The San Francisco Giants have a former league MVP on their roster, but don’t currently have any MVP candidates.
They have a former Cy Young winner on their roster, but don’t currently have a legitimate Cy Young candidate.
Their main rival, though, has two former Cy Young winners and the front-runner for the 2014 award. The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t have any past MVPs, but, man, do they have star power and the kind of payroll that is supposed to produce MVPs, Cy Youngs and world titles.
But a funny thing has happened this season. The Dodgers aren’t even the best team in Southern California, and they haven’t been able to do away with the pesky Giants.
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With fewer than 60 games remaining, the Dodgers will be hard-pressed to do so.
Sure, they erased a significant first-half deficit and even passed the Giants for first place just before the All-Star break. But the Giants are back off the mat, even after getting dropped Friday 8-1 in a key three-game series between the clubs.
“The goal is not to get to the playoffs. The goal is to win the World Series,” said Giants right fielder Hunter Pence, the former Arlington High and UT Arlington star who was an All-Star again earlier this month.
“That’s what we focus on. Ultimately that’s the end vision. The way that we can get there is not by focusing on that but by focusing on good baseball right now and by getting better right now.”
San Francisco limped into July, and saw a 9 1/2-game lead on June 8 turn into a 1 1/2-game deficit on July 4. But they were playing better by the All-Star break, and opened play Friday 1 1/2 games up on the Dodgers after a 5-2 road trip to start the second half.
The Giants have always been able to pitch, and 40 percent of their starting rotation was with Pence at Target Field for the All-Star Game. Left-hander Madison Bumgarner is taking his turn as the staff ace, though 39-year-old Tim Hudson has a better ERA thanks to a sinker that was made for AT&T Park.
Tim Lincecum isn’t back to his Cy Young form, though he is better than the past two seasons. Matt Cain, who threw the 22nd perfect game in MLB history in 2012, is on the disabled list with an elbow injury, and the uncertainty of his return led the Giants to acquire Jake Peavy on Saturday.
But the Giants didn’t pitch well during a 24-game stretch in which they went 6-18 and tumbled out of first place. Their 4.37 ERA was 14th in the 15-team NL, and their .261 opponents’ average was 12th.
The offense had similarly dismal numbers — 14th in runs scored (71) and last in homers (nine).
“We came out of the gates hot and were playing great,” Pence said of a 42-21 start. “There are swings in baseball. Momentum is a real issue. Sometimes those things are character builders and show you things we need to improve upon that we found in the last month.”
Pence, born in Fort Worth, has helped the second-half charge. He played the hero Wednesday at Philadelphia, first reviving the Phillie Phanatic with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and then rescuing the Giants with a three-run ninth-inning double to snap a scoreless tie en route to a 3-1 win.
He drove in six runs in the four-game series and has been atop the lineup for San Francisco’s July comeback. The only category Pence leads his team in is on-base percentage, though he’s around the team lead in most.
At the very least, he’s been the Giants’ most consistent offensive player.
“Adjustments are always being made at this level,” the 31-year-old said. “There is never a time where anyone has mastered the game or figured it out.”
Pence is in place in San Francisco through 2018, and he is getting paid handsomely at $16 million this season and $18.5 million the next four. Aside from financial security, the Giants gave Pence a permanent home he had wanted since Houston selected him in the second round of the 2004 draft.
He was there 4 1/2 seasons before getting traded to Philadelphia and stayed there 1 1/2 seasons until the Phillies unloaded him. He has a baseball home now, and right now that home is in first place in the NL West over the Dodgers.
“My mentality was I was going to give my all to the Astros,” Pence said. “They’re the team that drafted me. I owed it to them. When they traded me, then the Phillies believed in me, and I was going to give them my all. When the Phillies traded me, the Giants were the team that gave up the players to have me. I want to be loyal to the team that has me.”