Padres-Giants Preview

The Associated Press

The San Francisco Giants are NL West champions for the second time in three seasons, and Tim Lincecum seems to be turning his season around just in time as they prepare to make another attempt at a deep October run.

One day after clinching the division, Lincecum takes the mound Sunday as San Francisco looks to win its seventh straight by completing a three-game sweep of the visiting San Diego Padres.

The Giants (89-63) - much like they did on the final day of the 2010 regular season - beat San Diego to wrap up the West, winning 8-4 on Saturday behind three hits and three RBIs from Marco Scutaro.

This time, they clinched with 10 games to spare.

"I'll take this one,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. "I like a margin of error.''

San Francisco, which is 25-10 since Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games for violating the league's substance abuse policy Aug. 15, won the World Series the last time it won the division, and it plans on making a similar run this postseason.

"It's the first step,'' said third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who went hitless Saturday but is 10 for 19 over his last five games.

Cabrera, who removed himself from consideration for the NL batting title Friday, will have served 45 games of his suspension by the end of the regular season and could return during the playoffs should the Giants advance past the division series.

They may not need much extra offensive help, though, especially if Lincecum continues pitching as well as he has been.

Lincecum (10-14, 4.91 ERA) is coming off his first scoreless outing since July 14, giving up five hits in 6 1-3 innings of Tuesday's 6-3 win over Colorado. He's 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA over his last four outings.

"I know it's been a long year. You never stop working,'' said the two-time Cy Young Award winner, who was 3-10 with a 6.42 ERA through July 8. "I feel like I'm getting back to that point. I still feel like I'm grinding a little bit, but those harder situations are getting a little bit easier to get out of.''

The right-hander struck out eight in each of his last two outings against the Padres, but he also allowed nine runs in 10 2-3 combined innings. Lincecum though, is 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in his last four home starts versus San Diego, which has lost four of five.

Chris Denorfia, who matched his hit total from his previous seven games combined, was one of three players with two hits Saturday for the Padres (72-80), who will send Eric Stults to the mound.

Stults (6-3, 2.69) is coming off his first loss since rejoining the starting rotation Aug. 6, giving up three runs in six innings of Tuesday's 3-2 defeat at Arizona. He was 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his previous seven starts.

"Stultsy did fine,'' manager Bud Black said. "He has been very efficient and throwing the ball well. He gave up three runs and I am sure he wishes he had a couple of pitches back. He threw well enough to keep us in the game."

The left-hander gave up five runs in six innings of San Diego's 8-7 loss to San Francisco on Aug. 18.