Early standings offer a glimpse of why SF Giants face such a distinct challenge in 2021

After sweeping the Colorado Rockies in a three-game series at home to extend their win streak to four, the Giants’ .667 winning percentage is tied for the third-best mark in baseball.

They’re also in third place in their own division.

The Giants are off to a 6-3 start — their best through nine games since 2016– and have been buoyed by a rotation that’s exceeded early expectations, but they still trail the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres in a National League West division that’s lived up to its billing as the toughest in baseball.

The 8-2 Dodgers rolled through the Washington Nationals over the weekend without having former MVPs Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger healthy enough to take the field while the 7-3 Padres watched their third starter, Joe Musgrove, throw the first no-hitter in club history against the Texas Rangers on Friday.

The Dodgers’ roster is so deep that 100 wins feels like a foregone conclusion while the Padres have handled every opponent except for the Giants with relative ease.

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler spoke throughout the offseason of their goal of keeping pace with the best teams in the NL West and securing the team’s first playoff berth since 2016, but the Dodgers and Padres have wasted little time showing the Giants how steep of a hill they’ll need to climb.

Aside from a five-run collapse on Opening Night in Seattle, nearly everything has gone right for the Giants so far. An offense that isn’t yet close to playing up to its capabilities has still delivered the timely hits necessary to win games while the rotation has turned from a big question mark into an early team strength. Even a bullpen that drew criticism during the first week of the season has been better in recent days as the Giants’ relievers own the ninth-best ERA in the majors with a 3.51 mark in 25 2/3 innings.

Early-season records and April statistics can often be deceiving because of small sample sizes and unbalanced schedules, but the Giants deserve credit for taking care of business against a Rockies team that’s bad enough to lose 100 games this year.

Kapler’s club lost two of three in a disappointing set against the Mariners, but rebounded by giving the Padres all they could handle before its pitching staff gave up a combined four runs in three games against a Rockies lineup that’s far less of a threat now that Nolan Arenado plays for the St. Louis Cardinals. The rest of the Giants’ schedule in April sets up nicely, too, as nine of their next 16 games come against teams with losing records.

The Giants open a three-game set against one of the best lineups in baseball, the 6-3 Cincinnati Reds on Monday, but they also have six games against a Marlins team that’s off to a bad start and three more at home against the Rockies later this month. With a trip to Philadelphia sandwiched between series against Miami, Kapler will get his return to Citizens Bank Park out of the way early in the season.

If Johnny Cueto and Anthony DeSclafani continue to pitch like legitimate No. 2 and No. 3 starters and the Giants receive more offensive contributions from their veteran left-handed hitters such as Brandon Belt and Alex Dickerson –who both homered Sunday– it’s realistic to think they could hang around in the playoff race much longer than much of the baseball world expected.

Even if they continue playing well, it’s also easy to see why the playoff odds are stacked against them. The Giants are 6-3 and have pulled in line with several other talented teams that are off to hot starts, yet they still trail the two juggernauts in their own division.

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Author: Kerry Crowley

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