After bidding adieu to one of the top teams in the American League, the Giants will welcome one of the National League's finest clubs to San Francisco on Thursday for the first of four games at AT&T Park.
The Giants are coming off a series loss to Boston. Pittsburgh, which just took two out of three in San Diego, will look to pad its lead over St. Louis and Cincinnati in the NL Central. In Friday's series opener, established right-hander Matt Cain (8-8, 4.35 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the home team, opposite All-Star southpaw Jeff Locke (9-4, 2.90 ERA).
San Francisco's 12-1 loss Wednesday -- combined with San Diego's 2-1 win over the Pirates later that day -- put last year's World Series champions in the division cellar all by themselves.
"No. 1, we need to appreciate what they've accomplished two of the last three years," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of the Giants, who also won it all in 2010. "There's challenges that every season brings, and this season has brought them some different challenges.
"You see their record, and think because of that record, they aren't any good -- but the league's good and it catches up to you."
Locke will try to make this year even more difficult for the Giants, though his second half has been decidedly less charmed than what preceded it. In six outings since the All-Star break, Locke is 1-2 with a 5.58 ERA. He kept hitters to a .202 average and built a 1.13 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) over 18 starts before the break. After the break, batters have hit .325 off Locke, who has a 2.02 WHIP in the second half.
Locke had his worst outing of the season Saturday, when he gave up 10 hits and eight runs to Arizona in just 2 2/3 innings.
"He was short on stuff and command," Hurdle said afterward. "That's a tough combination."
The fortunes of Cain, meanwhile, have contrasted with those of Locke. The season's first half was trying for the three-time All-Star, who went into the break with a 5-6 record and 5.06 ERA. Since then, Cain is 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA. He has turned in five quality starts in a row, the most recent of which saw him allow two runs over seven innings as part of a win in Miami.
"I felt good," Cain said afterward. "[Catcher Buster Posey] and I kind of got things going early. We were throwing strikes and letting the defense work."
A vintage Cain performance will make things difficult for the Pirates, who are 4-8 in their last 12 games.
Pirates: Pie called up from Triple-A
Injuries to Starling Marte and Jose Tabata forced Pittsburgh on Wednesday to select outfielder Felix Pie from Triple-A Indianapolis. He led off and played left field in San Diego, going 1-for-3 with a run scored, a walk and two strikeouts.
"We've followed him from the start, and after playing so well for us in Spring Training, it took him a long time to get any traction," Hurdle said. "The kid's full of effort and energy. He's been good defensively and on the bases, and the last month, the swing has started to play better."
The Pirates cleared space on the active roster for Pie by optioning reliever Ryan Reid to Indianapolis. There was room on the 40-man roster for him after the club transferred injured starter Wandy Rodriguez to the 60-day disabled list.
• Third baseman Pedro Alvarez has seven RBIs in his last six games, giving him 83 on the season. Also, he had two home runs over his last five contests. With 31 long balls this year, Alvarez is tied for the NL lead and has the most by a Pirates left-handed hitter since Brian Giles hit 38 home runs in 2002.
Giants: Sandoval should start Thursday
An MRI on Wednesday of third baseman Pablo Sandoval's sore back revealed no serious damage. Sandoval, who was scratched from Tuesday's lineup, will likely start Thursday's opener against Pittsburgh, according to Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Sandoval was eligible to pinch-hit Wednesday, but did not see game action.
"We're just giving him another day to let this calm down," Bochy said before Wednesday's game.
In 106 games this season, Sandoval is hitting .266/.321/.384 with nine home runs and 59 RBIs.
• After Wednesday's defeat, the Giants have a 32-33 record against teams above .500 and a 24-37 mark against clubs below .500.
• Joaquin Arias' solo shot in the second inning of Wednesday's game accounted for San Francisco's only run.
• The Pirates have 9,799 wins since joining the National League in 1887. With another victory, they'll join the Giants, Cubs, Braves, Dodgers and Yankees as the only Major League clubs to amass 9,800 all-time wins.
• Over the last five years, the Giants are 15-12 against Pittsburgh. In the clubs' first meeting of 2013, the Pirates took two out of three games at PNC Park from June 11-13. At AT&T Park, the Pirates are 5-10 since 2008.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.