Madison Bumgarner may be the ace of the San Francisco Giants staff, but the four starters following him have held that title for this team or another over the course of their careers.
Two are now turning in starts regularly that hint that the title could again be applied to their names, and Jeff Samardzija is one of them.
The first-year Giants starter takes the mound Thursday night in San Diego as San Francisco tries to extend its winning streak to eight.
Samardzija (5-2, 2.88 ERA) has really hit his stride over the last three starts, going 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA and .218 opponent batting average. The right-hander gave up a run and eight hits in eight innings of Friday's 3-1 win in Arizona, and a home loss to Colorado five days before came mostly because the Giants didn't give him any run support.
After Johnny Cueto went the distance in Wednesday's 2-1 win, San Francisco's top three pitchers are 15-5. Bumgarner is 5-2 with a 2.45 mark, while Cueto is 6-1 with a 2.70. To some extent, that's allowing former Giants ace Matt Cain and former-Padres-ace-turned-Giant Jake Peavy time to figure their struggles out.
"You've got to keep pace, right?" Samardzija said of the in-staff competition. "It's awesome when you've got guys in front of you that are doing that and showing you the way, and you don't want to let everyone down."
Samardzija just happened to have his worst start thus far against the Padres, surrendering five runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings of a 13-9 home win on April 27. He earned the decision to get to 4-1 with a 3.60 ERA in five starts and two relief appearances against San Diego.
Jon Jay, who has been out with a shoulder injury, is 9 for 21 against Samardzija.
The Padres (17-24) counter with James Shields, whose ERA has dropped by more than a run over the past four starts. Shields (2-5, 3.12) is 2-2 in that span but it comes with a 2.08 ERA after entering that run with a 4.15
The right-hander gave up seven hits in seven innings of last Thursday's 3-0 win in Milwaukee. He struck out a season-high nine and walked one after issuing 11 walks in the previous three starts.
"I felt really good," Shields said. "I think I cleaned up my delivery a little bit in the bullpen session, and I was more consistent."
Shields lost to Cueto on April 26, though he limited the Giants to a run and three hits in seven innings of a 1-0 final. He's 2-2 with a 2.53 ERA in five career starts against them.
Gregor Blanco is 5 for 12 against him, but Hunter Pence (1 for 15), Matt Duffy (1 for 15), Buster Posey (2 for 15) and Denard Span (5 for 34) have struggled.
Pence hit a two-run homer Wednesday, all the Giants (24-18) needed for a seventh straight win. Offense has been modest, but San Francisco has a 1.75 ERA in that span.
The Giants have won all five games in the season series.
The Padres have lost three straight with four runs scored. Matt Kemp is batting .132 in his last 13 games.