SAN FRANCISCO -- With his team in the heart of a division race, San Francisco pitcher Tim Lincecum has picked the wrong time to go cold.
The two-time reigning National League Cy Young winner, once so dominant and automatic on the mound that he earned the nickname "The Freak," no longer blows away opponents with his sizzling fastball and knee-bending changeup. He is sputtering and at a loss to explain why.
"It's a number of things. ... I really don't know how to explain it," Lincecum said after giving up six runs in four innings of an 8-6 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.
"I'm struggling right now. I guess it's just going to be one of those things where I have to figure it out on my own. That's the only way I can look right now."
For Lincecum, it was another in a series of disappointing starts this season.
The Cubs scored four runs in the first, two off Kosuke Fukudome's 10th homer of the season, then added two more off the Giants' ace in the fourth. The four runs were the most ever allowed by Lincecum in the first inning of a start.
Lincecum altered his delivery in July in hopes of changing his luck but has had limited success since.
"He was just off tonight," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're going to need all these guys on the top of their game. It's going to happen, but I think Timmy will bounce back. We have all the faith in this kid."
That faith could begin to waver if Lincecum doesn't turn things around. Over his past five starts, San Francisco's ace is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA. He has lost consecutive starts for the third time this season.
"We had his pitch count up so I knew that looking up there he wasn't going to go that deep into the game," said Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell, who is filling in while manager Lou Piniella attends to family matters. "Give our guys some credit. We made him work a little bit."
The loss was a blow not just to Lincecum but San Francisco as well. The Giants fell 2 1/2 games behind San Diego in the NL West and dropped into a tie with Cincinnati for the NL wild-card lead.
Starlin Castro drove in three runs while Aramis Ramirez added three hits for Chicago, which ended a season-high six-game losing streak on the road. It's only the Cubs' third win in their past 15 games.
The Cubs dropped the first game of the series in extra innings but scored four runs in the first off Lincecum (11-6) and never looked back. Chicago had scored just 10 runs in its previous four games before breaking out against the Giants.
Fukudome's 10th homer of the season, a two-run shot on the first pitch he saw, landed in the waters of McCovey Cove and gave Chicago a 4-0 lead.
Ryan Dempster (10-8) nearly let it all slip away, albeit with help from the Cubs' defense, which committed errors in the first two innings. The Giants benefited and scored an unearned run in the first, then pulled within 4-2 on Travis Ishikawa's RBI single in the second.
Lincecum settled down briefly but ran into trouble again in the fourth when he gave up a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases. Castro, who had an RBI single in the first, followed with a two-out single to center to drive in Koyie Hill and Dempster, making it 6-2.
"Everybody in here has high expectations of themselves, and when things like that happen, you kind of wear it," Lincecum said. "Obviously this has been the year with most struggles for me, both mentally and physically, just trying to figure out my mechanics and just trying to feel through it."
Dempster gave up eight hits in 6 2/3 innings and settled down after a rough start. The right-hander retired 14 of the final 18 batters he faced and left after giving up a two-out single to Emmanuel Burriss and walking Aubrey Huff.
Reliever Andrew Cashner gave up Buster Posey's long fly ball to center that glanced off Tyler Colvin's glove for a double. Burriss and Huff scored, cutting the gap to 6-4, but Cashner struck out Pat Burrell to end the inning.
Chicago closer Carlos Marmol made it interesting in the ninth when he gave up four hits, including an RBI double to Posey. Pablo Sandoval also drove in a run with an infield single but Marmol struck out Juan Uribe and got Ishikawa to ground out.
Posey finished with three hits and four RBIs. ... As expected, the Cubs placed IF Derrek Lee on the bereavement list. Chicago also put C Geovany Soto on the 15-day DL and recalled IF Micah Hoffpauir and C Welington Castillo from Triple-A Iowa. Hoffpauir and Castillo arrived at the ballpark less than two hours before the 7:15 p.m. start. ... Piniella is expected to rejoin the team on Friday according to Trammell. ... San Francisco grounded into two double plays and has 10 in its past five games. Overall the Giants have hit into 115 twin-killings, second-most in the majors behind Minnesota. ... Aramis Ramirez recorded his 1,000th career RBI in the first inning when he singled in Castro. ... Dempster's single off Lincecum in the fourth was his sixth hit this season. He had eight for all of 2009. ... The six earned runs allowed by Lincecum are the second-most he's allowed in one game during his career. ... Giants SS Edgar Renteria left the game with a strained left bicep and will undergo an MRI.