Giants

With future up in the air, Hunter Pence making the most of rehab assignment

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With future up in the air, Hunter Pence making the most of rehab assignment

SACRAMENTO -- The scene at Raley Field on Saturday afternoon was a bit of a surreal one. After every round of batting practice at the minor league park, Hunter Pence would step a few feet from the cage and chat with Madison Bumgarner. 

Both have helped the Giants to multiple championships. Both are beloved in the city of San Francisco. Both are on rehab assignments. But right now, their situations could not be more different. 

Bumgarner was in Sacramento for the start of what will be a short rehab assignment. Pence is finishing up the second week of a second stint with the River Cats, and it's unclear what the Giants will do. They have six days to make a decision, whether that's calling Pence up, releasing him, or perhaps talking to him about staying in the minors a bit longer.

The third conversation has not been had yet. It probably doesn't matter, anyway. It's clear where Pence would like to be.

"I'm ready to play right now," Pence said. "This is where they want me right now, apparently, and so I'm going to go play as hard as I can where they want me."

There was never any doubt that Pence would do that, and teammates here say he has handled this potentially awkward assignment better than anyone else could. He has been a mentor for younger players, many of whom have come through minor league camp the past two seasons. Pence smiled his way through a pre-game workout Saturday and he has been a regular on the autograph line. He also has not taken this rehab stint for granted.

When Pence and the Giants decided to pause a previous assignment on May 6, he didn't just sit around and wait for his thumb to heal. He flew to Los Angeles for a few days and spent time with Doug Latta, a private instructor who overhauled Justin Turner's swing and has now found success with Mac Williamson.

"I'm very happy with it. I feel a lot better at the plate," Pence said. "I always think you've always got to adjust and improve."

The early results are promising. Pence is 20-for-54 since returning, with three doubles and a grand slam. He is standing more upright, with his hands a bit more relaxed, but the big stride and powerful swing remain. As Pence described it, "it's still me."

"I still haven't mastered it," he said. "I'm still improving every day, but I feel a lot better at the plate each day. Since the adjustment, I have a really good idea of what I want to do and I've felt way better."

Now, it's up to the front office to decide how they feel. There have been no indications that a decision is close, but players at two levels are watching. Mac Williamson is the everyday left fielder in the big leagues, but down here, you'll find plenty who believe Pence at the very least deserves another shot on the roster. Pence won't ruffle any feathers. But he would like another run. That's why he flew down to Los Angeles.

"I want to learn everything I can to be the best player I can to help us win," he said. "The ultimate goal is to win the World Series, and you've got to be the best player you can to do that."

Giants' Derek Holland vows that Dodgers won't win NL West in 2019

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Giants' Derek Holland vows that Dodgers won't win NL West in 2019

The 2019 season hasn't yet started (for 28 teams, at least), and the Dodgers have already wrapped up their seventh straight NL West crown.

At least that's how pundits see things shaking out this year.

Fangraphs projects that the Dodgers will win 93 games and win the division by 12 games over the Rockies. CBS Sports asked five of their writers to predict the NL West standings and all five have the Dodgers on top.

Giants starting pitcher Derek Holland doesn't want to hear it.

"That's the thing people need to understand, it's awesome to see how we're the underdog and we're taking advantage of that," Holland told NBC Sports Bay Area's Amy G during the Giants-A's broadcast on Monday night. "Nobody is picking us to do anything, they've already crowned the Dodgers, they voted that they're going to be the champs. Yeah, that's not happening. We're definitely going to make some noise."

Holland told Amy G that the players in the Giants clubhouse have a lot of confidence in themselves.

[RELATED: Sizing up Giants' competition in West]

We appreciate Holland's belief in his squad. In order to back up his words, the Giants are going to have to overcome low expectations. Fangraphs projects them to finish in last place, and all those same five CBS Sports writers have the Giants in the cellar.

Hey, if the Giants do shock people and dethrone the Dodgers, it will be one hell of a story.

Can Giants spoil Dodgers, Rockies' party? Sizing up NL West competition

Can Giants spoil Dodgers, Rockies' party? Sizing up NL West competition

SAN FRANCISCO — The first goal always is to win the division. Even for the champion Giants clubs of the past decade, the first benchmark they always talked about was taking the NL West and getting into the tournament.

No matter how dire it might look, the Giants again will go into this season with that goal. They believe they can surprise people, and they have one big thing going for them: Compared to the rest of the NL, the West simply isn’t very deep.

[RELATED: MLB Power Rankings]

The Dodgers have taken advantage of that, winning six consecutive NL West titles.

Here’s a look at how 2019 shapes up for the teams the Giants will try to beat: 

The Favorite: Dodgers

Newcomers: A.J. Pollock, Russell Martin, Joe Kelly

What they lost: Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Manny Machado, Alex Wood, Brian Dozier, Chase Utley

It was a somewhat disappointing offseason for their fans, many of whom wanted a Bryce Harper-sized splash. But this player development machine will keep churning. They traded Kemp and Puig and plugged in Alex Verdugo, one of the game's top outfield prospects. Clayton Kershaw will miss Opening Day but they still have a pitcher in their rotation, Walker Buehler, who might be the best in the division. They missed on Harper, but there's a very real possibility that Cody Bellinger outpaces him in just about every category. 

The Dodgers are the best team in the division, probably the best in the National League, and if they stay healthy they should be popping bottles in mid-September. 

That's the bad news for Giants fans. The good news? The man who helped build all this is now working at Oracle Park. 

The Contender: Rockies

Newcomers: Daniel Murphy

What they lost: DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottovino, Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gonzalez.

They've made back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time and the band is back together. You could argue that they should have gone all-in given their situation, but that's never been their style. Instead, the money was spent on Arenado, the league's best player and exactly the type you want leading your franchise long-term. 

There are some key losses here, but Murphy should provide a boost to a lineup that isn't what you'd expect at Coors Field. The real story here is the starting staff, led by Kyle Freeland. You probably haven't heard of most these guys, but it's a very talented group and should have the Rockies in position to make another run for a postseason spot. 

Stock Rising: Padres

Newcomers: Manny Machado, Ian Kinsler 

What they lost: Freddy Galvis, Christian Villanueva 

For years, talent evaluators have talked about the potential of the 2020 Padres. By making the biggest move of any NL West team -- the $300 million Machado deal -- the Padres potentially bumped that timeline up a year. 

The real intrigue here, though, isn't with Machado. 

The Padres have the best farm system in baseball, and Fernando Tatis Jr. could give them another infield superstar as early as this season. Maybe a Franmil Reyes or Manny Margot or Francisco Mejia breaks through and becomes an All-Star? 

They have plenty of pitching on the way, led by Chris Paddack, but it might not arrive in time to allow the Padres to compete this year. They always find a way to put a good bullpen together at Petco Park, but this is a roster that's at least a couple of starting pitchers short. 

They're probably the team in the division that could have used a cheap duo like Holland and Pomeranz, but they're relying on youth, which means they could either win 20 more games than they did a year ago and take the leap as the Braves did last year, or we could continue to look towards 2020. 

Stock Falling: Diamondbacks 

The newcomers: Greg Holland, Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, Wilmer Flores, Adam Jones

What they lost: Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock, Daniel Descalso, Clay Buchholz

They traded Goldschmidt, the face of the franchise, because they thought they couldn’t reach an extension. They lost Corbin, a Cy Young candidate, and Pollock, their second-best player when healthy, to free agency. That’s nearly 13 Wins Above Replacement lost from a team that went 86-76 last year, and a couple other remaining standouts could be sent off before the deadline.

Throw in a couple other vets they’ve lost and there’s a chance they drop to the bottom of the division. There’s still pitching depth, but it’s hard to see how they’re going to have a competitive lineup.