San Francisco is shooting to become the first team to win three titles in four years since the New York Yankees captured three consecutive championships from 1998 to 2000. The Giants play small ball and feed off of being underrated, as they've continued to shock people with their success.
People are giving the Giants more to feed off of by pegging teams such as the Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers as World Series favorites. While those teams (and other contending teams) went out and made big offseason moves, the Giants stayed quiet. They kept 21 of the 25 men from their 2012 postseason roster, and the four that are now on the roster—Nick Noonan, Guillermo Quiroz, Chad Gaudin and Andres Torres—aren't expected to make huge impacts.
On the other hand, the Los Angeles Dodgers went out and got Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu; the Nationals went out and got Rafael Soriano, Dan Haren and Denard Span; and the Tigers went out and got Torii Hunter.
The Giants are expected to do poorly on offense, and that's largely because they don't have much pop and they only have one true star in their lineup. Hunter Pence hit just .253 in 2012, Pablo Sandoval had a streak of 161 at-bats without a home run and Marco Scutaro is 37 years old.
San Francisco's pitching staff is very good, but there are concerns about Tim Lincecum, who posted a 10.57 ERA during spring training. Barry Zito is aging, and despite an impressive playoff performance, he posted a mediocre 4.15 ERA. Madison Bumgarner crumbled down the stretch in 2012 and posted an 11.25 ERA in his first two playoff games, while Ryan Vogelsong's ERA of 3.37 wasn't spectacular.
While the Giants offense ranked 12th with 718 runs, the Giants were last with 103 home runs and lost Melky Cabrera. Cabrera drove in 60 runs and scored 84, boosting the offense while getting on base frequently for NL MVP Buster Posey.
Cabrera accounted for 133 Giants runs (an RBI and a run are both counted in stats for a home run, even though only one run is counted, and Cabrera hit 11 home runs), and the platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres will struggle to replace him.
Even though there are some big names on the Giants offense, there aren't any great players outside of Posey. Pence hit .217 after joining the Giants (including the playoffs), and he struck out in 27.4 percent of his at-bats during that span. Sandoval had a long drought without any home runs, missed 54 games (one-third of the season) with hand and hamstring injuries and posted a .447 slugging percentage. The New York Yankees' average slugging percentage was higher than Sandoval's.
The Giants offense can be carved up without much trouble if Posey is struggling. Clayton Kershaw shut out the Giants on Opening Day, which isn't too unfamiliar for the Giants. Kershaw hit a home run and powered the Dodgers to the win, which spoiled Opening Day for San Francisco.
Opening Day doesn't determine the fate of a whole season, but the fact that the Giants were thrashed so easily is concerning.
Teams such as the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds had success against the Giants in 2012, and the Giants will have to beat them in 2013. The Nationals went 5-1 against the Giants, and in one game, they knocked Vogelsong out in the third inning and scored eight runs on him (all earned). Washington is ready to dominate in 2013 and is not a team the Giants want to face in the playoffs.
Even though the Giants knocked off the Reds in the 2012 NLDS, Cincinnati isn't a team the Giants would love to run into again. Cincinnati outscored San Francisco by six runs in the five-game series, and in one of the games the Giants won, they had one hit through nine innings. The Giants could have been knocked out in three games without an error from former Reds third baseman Scott Rolen, as the Giants had very few options on the bench and in the bullpen.
There are teams that the Giants have fared well against, such as the St. Louis Cardinals. In the 2012 NLCS, San Francisco outscored St. Louis by 16 in a series it won in seven games. The Giants haven't been terrible against the Dodgers, either, as San Francisco boasted a 6-3 record in its final nine 2012 games against the Dodgers.
However, the National League is full of contenders. The Nationals and Reds are hungry for revenge after falling short in 2012. The Dodgers are ready to go and have the talent to make a deep playoff run. The Atlanta Braves made some big moves to follow up on a 94-68 season and will be in the mix as well. St. Louis, the 2011 World Series champions, definitely can’t be counted out either.
The Giants definitely belong in this band of elite National League teams, but it’s hard to see them coming out with the pennant and then the World Series. Even though the Giants aren’t exactly formidable, they are champions, and they will be the hunted instead of the hunters.
There’s no doubt it will be harder to repeat, especially with some brilliant offseason moves by other National League teams and more talented teams in the National League. The Giants are hungry and will be focused on winning another championship, but it will be anything but easy. It’s going to take lots of consistency and the emergence of another offensive talent, and it’s going to take every member of the pitching staff living up to their expectations.
Why? Because if the Giants don’t exceed expectations, they won’t be crowned champions at season's end.
San Francisco has what it takes to win the World Series. It has a cast of good players and a deep pitching staff, but there are concerns. Injuries can derail the Giants, which is what happened in 2011 when they lost Buster Posey, Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, Aubrey Huff and others.
Inconsistency on offense can bring the Giants down, and another bad year from Lincecum or signs of aging from Vogelsong and Zito would put a dent in the Giants’ World Series hopes.
The road back to a championship is never easy, and it’s even harder for the Giants with the mountain of adversity they will face. If any group can handle it, it’s San Francisco. But this time, it just might be too much.
Can the Giants emerge victorious? Yes. Will they emerge victorious? No.