SAN FRANCISCO -- Since the day left fielder Michael Morse signed a one-year deal with the Giants, teammates and coaches have been comparing him to right fielder Hunter Pence. It turns out Morse, like Pence, already had an inspirational motto.
"Morse calls it the 'horse race mentality,' " Pence said. "It's just looking straight ahead, all the time."
Why a horse race?
"I think our team is so good that we (need to) play like we're a horse with blinders on and just keep pushing forward," Morse said. "Don't listen to what people say, whether we're doing really good or really bad, or teams around us are winning or losing. Just keep playing how we're playing and look for the finish line."
Manager Bruce Bochy, who pushed for the Morse signing, loves that attitude -- but he also wants his horses to use their peripheral vision a bit this April. The first 22 games of the season and 25 of the first 28 are against the rest of the National League West, and Bochy made sure to point to the calendar as he prepared his team for the season.
The message: "We need to come out of the chute ready. It's critical to play well here with all these games within the division."
So far, so good.
The Giants went 5-2 on the road last week against the Arizona Diamondbacks and favored Los Angeles Dodgers, taking an early lead in the West. The hot start shouldn't be a surprise. Even as they slogged to a 76-86 record last season, the Giants played well against their four division rivals. Their 44-32 record against the rest of the West was the best mark of any of the five teams; none of the others finished above .500, including the division champion Dodgers at 37-39.
The Giants front office always has focused on the division first. It's the most direct path to the postseason, general manager Brian Sabean says, and once you're in, anything can happen -- as the Giants showed in 2010 and 2012.
The success versus the West last season was nothing new for the Giants. They were 45-27 in the division in 2012, besting the next-closest team by seven games. In 2011, the Giants and West-winning Diamondbacks each finished 43-29. You have to go back to 2010 to find a season when the Giants (38-34 that year) didn't have the best record against the West and all the way back to 2007 to find a season when they had a losing record against the division.
"It's a long season, but when you're beating teams in the division it's always a good thing, regardless of the time of the year," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "This was nice, too, because it got us in big games right off the bat to start the season."
The early slate set up well for the Giants, who opened the season against the two teams that traveled more than 15,000 round-trip miles in late March for a season-opening series in Australia. On top of that, the Giants -- even without Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt -- are a relative picture of health compared with their April opponents.
The Dodgers were without Clayton Kershaw (back) over the weekend. The reigning Cy Young Award winner had pitched in 20 of 24 series with the Giants since the start of 2010 and has a career 1.38 ERA against them. Diamondbacks All-Star starter Patrick Corbin will miss the season after Tommy John surgery. The Giants will twice this month face a Rockies team that remains without ace Jhoulys Chacin (shoulder strain). The Padres won't have center fielder Cameron Maybin (ruptured biceps) and right-hander Josh Johnson (forearm strain) when the Giants visit Petco Park on April 18-20.
The table was set for the Giants, and they took advantage. As they flew home Sunday night, the Giants ranked first in the National League in homers (11), second in runs (40), second in run differential (plus-10) and fourth in OPS (.763). They took the first two series of the season, continuing a long-running trend. The Giants have not lost a season series within the division since going 6-12 against the Padres in 2010.
"We knew this was going to be a big start because we're in the division," left-hander Madison Bumgarner said. "We wanted to jump out swinging and come after these guys and play our best ball.
"We've sure been doing that."