The reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants received little love from the experts this offseason.
As evidence, merely look to a preseason ESPN expert poll where not a single so-called "expert" picked the Giants to make the World Series again.
The Detroit Tigers, meanwhile, are favored to represent the American league by a whopping 27 of those same ESPN experts.
The trendy pick to win the NL West? The Los Angeles Dodgers.
In five meetings this season, the Giants are 4-1 against their division rivals—a small sample size, but still decisive. The Dodgers have proven nothing, whereas the Giants have won two World Series championships in the past three years.
What's even more egregious is that almost the entire 2012 Giants' roster is back in 2013. The same team that won the World Series in 2012 isn't expected to represent the National League in the 2013 World Series?
Here's why these "experts" are wrong. Allow the San Francisco Bay Area faithful to educate the naysayers.
The Giants do have the ability to return to the World Series in 2013.
This offseason, Giants' general manager Brian Sabean made plenty of moves—all under the radar. Rather than fish for new players, Sabean made it his priority to keep his championship-caliber roster intact. Pivotal players Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro were signed to multi-year deals, pitchers Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner were locked down and reigning NL MVP Buster Posey will be a Giant for nearly a decade—nine years to be exact.
Pagan has reprised his role at the leadoff spot this season. He boasts a solid line of .275/.328/.367. If Pagan had decided to sign with Philadelphia or another team on the long list of interested franchises, he would have been lauded as "filling a hole" and "providing a huge impact" elsewhere.
Instead, Pagan re-signed with the Giants relatively quietly. He will continue to get on base and in turn, make things happen on the basepaths. He will continue to be a solid presence in center field and should help the Giants return to the World Series.
Scutaro had a slow start to the season at second base, but has picked up the pace in the batter's box. He has hit safely in the past six games, and continues to provide defensive stability at second base.
The rest of the Giants' lineup is formidable. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval holds a line of .323/.358/.468 batting in the three-hole this season. Posey, meanwhile, is picking up the pace behind the plate and batting fourth. After all, he is the reigning NL MVP.
Right fielder Hunter Pence is looking like the NL All-Star of old, batting .297 and more impressively, owning a slugging percentage of .516. With Pence lighting up the five-hole, opposing pitchers will be forced to throw Posey better pitches.
Moving down in the order are two of the Giants' wild cards—first baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford. If the two younger players can find a rhythm at the plate, the Giants' lineup officially moves from formidable to deadly. Belt, in particular, has a bat full of potential just waiting to break out. Crawford is a magician with his glove.
However, the Giants' starting pitching will need to improve In order for them to make the postseason and potentially go deep enough to make the World Series,
Cain, the staff ace, finally earned his first win of the season against the Dodgers, but is still working with a 5.57 ERA. In seven starts, Cain has allowed nine home runs, already equaling the total he allowed throughout the entire 2011 season.
Still, there is time for the consistent right-hander to find his groove on the mound. His velocity remains on par and it's almost a statistical impossibility that he will continue to allow as many home runs as his current alarming rate.
The left-handed Bumgarner dealt with a minor mechanical issue in the offseason, but has returned to form, leading the starting staff with a 2.31 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. Barry Zito is having his best season as a Giant so far, but Tim Lincecum continues to struggle. He has shown flashes of his old self—more so than in 2012—and as his velocity and control improve, so will his overall performance.
Starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong is also off to a slow start. In a May 4 game against the Dodgers, Vogelsong endured a seven-run fifth inning, although the Giants went on to win 10-9 in extra innings.
Manager Bruce Bochy remains confident in his starting staff (via The Sacramento Bee):
We've gone through ruts like this. We did last year, where guys haven't been quite as sharp. But once they come out of it and we start getting those consistent quality starts, get their confidence back, I think you'll see a different club.
The Giants' May 4 win was indicative of a new pattern for the 2013 Giants. No matter the score of their game, they can come back to win.
The Giants demonstrated that "pluckiness" throughout the 2012 playoffs, coming back from the brink of elimination six times. This season, there appears to be a new hero every night. In the series with the Dodgers' alone, both catchers—Posey and backup Guillermo Quiroz—hit walk-off home runs.
In terms of intangibles, the Giants score a perfect 10. Excellent chemistry both on and off the field, combined with an unselfish brand of baseball, pushes the Giants over more "complete" rosters.
However, to pin the team's success purely on its unique chemistry is to understate the talent it has retained from last season. Remember, the Giants have the same lineup, same starting rotation, same bullpen and the same leadership that won them a World Series in 2012.
Unchanged and unwavering, they can do it again.