Hunter Pence had a knack for finding the right words anytime the Giants put a microphone in his hand on the field, or when teammates looked his way before a big game. It's no surprise, then, that he found a great way to sum up this 2021 team that's been the shock of the National League so far and remains in first place in the NL West.
"If you equate them to like a band or music, it's like Nirvana from the nineties," Pence said on this week's Giants Talk Podcast. "They're a grunge team that's just awesome and you don't even know it."
The Giants were supposed to continue building toward a future with new faces, but they've played consistently good baseball for six weeks, surprisingly turning the NL West into a three-team race. They've been in first for 12 straight days and have a chance to keep it that way for a while longer, with the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds next up on the schedule.
The Giants have taken advantage of the lighter parts of their schedule, but they also have taken two of three series from the San Diego Padres, proving they can hang with what was supposed to be one of two NL West superpowers. The other one is scuffling. The Los Angeles Dodgers have dropped five straight series and have their biggest deficit against the Giants since July of 2016.
Pence was part of that group that got out to a big lead in the first half and then held on for a Wild Card spot. He was also around the next two years, as the Giants tailed off, leading to widespread changes. He said one of the nice things right now is that the Giants are no longer dealing with huge expectations.
That was always the case after the three World Series titles, and the Giants struggled to pivot to a rebuild even after losing 98 games in 2017. They came back the next year expecting to make the playoffs. This year's team wasn't picked by anyone to finish first or second in the West. Most preseason predictions had the Giants finishing third or fourth, 20-30 games behind the Dodgers and Padres. It's a lot of fun to sneak up on the pack.
"There aren't these expectations but they're special," Pence said of the current team. "They're in that hunt and they're doing it right now and that's that fun time. When there's expectations, like, 'oh, they have to make (the playoffs),' kind of like 2015 to 2017, it was no longer a secret that the Giants are good and then there was a little bit of a fade. And now we're back on that 'no one is expecting it.' But they're good, and that's the really fun time, to be surprised and delighted by what this team can do."