Fifty games in, the Giants are 28-22 and stand with Arizona atop the truly wild West, where even the last-place Dodgers are a good week or two from flexing their $200 million muscles. Some praise the defending World Series champs for standing tall despite a breakdown in their core strength, the rotation. Others sniff at the record as a byproduct of a few unusual comebacks and argue the pitching struggles will lead the Giants into an inevitable collision with reality. The truth should become evident very soon. Following Sunday's 7-3 victory against the Rockies, which completed a series win and a 4-2 homestand, the Giants embark on one of the most treacherous portions of their schedule. Starting with Monday's holiday matinee at Oakland, they play 18 games against six teams that stand a combined 170-129. Fourteen of the 18 games are on the road, including visits to three teams with records among the best in the National League: the Cardinals, Pirates and Braves. The Giants understand they need to play leagues better than they did on their past trip, a 1-5 gag through Toronto and Colorado in which they coughed up 52 runs with the "help" of 13 errors. "What we want to do is start hitting our stride together and play baseball the way we're used to," Matt Cain said after he won his fourth straight decision with an odd five-and-dive against the Rockies. He allowed two hits in the five innings, but he walked five and threw 107 pitches. Manager Bruce Bochy understands the challenge of the coming three weeks as well as anybody. "The pitching has to be consistent when we're playing good teams, and we've got to catch the ball," Bochy said. "We've really got to tighten up the defense. We're still not where we need to be. We're still making too many mistakes."