Giants-Phillies Preview

The Associated Press

Both the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies have seen positive signs since the All-Star break.

The difference for these teams - both expected to contend for division titles - is that the Giants have moved into first place while the Phillies have remained in last.

San Francisco's chances of staying atop the NL West will be even better if Tim Lincecum's first start following the break was a sign of a second-half turnaround, something he'll look to continue Friday night in Philadelphia.

The Giants (51-41) returned from the break to win a season-high five in a row, passing the Los Angeles Dodgers for the division lead. That advantage dipped to 2 1/2 and their streak ended with a 3-2 defeat in Atlanta on Thursday.

"You take it," said manager Bruce Bochy, whose starting staff has a 1.09 ERA since the break. "That's what you try to do, take series. It's hard to do."

It seemed the Phillies (41-52) might be set for a second-half run with the recent returns of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay. The five-time reigning NL East champions had won four straight before Jonathan Papelbon blew a two-run lead in the 10th inning of a 5-3, 12-inning loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday.

"We've got to stay positive and, look at the bigger picture, and realize that we came out of the All-Star break taking two series on the road," Papelbon said. "This was the kind of start that we needed."

Papelbon, though, has a 6.97 ERA over his past 10 appearances, blowing three of seven save chances after converting his first 17 in a Phillies uniform. The Philadelphia bullpen has a major league-worst 7.20 ERA in July.

Lincecum (3-10, 5.93 ERA) entered last weekend with the worst ERA of all qualifying pitchers. The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner pitched 3 1-3 innings in each of his final two outings before the All-Star game, getting tagged for 14 runs and 16 hits.

Maybe the break benefited the right-hander, who had his best outing of the year Saturday with a season-high 11 strikeouts in eight scoreless innings of a 3-2, 12-inning win over Houston.

"I'm going to take the small steps as they come," said Lincecum, 1-6 with a 9.00 ERA in 10 road starts. "Even though we won I'm going to go home and reflect on this and think about the things I did well and try to duplicate them in my next start."

One of his shaky starts came against the Phillies, as he surrendered four runs in the first before allowing one over the next five in a 5-2 defeat April 16.

Utley and Howard have hit a combined .203 (13 for 64) against Lincecum with 26 strikeouts, including the postseason. They've accounted for a .213 average, three homers and eight RBIs in a combined 23 games since returning.

Though the Phillies are 13 1/2 games behind East-leading Washington and 10 out of a wild-card spot, they've been competitive since the All-Star break behind a starting rotation that's posted a 2.16 ERA.

"Our pitching is the reason why we've been doing so well lately," said Hunter Pence, 4 for 27 over his last seven games.

San Francisco's Melky Cabrera has been doing very well with four consecutive multihit games - three since the birth of his child.

He's never faced Vance Worley (5-5, 3.47), who seeks a seventh quality start in eight outings. The latest came Saturday at Colorado as he gave up two runs in 6 2-3 innings of an 8-5 victory.

The only two times he's faced the Giants came last season and he won both, including the lone complete game of his career in a 7-2 home win July 26.