Just over two weeks ago, the NL West crown was in doubt.
Depending on what transpires earlier Saturday, the red-hot San Francisco Giants could clinch the division title with more than a week to go if they can beat the San Diego Padres later in the evening.
The Giants (88-63) had a 4 1/2-game lead over second-place Los Angeles heading into a three-game series with their arch rivals beginning Sept. 7 - the closest NL race at the time - but have since bumped that advantage up to 10 to with 11 to play.
San Francisco's magic number is down to two, and the West title could be wrapped up Saturday if the Dodgers lose at NL Central-leading Cincinnati and the Giants beat the Padres (72-79) for an eighth time in 10 meetings.
"It's in our hands,' manager Bruce Bochy said after Friday's 5-1 win over San Diego. "When you're in this situation you want to go out there and take care of business. You want to get in through the front door, not the back door.'
A second West crown in three years is a near certainty for the Giants, and it'll likely happen much earlier than the last time. When San Francisco won the World Series in 2010, it clinched the division on the final day of the season.
A 9-1 spurt since Sept. 11 has taken some of the drama out of this year's race, and Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval have been in the middle of it.
In Friday's opener, Posey hit a tiebreaking RBI single on the night he received the "Willie Mac' award as the most inspirational player on the team, while Sandoval belted his fourth home run in three days.
Posey, an MVP candidate, is batting .440 with four homers and 11 RBIs in his last 13 games, and is hitting .345 with eight RBIs in his last seven against San Diego.
Sandoval is hitting .375 with six RBIs in his last seven against the Padres, and is batting .579 with nine RBIs in his last five games overall.
Starter Madison Bumgarner (15-10, 3.26 ERA) has also enjoyed his fair share of success against San Diego, going 3-0 with a 3.29 ERA in his last six starts in the series, with the Giants winning each.
He's made three starts in this season's series, and Chase Headley, who hit his 29th homer Friday, is 2 for 9 with a double and three strikeouts.
Bumgarner, who will try to become the first Giants left-hander with 16 wins since Kirk Rueter in 1998, is also looking to bounce back from an uneven performance.
After going 0-3 with a 7.29 ERA over a four-start stretch, Bumgarner gave up a run and four hits while walking a career-high five in six innings of Monday's 2-1 win over Colorado. Although he recorded his first victory since Aug. 20, Bumgarner wasn't pleased.
"My mechanics were probably the worst they've been all year," he said.
The Padres, losers of three of four, counter with Andrew Werner (2-1, 3.68).
After allowing two runs or fewer and going at least six innings in his first four major league starts, Werner gave up five runs and seven hits - including two homers - in five innings of Sunday's 12-11 comeback win over Colorado. The 25-year-old lefty struck out five and issued one free pass, increasing his totals to 26 strikeouts and just five walks over his last four starts.
The Associated Press News Service
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