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Giants bring playoff dreams home

Giants bring playoff dreams home

PHOENIX -- Eleven years ago, the Giants' remarkable drive for the postseason ended with the Chicago Cubs. Can an encore now begin with the same Cubs?

The testimony will be presented over the next four days in AT&T Park, where the Giants on Thursday night start a four-game weekend series against those Cubs. It will also lead off the season's final homestand which, interrupted by an off-day Monday, will conclude with a three-game set against the D-backs.

The Giants return home sharing with Atlanta a four-game deficit to Colorado in the National League Wild Card standings, with 10 games remaining. That's not much rope.

As San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said, "We know the odds against us."

But the Giants are one of two teams (the '07 Rockies being the other) who can say with conviction, "Been there, pulled that off."

In 1998, the Giants made up a five-game Wild Card deficit by going 8-2 over their final 10 games -- only to lose the resulting playoff-berth tiebreaker to the Cubs in Wrigley Field.

Using the Cubs as the catapult to a similar charge would be nice revenge. The Giants realize they need two things to make the dream possible, one of them very much in their control:

Help from the teams (San Diego, Milwaukee and a pair of playoff entries, the Dodgers and Cardinals) left on the Rockies' schedule. And more of the pitching reversal touched off Wednesday by Jonathan Sanchez, of all people.

After Brad Penny, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain had been rocked, Sanchez rock-and-rolled.

Now that same aforementioned quartet is lined up for the Cubs.

"I knew I had to go deeper into the game," said Sanchez, after having become the first starter in six games to go longer than 4 1/3 innings, "and now hopefully the others can go even deeper. It won't be easy [to stay in the race], but it'd be great if we could get there."

"We're still breathing," said Bochy. "We're running out of games, we know that. And we need a little help. But there's still hope.

"We'll be facing a good team and some good pitching, Hopefully our other guys can get back on track, too."

The Giants got back on the winning track Wednesday night in more than one way. It was their 82nd victory of the season, assuring the team of a winning final record for the first time since 2004.

"That was our goal, to make improvements. But that wasn't our priority," Bochy said. "That was to make the postseason. But we did want to play winning baseball, and now we've done that."

This will be the Cubs' first visit to AT&T Park since last season, when the teams split a four-game series from June 30-July 3.

Pitching matchup
SF: RHP Brad Penny (10-9, 5.35 ERA)
Penny's 3-3 with a 2.64 ERA lifetime against the Cubs. He has enjoyed pitching thus far at AT&T Park, where he's 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in two starts since joining San Francisco. Penny is coming off his worst start as a Giant, yielding seven runs and five hits while walking three in only 2 2/3 innings Saturday at Los Angeles. Penny complained that he wasn't throwing decent offspeed pitches, which hampered his performance significantly.

CHC: RHP Ryan Dempster (10-8, 3.72 ERA)
Dempster did not get a decision in his last start, despite a stellar effort. He went eight innings, striking out six. It was his 10th consecutive start of six or more innings and second consecutive outing of eight innings. Dempster beat the Giants on May 4 at Wrigley Field, giving up two runs on five hits over seven innings and striking out seven. He's now 3-1 in his last six road starts and has given up 11 earned runs over 40 1/3 innings.

Tidbits
Right-hander Merkin Valdez wasn't with the club Wednesday night, beating the rest of the team back to San Francisco to be with his expectant wife. ... Catcher Bengie Molina, removed from Tuesday night's game in the third inning, remained on the bench Wednesday night. Bochy felt the 34-year-old veteran, who has started 117 games behind the plate, "needs a break. He's been beat up pretty good." ... Since the All-Star break, the Giants' 17 outfield assists are tied with Baltimore for the most in the Majors. ... Andres Torres (1-for-4), who got the nod in center Wednesday night, has hit safely in 22 of his 26 starts. ... The Giants improved to 10-5 versus the D-backs, with the three AT&T Park meetings remaining. ... The Giants have played .600 ball (18-12) with Eli Whiteside as their starting catcher.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• CSN-BA

On radio
• KNBR 680

Up next
• Friday: Giants (Tim Lincecum, 14-6, 2.47) vs. Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, 8-6, 3.91), 7:15 p.m. PT
• Saturday: Giants (Barry Zito, 10-12, 3.99) vs. Cubs (Tom Gorzelanny, 6-2, 5.08), 1:10 p.m. PT
• Sunday: Giants (Matt Cain, 13-7, 2.99) vs. Cubs (Ted Lilly, 12-8, 3.02), 1:05 p.m. PT

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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