Baseball

Padres running out of games

Pablo Sandoval hit a splash shot into McCovey Cove, Andres Torres and Buster Posey also homered and the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants beat Arizona 4-1 Thursday, leaving them just one win away from the division title.

Giants' Magic No. is 1

Brad Snyder hit an RBI single off Heath Bell with one out in the ninth inning to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 1-0 win over San Diego on Thursday, pushing the Padres to the cusp of elimination from the playoff race.

The loss reduced San Francisco's magic number for clinching the NL West to one and idle Atlanta's magic number for clinching the NL wild card to two.

The Padres trail San Francisco by three games in the division going into the final three-game series at San Francisco. It's the first time the Padres have trailed by three games since April 17. The Padres are two games behind Atlanta, which closes with a home series against the NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies.

"Man, it just hasn't been very good," all-star slugger Adrian Gonzalez said about the offence. "We've got to find a way to be very good for three days. That's all it takes. We struggled to get runners on base, we struggled to bring them across the board. Our pitching's done everything possible to put us in a position where we should be celebrating right now, and we haven't.

"Plain and simple, we've got to hit," he said. "We've hit balls good. We just haven't found holes."

San Diego, which started the season with the second-lowest payroll in the majors, led the division for much of the summer until staggering down the stretch. The Padres have lost 22 of 34 games since Aug. 25, when they were 76-49 and had a 6 ½-game lead over the Giants in the NL West.

Aramis Ramirez started the Cubs' ninth with a broken-bat single to right-centre off Bell (6-1) and was replaced by pinch-runner Darwin Barney. Xavier Nady laid down a sacrifice bunt and scored on Snyder's single to left.

"It's nice to get that hit," said Snyder, who was playing in his ninth big league game and making his third start, in right field. 'I've been trying to do something, trying to help out somehow, some way. I'm glad I got a big hit in a big situation."

Sean Marshall (7-5) got two outs in the eighth for the win. Carlos Marmol pitched a perfect ninth for his 37th save in 42 chances.

San Diego had only three hits. It was the second time in the four-game series that San Diego lost 1-0. The Cubs took three of four.

In their sombre clubhouse, the Padres kept saying they can win three straight games. But to simply force a one-game playoff for the division title, they'll have to get past Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez.

San Diego has won 10 of 15 games against the Giants this season.

"We're not done," Ryan Ludwick said. "Everyone in here knows it's not going to be easy, but it's not impossible.

"I think it's disappointing the fact we haven't played our best baseball at times this month," he said.. "But everyone who goes out there is giving their best effort. It's tough. We all take our job very seriously. We want to win. We want to perform. Unfortunately, as of late, it's been kind of a rough go."

Giants 4, Diamondbacks 1

Pablo Sandoval hit a splash shot into McCovey Cove, Andres Torres and Buster Posey also homered for the Giants.

The Giants completed a three-game sweep, won for the eighth time in 10 games and cut their magic number to two. They need to beat visiting San Diego only once this weekend to claim their first division crown and playoff berth since 2003.

Giants manager Bochy said the days of team meetings are over. His players understand the stakes.

"We've got to go out there and go hard," Bochy said. "Yeah, we put ourselves in good position but we've got games ahead of us. They know it. They're very much aware of where we're at."

San Francisco began the day with a two-game edge over San Diego, which later hosted the Chicago Cubs. The Giants completed a three-game sweep, won their fourth straight and eighth in 10 to cut their magic number to two.

Matt Cain (13-10) starts Friday night's series opener for San Francisco.

"We've put ourselves in a good situation and got done what we needed to get done today," Cain said. "I've got to go and do the same things I've done before. Same preparation."

Torres' go-ahead, solo homer in the fifth inning helped rookie Madison Bumgarner (7-6) earn his first home victory in eight tries.

Posey hit a two-run homer in the sixth, the rookie's seventh shot in September.

Overall, the Giants have hit 16 home runs in their last seven games. Pat Burrell had a three-run drive Wednesday night.

"We have one guy hitting a home run one night and another guy hitting a home run another night," Sandoval said.

Barry Enright (6-7) lost his fifth straight start. He has given up 12 homers during that span after surrendering just eight longballs in his previous 12 outings.

"We want to be in their position next year," Enright said. "We still have a few games left but it's exciting to think about some of the guys coming back next year."

New Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said he hopes to decide on a manager "shortly after the season" ends. He has spent time in recent days with interim Kirk Gibson, who hopes to stay on for 2011.

Sandoval's solo shot into the water beyond right field with two outs in the second prompted one of two kayakers paddling for the ball to jump out of his boat and swim to snag the souvenir.

It was the first home run for the struggling slugger since Aug. 28, a homerless stretch of 66 at-bats. Sandoval has just 12 hits in his last 63 at-bats. He insists he is more relaxed lately and finding his stroke again.

"This is the same Pablo as last year," he said.

Arizona loaded the bases against Bumgarner in the fourth, getting Enright's sacrifice fly to tie it at 1.

Bumgarner had been 0-3 at home with a 4.95 ERA before winning Thursday. He struck out seven and walked one in five innings, allowing seven hits and one run.

The 21-year-old lefty pitched on an extra day's rest after he had his start pushed back a day as ace Tim Lincecum pitched Wednesday night on normal rest. Bumgarner has allowed only five earned runs in his last 38 innings over his last six starts.

"It feels pretty good," he said of the Giants' position. "We're going to try to get it tomorrow, but we're not penciled in yet."

Ramon Ramirez pitched the ninth for his third save in as many tries as the Giants completed their third sweep of the season against Arizona. With a three-run cushion, Bochy gave All-Star closer Brian Wilson a break after he saved back-to-back games with a five-out effort Tuesday.

Moments after the final out, three concession workers on the lower concourse raised brooms into the air and chanted "Sweep! Sweep!"

Arizona struck out 12 times after 14 Ks in Wednesday's 3-1 loss.

The Giants' pitching staff has a majors-best 1,306 strikeouts and established a San Francisco single-season franchise record, topping last year's total of 1,302.