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CHC@ATL: Villanueva fans six, holds Braves to one run

It was just one start, but it left an impression. Matt Cain, one of the National League's most consistent pitchers over the last five seasons, got pounded in his last outing, allowing nine earned runs in a 14-3 loss to St. Louis. Cain's first shot at redemption comes Friday against the Cubs, and his start will come with his team on a four-game winning streak.

The Giants have allowed a total of 14 runs in their last four games -- a sweep of Colorado and a win against Chicago in the opener of a four-game set -- and will go into Friday with their offense rolling. The Giants only had one extra-base hit in their 7-6 wins over the Cubs on Thursday, but they scored at least nine runs in two of their three games against Colorado.

Cain threw six scoreless innings in his season debut on Opening Day but wound up with a no-decision, and he gave up nine earned runs in his second start despite not allowing any home runs. The right-hander hadn't given up that many runs since April of the 2008 season -- also against St. Louis, coincidentally -- but he's logged a 3.46 ERA in 35 career April starts.

The Cubs will go with Carlos Villanueva on Friday, and the veteran hopes to build on his strong season debut. Villanueva, a right-hander, worked into the seventh inning and allowed just one earned run against Atlanta. He struck out six batters and walked two, and this will be his first home start with the Cubs.

The Giants have now won eight of their last nine games against the Cubs, and Thursday's victory came with some drama. The Cubs doubled four times and homered in the loss, and they pushed the tying run to second base twice in the eighth inning. Chicago has split its last two games, and Wednesday's finale against the Brewers was rained out.

Shortstop Starlin Castro, who made a key error Thursday -- his third on the season -- has quickly proven to be one of the game's most durable young players. The 23-year-old has played in 205 consecutive games for Chicago, the longest streak in the NL and the second longest in baseball (behind Detroit's Prince Fielder and his 352 consecutive games). Castro has a long way to go to set any team records, though; Hall-of-Famer Billy Williams played in 1,117 consecutive games for Chicago.

The Cubs went 1-6 against San Francisco last year during the Giants' sprint to a World Series championship, but Chicago took five of the nine games played in this series in 2011. The Giants have vaulted to the top of the NL West in the season's first couple weeks -- neck and neck with Arizona -- while the Cubs are fighting to stay afloat in the NL Central.

Giants: Stability paying dividends
The Giants are counting on stability in their bid to become the first team to repeat as World Series champions since the 2000 Yankees. Twenty-one members of San Francisco's 25-man roster played for the Giants at some point last year, and they've been getting contributions from the usual suspects through the first two weeks of the season.

Leadoff man Angel Pagan drove in two runs and is hitting .350, and third baseman Pablo Sandoval doubled home two runs for San Francisco on Thursday. Sandoval is hitting .333 with eight RBIs. Buster Posey, the reigning NL MVP, has started slow for the Giants with a .242 average and no home runs in nine games.

Cubs: Schierholtz surprises
Nate Schierholtz has been one of the league's surprise hitters over the last two weeks, and he delivered three hits out of the No. 5 slot in the lineup for the Cubs on Thursday. Schierholtz, a career .270 hitter, is batting .370 through his first eight games of the season. Schierholtz, a seven-year veteran, has never gotten more than 350 at-bats in a season.

The former second-round draftee signed with the Cubs in the offseason and has had three multi-hit games in the last week. Schierholtz has gone hitless in just two games this season, and one of those was a pinch-hit appearance.

Worth noting
• The Giants are in a stretch of five straight day games for the first time since the 1996 season.

• Thursday's series opener marked the earliest in the year that the Giants and Cubs have ever met at Wrigley Field. Prior to that date, the earliest visit to Wrigley for the Giants was April 13, 1963.

• The Giants have grounded into 12 double plays, most in the NL. Comments