Now, we will have another year with the Giants and Dodgers competing for the NL West.
After lots of huge moves and a nice finish to the 2012 season (for Giants fans), the Giants and Dodgers are going to go back at it for 162 more games as the NL West is on the line. The Dodgers appear to be better on paper, but no one knows better than the Giants that games aren't won on paper.
By the end of the year, the Dodgers' stacked offense was firing on all cylinders. However, some early season struggles had the Dodgers in 26th in total offense with just 637 runs, or less than four per game. With most pitching staffs, that would lead to a terrible record.
However, Clayton Kershaw and the Dodger pitching staff excelled, carrying Los Angeles to a decent 86-76 record. The Dodgers were third in the MLB with a 3.34 ERA, and they were led by Kershaw, the 2011 NL Cy Young winner.
The Giants have an ace, and they also have a former ace in Tim Lincecum. Lincecum won the NL Cy Young award in 2008 and 2009, but he struggled mightily in 2012, posting a mind-blowing 5.18 ERA. Lincecum lost 15 games and cost the Giants in the regular season, and while he stepped up in the playoffs pitching out of the bullpen, his spring training hasn't been great.
There is concern about Lincecum, but he can't be worse than he was in 2012. Plus, even if he does struggle, the Giants have a great pitching staff to back him up.
Matt Cain went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA in 2012, and he was on the mound in all three of the Giants' playoff clinchers. Barry Zito won 15 games, and the Giants have won his last 14 starts. Ryan Vogelsong was 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA, and Madison Bumgarner was 16-11 with a 3.37 ERA.
In other words, the Giants have a deep, talented pitching staff.
While the Giants are known for having a poor offense, the bats stepped up in 2012 and powered the Giants to a 94-68 record. Buster Posey hit .336 and won the NL MVP award, and the Giants were 12th in runs scored with 718.
The stats seem to say that the Dodgers have a worse offense than the Giants, and the fact that Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles' third baseman, will be out for up to 10 weeks with a thumb injury (according to multiple sources) doesn't help at all. However, the Dodgers averaged 5.63 runs per game in their last eight games of 2012, showing improvement with the bats and lots of potential for 2013.
Because the Dodgers had time to gel at the end of the 2012 season, they should be ready to go chemistry-wise from the get-go. If the Dodgers can play as well as they were supposed to play when making their final blockbuster trade, they can win the NL West.
However, the Giants are a team that doesn't look like the MLB's best on paper, but still succeeds. They fought hard in the 2012 MLB Playoffs, winning an incredible six elimination games and eventually coming up with the World Series title. The Dodgers haven't made the playoffs since 2009, so their current core lacks playoff experience.
But in the regular season, that doesn't matter.
On paper, the Dodgers are stacked, and having a full season with Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and the rest of the jam-packed Dodger lineup should definitely strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. Having a pitching staff anchored by Kershaw and 2009 AL Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke doesn't hurt either, and while the Giants have a great staff as well, Los Angeles' pitching staff should not be overlooked.
Both teams are great, and if the injury bug doesn't have an impact, both teams should be able to make the playoffs. However, to me, the defending champions look better. There are a few concerns, such as depth and the possibility of injuries, but the lineup is well-rounded with one star (Posey) and all five starting pitchers have talent. The Giants know how to handle the grind of a 162-game season (largely thanks to manager Bruce Bochy) and they know how to have fun while doing that.
And that will add up to the Giants capturing the NL West for the second consecutive year.