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07/31/11 7:26 PM ET

D-backs, Giants set to collide in battle for first

Top spot in NL West on line as clubs open three-game set

First place in the National League West will be on the line this week when the D-backs travel to San Francisco on Monday for a three-game series with the Giants.

Despite being swept in Cincinnati over the weekend, the Giants still hold a two-game lead over the D-backs, who took two of three from the Dodgers.

That the Giants find themselves atop the division is not a shock. They are, after all, the defending world champions and their pitching staff is up there with any in the game.

However, few, if any, picked the D-backs to still be in the race. This is a team that finished last in the division the past two seasons and played poorly during the spring, but the scrappy bunch has refused thus far to go away.

"They're a good team, there's no doubt about it," D-backs catcher Miguel Montero said of the Giants. "They're good, but you know what? We're good too. It's a competition and we've got to compete. You compare player to player I think we've got a better team. I don't know that's just my thought."

The Giants hold a distinct home-field advantage when it comes to the D-backs having won 17 of the last 21 games played at AT&T Park against Arizona.

"They've done a good job building that team around the elements there," D-backs shortstop Willie Bloomquist said. "They've obviously got some lights-out pitching. It's not much of a hitter's ballpark, it always seems kind of cold, the ball doesn't carry that well and you put that with the arms they have chances are they're going to be low-scoring games and they have veteran guys who know how to play small ball when they have to. They aren't world champions for nothing, they know what they're doing. It's definitely a tough environment to play in, but if you want to be the best you've got to beat the best on their own turf. Hopefully we're ready to do that."

Though the Giants have dominated the season series thus far with a 7-2 mark, the games have been extremely hard fought. All three of Arizona's losses to the Giants at AT&T Park on May 10-12 were by one run and overall, six of the nine have been decided by a single tally.

That benefits a Giants offense that is better at playing for one run while the D-backs have at times been feast or famine.

"They have innings where they can score a large number of runs because of the threatening guys in their order," Giants ace Tim Lincecum said citing Justin Upton, Chris Young and Ryan Roberts in particular. "Having those guys throughout their order can make it tougher to avoid giving up that big hit at the wrong time."

Both teams have two of their top three starters going in the series. The Giants will throw Matt Cain, Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong. The D-backs meanwhile have their top two pitchers going in Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson while newly acquired right-hander Jason Marquis will pitch in Wednesday's finale.

There will be a couple of new faces on both sides of the field in this series.

In addition to Marquis, the D-backs expect to have reliever Brad Ziegler, who was acquired from the A's on Sunday in uniform for Monday's game.

The Giants, meanwhile now have the added offense of outfielder Carlos Beltran and shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

Cain said he for one thought the D-backs had a chance to contend after watching them hit during Spring Training.

"A lot of their guys are aggressive," he said. "They swing the bats. You can't make mistakes because a lot of their guys can take you deep."

As the ones doing the chasing, the D-backs know this series is more crucial for them than the Giants, but they are trying to avoid putting too much emphasis on that.

"You don't want to put any additional onus on it," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "Just go out and play who you are and how you are and deal with the situations that are given to you. If you put all this extra pressure on yourself like it's do or die it's not going to help you."

Maybe so, but the series does figure to be a measuring stick.

"I guess we'll have a better idea in the next two or three days how we stack up against them," D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @dbackswriter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.