CHICAGO - The Giants have spent the past six weeks looking like the antithesis of a playoff team.
But hand the ball to Madison Bumgarner in the September sunshine, then play with some opportunistic aggression behind him, and you begin to see the possibilities take shape.
Bumgarner shined in what could be a Game 1 matchup in another month.
He struck out 10 in six innings to outduel defending NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, the Giants hustled to support him, and their bullpen made the pitches under duress to protect a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday.
The Cubs handed Bumgarner a 1-0 lead in the first inning when the Giants (73-62) scored an unearned run. Angel Pagan hit a one-out double off Arrieta (16-6) and scored when third baseman Tommy La Stella overthrew first base after fielding Hunter Pence's ground ball.
They manufactured a run in the fourth inning when Joe Panik reached on a two-out single, advanced on a passed ball, took third on a wild pitch and scored on Eduardo Nez's single.
Crawford created another run all by himself in the sixth. He hit a one-out single and stole second base despite hitting the dirt with all the grace of a pencil eraser rubbing against a sheet of loose leaf. Crawford's theft came as such a surprise that neither Cubs infielders were covering the bag as catcher Willson Contreras came up firing. It took an athletic play from Cubs shortstop Addison Russell to keep the throw from going into center field.
Crawford stayed alert, and with the Cubs infield shifted over to defend Brandon Belt, he virtually walked to third base as Arrieta held the ball. The awareness led to a run, since Arrieta proceeded to throw a wild pitch.
Bumgarner (14-8) needed the insurance run, even on a masterful afternoon when he struck out 10 and didn't walk a batter in six innings.
The Cubs used their own hustle to scratch a run off Bumgarner in the fifth inning. Javier Baez singled, stole second base and then took an aggressive turn around third when Nez dropped a barehanded attempt to field Arrieta's slow roller. Crawford gathered the ball but Baez was too fast to cut down at the plate.
Bumgarner escaped the fifth without further damage, but he snapped at first base umpire Phil Cuzzi, who always seems to be at the center of something when the Giants are involved. Cuzzi had called a balk on Bumgarner's pickoff throw, allowing Arrieta to take second base. After Bumgarner struck out Dexter Fowler to end the inning, he continued to bark in Cuzzi's direction.
The Cubs worked Bumgarner for another run in the sixth after loading the bases on two singles and a hit batter. Pence caught Baez's foul fly in right field for a sacrifice fly. Bumgarner pumped a fist after winning a 10-pitch battle with Matt Szczur, striking him out on a slider to strand two runners in scoring position and preserve a 3-2 lead.
The Giants bullpen preserved it from there, but it wasn't easy.
Javier Lopez, allowed to face pinch hitter David Ross in the seventh, gave up a single that dropped in front of Pence who was inexplicably playing a step from the warning track. Hunter Strickland entered and escaped the inning, but not before Bryant hit a line single up the middle on a 99.6 mph fastball and Zobrist drew a walk to load the bases. Strickland escaped when he got Russell to line out to Pence.
Sergio Romo and his balky knees beat Baez to the bag on a force play in the eighth, though it took a replay review to reverse Cuzzi's safe call.
Left-hander Will Smith finished the eighth and started the ninth to face Anthony Rizzo, who had entered as the No.9 hitter on a double switch. Smith issued a walk and yielded to Santiago Casilla, who benefited from the Giants' defensive awareness.
Fowler put down a sacrifice bunt and Panik, covering first base, noted that Rizzo had made a wide turn around second. He threw to Crawford, who reached behind his back while making a tag to complete a rally-killing double play.
Casilla still had to get through Bryant, the presumptive NL MVP. He did, inducing a broken-bat pop-up that Crawford gloved as the Giants won for the first time in three tries here.