Giants

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

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.

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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.

Ex-Giant Hunter Pence shares why playing for Rangers is childhood dream

Ex-Giant Hunter Pence shares why playing for Rangers is childhood dream

Dreams do come true, Hunter.

Former Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, who recently made the Texas Rangers’ Opening Day roster, will be playing at Globe Life Park (the home of the Rangers) on Monday night in the Rangers’ exhibition game vs. the Indians.

Pence is a native Texan and went to college at the University of Texas at Arlington. The three-time All-Star noted that when he wasn’t playing baseball in college, he used to park cars at Globe Life Park for work.

The two-time World Series champion will now get to play in the park he once worked as a college student, and we’re guessing his salary is just a bit higher now than it was then.

Pence, of course, is a fan favorite among Giants fans. Coming over in a trade from Philadelphia in 2012, he helped lead the team to two World Series titles (2012, 2014) and inspired his teammates and fans alike with his hard-nosed play and Reverend-style speeches.

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The 2013 Willie Mac Award winner revamped his swing this offseason and had a strong enough spring with Texas to make the big league club.

Giants fans everywhere will surely be rooting for him as he starts this “childhood dream” chapter of his career.