When the Los Angeles Dodgers made their megatrade late last August for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, lots of people penciled them in as the NL West champions, even though they trailed the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants at the time by 2.5 games.
Los Angeles had Hanley Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp already, so it wasn't far-fetched at all. However, the Giants ran away with the division and eventually captured their second World Series crown, which has motivated the Dodgers to get the best of their NL West rivals for the first time since 2009.
Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-Jin were also added to help out the pitching staff, and those two may both pitch in the first series of the season—against none other than the Giants. Kershaw, the 2011 NL Cy Young winner and 2012 Cy Young candidate, will be in it as well.
On paper, the Dodgers look unbeatable. But the Giants proved that the Dodgers can be beaten, and as Giants fans know better than anyone, games aren't won on paper. Big transactions don't always mean wins. Just ask Marco Scutaro.
Scutaro hit .361 for the Giants in over the final two months of the regular season, then hit .328 in the playoffs. Scutaro barely garnered any attention when he was traded to the Giants for Charlie Culberson, but he surely got attention in October when he helped power the Giants to the top.
Those kind of trades define San Francisco: the Giants don't play for attention; they play to win games and win championships. They have defied the odds and continue to be underrated, which is exactly how they want things.
Who Will Win the NL West?
So it's a good thing that the Giants aren't exactly the favorites to win the NL West in 2013.
The Dodgers will be motivated, and it will help them entering this year that they had some time to gel at the end of the 2012 season. However, as Brandon Belt said (via Golden Gate Sports) you can't buy team chemistry, and the Dodgers have been throwing millions at players the last few months.
San Francisco signed a lot of players this offseason, but the only one that turned some heads was when they locked up Andres Torres, a key component for the 2010 Giants, the first squad to win a World Series championship in San Francisco. Torres and Gregor Blanco will platoon in left field, with Torres starting against lefties and Blanco starting when a right-hander takes the hill.
Is the platoon formidable? No. But perhaps it's best that way.
There are some very talented players who will suit up for the orange and black this year, such as Matt Cain, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum and others. Lincecum has a lot to prove in 2013, and he bulked up over the offseason, (per Keely Flanagan) to 167 pounds, eight pounds heavier than he was during the 2012 season.
His weight will improve his fastball velocity, which will set up his nasty off-speed pitches. Lincecum is ready and motivated, and he has the stuff to succeed. It's a contract year for him, so he will be incredibly motivated. And I think that will lead to success.
The Giants still had the league's sixth-best pitching staff, despite their two-time Cy Young winner posting a miserable 5.18 ERA. Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner all won 14 or more games, with Bumgarner and Cain both notching 16 victories. San Francisco's pitching staff will dominate, and the bullpen, which consists of Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, George Kontos and Javier Lopez—all owners of a sub-3.00 ERA—will finish the deal.
Do the Dodgers have a good offense? Yes, they do. But the Giants can stifle them with good pitching and good defense, which is the unsexy but very productive system in San Francisco.
The talent and the chemistry is there in San Francisco, and while the talent is also there with the Dodgers, the chemistry is not. The Dodgers have lots of new additions, and it will take time for the team to gel. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants jump out in first place early and build a safe lead on the Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and the rest of the NL West.
They have the talent to stay in first as well, as they went 94-68 last year, beating the Dodgers by eight games, extending their lead by 5.5 games in just over a month at the end of the season. The Dodgers have talent, but when the slumps come on it will destroy team chemistry and, ultimately, the team. Bruce Bochy always has the Giants prepared, even in the midst of a slump, and they can handle a 162-game season.
Los Angeles, on the other hand, hasn't yet gone through the grind of a whole season, and Don Mattingly isn't anywhere close to Bochy as a manager. Experience is on San Francisco's side, and so are things that are overlooked on paper but pay dividends in games, such as chemistry.
Are the Dodgers better on paper? Yes. But as I've been saying, games aren't won on paper. They are won on the field, and the Giants win on the field. They overcome the odds and just do their business, which is exactly how they want it.
And they're going to get it that way. So why bet against the Giants?
I'm not sure. There doesn't seem to be a way.