against the Padres, though that outing came with the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field.
Wood is tasked with turning around Chicago's road struggles, which won't be an easy endeavor. The Cubs have now lost nine games in a row on the road -- their longest such streak since 2006 -- and are 6-19 overall away from home. The team seems to have lost all the momentum it gained from the three-game sweep of San Diego that preceded the series at San Francisco.
"Did I expect to be 15 games under .500? Of course not," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum. "I don't care what -- if you're rebuilding or anything. You think about each game and winning the ballgame that day."
Giants: Zito looks to build on solid outing
Left-hander Barry Zito, who takes the mound for the Giants on Sunday, had his best start in weeks his last time out, holding Arizona to two runs over seven innings last Monday. It was the fewest earned runs he had allowed since he gave up one to Cincinnati on April 25.
With a 3.41 ERA overall, Zito has looked solid most of the season for San Francisco, a welcome development for a team still trying to figure out what's wrong with ace right-hander Tim Lincecum. But the veteran knows as well as anybody how fleeting success can be in the big leagues.
"It's pitch to pitch," Zito said after his last start. "If you feel like you pitched well the last four starts and that you're going to [pitch well again], you're going to have a wakeup call at some point. It's the Major Leagues. We all get in a groove and we feel like we can cruise a little bit. But you can't do that. You have to stay in the moment as much as possible."
Right-hander Santiago Casilla, who left Friday night's game in the ninth inning after injuring his leg, received good news afterward when an MRI revealed that he had a bruised right tibia, an injury that manager Bruce Bochy said might allow Casilla to return as soon as Sunday.
Assuming the closer role after the season-ending injury to right-hander Brian Wilson, Casilla has gone 14-for-15 in save opportunities this season. Left-hander Javier Lopez came in for him to lock down Friday's win.
Cubs: Castro's defense improving
Shortstop Starlin Castro led the National League with 29 errors a year ago, but his diligent efforts at improving his defense have yielded results. The 22-year-old has recorded just two miscues since April 21 and only one since May 5. Sveum has been working with Castro on his throws, specifically.
"His development is basically two things in a nutshell -- keep preparing like he has and understand the preparation," Sveum said. "It's preparation that has helped his defense over the last month or five weeks."
Given the Cubs' season-long struggles, it comes as no surprise that Sveum would shake things up to try to find the best lineup combination. To that end, Sveum moved outfielder David DeJesus from the leadoff spot to third in the order Saturday, with outfielder Tony Campana taking DeJesus' spot atop the order. The move didn't pay many dividends, given that the team managed just one run, though that came on DeJesus' homer.
With the left-hander Zito throwing Sunday, the left-handed-hitting Ian Stewart is expected to not be in the lineup. Stewart has been dealing with a sore left wrist. Sveum said he also wasn't sure if he would keep DeJesus at third in the order Sunday due to facing a left-handed pitcher.
The NL Player of the Month Award for May will be announced Sunday, and Giants left fielder Melky Cabrera is a strong candidate to take home the hardware. Cabrera hit .429 (51-for-119) over the course of the month, to go along with 38 runs scored.