As bad as the San Francisco Giants were in June and earlier this month, a recent surge has brought them closer to the top of the NL West.
They hope to make up more ground Sunday as Madison Bumgarner tries to clinch a sweep of the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park.
The Giants (45-51) followed a 10-17 month of June by starting 1-8 in July, but won three of four before the All-Star break. Back-to-back wins over the Diamondbacks (50-47) - including a 4-3 victory on Saturday - have them 4 1/2 games out of first place. Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey were a combined 4 for 8 with three RBIs.
"This division, nobody seems to want to run away with it," said Arizona's Cody Ross, whose team is one-half game ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers. "It's there for the taking."
San Francisco's rotation has struggled all year with a 4.53 ERA that ranks among baseball's worst. But the starters have keyed the club's surge, compiling a 2.31 ERA over the last six games while yielding two runs or fewer five times.
No Giants starter has been more consistent than Bumgarner (10-5, 3.02 ERA), especially recently. The left-hander is 6-1 over his last seven starts with a 2.30 ERA that ranks among the NL's best during that span. He's racked up 47 strikeouts in as many innings during that stretch while giving up only 26 hits.
Bumgarner has thrown exactly seven innings in each of his last six starts. After yielding two runs and three hits to San Diego in the first inning of his most recent outing July 11, the first-time All-Star bounced back to retire 15 straight while surrendering one more hit.
"Inauspicious start there, but that's what good pitchers do. They limit the damage. He got out of that," manager Bruce Bochy said of Bumgarner, who is 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in three starts versus Arizona this season. "What was impressive about Madison, he was flat the first inning until he made a nice adjustment and got in a great groove there and pitched great."
Bumgarner will try to extend Arizona's woes with runners in scoring position. The Diamondbacks are batting a mediocre .247 on the year in such situations, but are just 3 for 29 over their last five games, with Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill each 0 for 4.
After a nine-game hitting streak, Goldschmidt is 3 for 17 over his last four contests, going 1 for 9 in this series and failing to deliver in bases-loaded situations in both games.
"Goldy's been carrying us all year," manager Kirk Gibson said. "It's part of the game, those things happen. They're fortunate to get through him. He's got to just suck it up tomorrow and come back. It'd be nice if somebody else would pick him up.''
Goldschmidt is 3 for 14 off Bumgarner, including a 1-for-8 mark this year, while Hill is 4 for 10 lifetime against the southpaw.
Willie Bloomquist is 5 for 13 when facing Bumgarner.
The Diamondbacks will counter with Randall Delgado (1-3, 3.92), who has posted quality starts in five of his six starts. He limited San Francisco to a solo homer by Ross in a 2-1 win with Atlanta on Aug. 16, 2011, his only previous outing against the Giants.
San Francisco has won 17 of the last 25 meetings, including seven of eight.