The defending world champions are poised once again to defend their World Series crown.
Coming off their second World Series championship in three years, the San Francisco Giants are heading into the 2013 season with the hopes and expectations of repeating the same success they enjoyed in 2012.
For now, the situation looks good. The Giants starting lineup as well as their vaunted starting rotation remains intact, carrying over from the same team that entered the playoffs last year. San Francisco's general manager Brian Sabean was able to sign the two biggest Giant free agents in the offseason: center fielder Angel Pagan and second baseman Marco Scutaro. The only plausible departure of significance will most likely be former closer Brian Wilson, who was little more than a cheerleader in 2012.
Yet the Giants have many questions and concerns regarding how 2013 will turn out. There are plenty of positives, negatives and unknowns that will certainly affect San Francisco's outcome in the upcoming season.
On the bright side of things, the Giants are returning with virtually the same roster that helped them win the World Series last year. During that stretch run, the team developed tremendous chemistry that undoubtedly assisted them in beating favored teams in the playoffs like the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers. Chemistry is vital to a team's success. With conflicting egos and personalities, it is easy for any team to fall apart. Yet the Giants seem to have found that unique bond.
“We have good chemistry with this group,” outfielder Hunter Pence recently said. “We had a great run last year. Now it’s a new year and a new league" (via cbslocal.com).
That will definitely help in 2013, especially considering that teams rarely carry over all of their impact players after a championship season.
In addition, catcher Buster Posey figures to have another big year in 2013. Posey is playing in a contract year. He is making $8 million this season and given his accolades, which include two World Series rings, a Rookie of the Year award, the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year award and being the 2013 Most Valuable Player, he is looking to play for a hefty contract. If the bats around him, including Scutaro, Pence and third baseman Pablo Sandoval are all able to produce, Posey's numbers should reflect that even more.
Furthermore, the Giants' main strength, pitching, looks as solid as it was last year. In 2012, the Giants combined ERA was 3.68, good for seventh in the majors (baseball-reference.com). While two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum struggled with a 10-15 record in 2012, the rest of the starting staff picked him up nicely. Playing in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, they figure to be equally as effective in 2013.
Yet there are questions and concerns with this team. Naturally, any injury to a key producer in the Giants' lineup could prove disasterous. Look no further than Buster Posey in 2011. Other Giants could also suffer similar setbacks.
Pablo Sandoval turned from a local favorite into a World Series hero in 2012. Yet his health paired with his weight and conditioning have been reoccurent problems. Sandoval landed on the disabled list twice in 2012, including a stint that resulted in a surgery to remove the hamate bone in his left hand (baseballnation.com). Hoping for a big year out of their third baseman, could the Giants afford another lengthy injury to Sandoval?
The Giants also put plenty of faith in their two free agent signings in the offseason. Both Pagan and Scutaro figure to play a big role hitting first and second in the batting order respectively. Can they set the table for the big bats? Will Scutaro look like the playoff hero he was last season or look more like a career .276 hitter entering the twilight of his career (baseball-reference.com)?
Then there is the pitching. San Francisco utilized its stellar pitching to win the World Series both in 2010 and 2012. It will be a factor once more in 2013. Lincecum hopes to erase the struggles he had last season and start anew.
"I didn't want to go through last year again," Lincecum said. "So changing my work ethic and doing the things to take care of my job and not embarrass myself. That was my mindset" (via sfgate.com).
Will Lincecum be able to reinvent himself in 2013? He has already struggled in spring training, both in his first outing against the Dodgers as well as a blister on his pitching hand. If so, San Francisco will be that much better. If not, the rest of the rotation will have to pick him up; something that may not happen to the same effect as it did in 2012.
San Francisco also has to wonder whether if new closer Sergio Romo can live up to the work load demanded of a full-time closer. He pitched 55 1/3 innings in 2012 and has never pitched more than 62 in a season. In comparison, Wilson threw 74 2/3 innings in 2010 when he was the closer during San Francisco's previous championship. The Giants got by without a definitive closer for much of the 2012 season, but can they afford to do that again?
Lastly, the Giants have to look at the rest of the National League West.
Highly favored of course are the Los Angeles Dodgers who started a spending spree last season with the additions of Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. This year, they added the services of former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-Jin to bolster their pitching. The Dodgers payroll looks to exceed $230 million in 2013, and the added talent is reason enough to believe they can dethrone the reigning division champion Giants.
The Giants have proven they can thwart big batters with solid pitching and good defense. They also have the chemistry that many felt was lacking among the big names in Los Angeles. It worked in 2012. San Francisco hopes it will be enough again in 2013.
The rest of the NL West is also a concern. Sure, the San Diego Padres figure to be a non-factor in the division race. The Colorado Rockies will have a healthy Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez in the lineup, but their pitching is mediocre. Yet the Rockies could always be a factor mid-season especially given how they play in Coors Field.
Lastly, the Arizona Diamondbacks may also be a threat to challenge both the Giants and Dodgers in the division. They have a young core and a few nice additions including infielder Martin Prado and pitcher Brandon McCarthy. Their pitching is good and they grind. In 2011, they upset the Giants in the division race. They would love to do so again in 2013.
In conclusion, San Francisco is in excellent shape to repeat as division champions and perhaps make another run at a World Series championship. Of course, there are the various factors, circumstances and unknowns that can hinder or help.
For the Giants, they will need to equal or exceed the production from 2012. They will also need to get a bit lucky too, something all championship teams do from time to time.
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