Come Opening Day, the San Francisco Giants who take the field are going to look quite familiar.
Every starter will be returning to their respective position—although a few new faces will populate both the bench and bullpen.
The projected starting lineup:
Hunter Pence in right field. Angel Pagan in center. Gregor Blanco in left—but not everyday. The Giants are looking to implement a left field platoon, utilizing both Blanco and Andres Torres at the position.
Blanco will be given the nod despite his spring training struggles. The returning outfielder has shown progress of late, posting a decent .288/.351/.442 line. His early drought at the plate can be attributed to his trying a new approach, as reported by CSNBayArea.com's Andrew Baggerly. According to Baggerly, Blanco initially attempted to switch up his mechanics after listening to advice from the sagely Marco Scutaro.
“I kind of realized that I’ve got my approach...I’m comfortable with myself and I’m going to stick with it. I’m good at what I am. These last two days, I’ve been myself.”
Should Blanco fall into a characteristic pattern of offensive inconsistency, Andres Torres will be the first to fill in.
Spring training surprises Cole Gillespie and Francisco Peguero have also made strong cases to earn playing time in the outfield. After aiding in a 9-7 win over the Colorado Rockies on March 17th, Gillespie was praised by manager Bruce Bochy:
“He’s got a knack to hit left-handed [pitching], so he’s a good matchup for us there...really a good piece of two-strike hitting. He was going to do all he could to get the run in and he did more than that. He won the game.” (San Francisco Examiner)
Pagan and Pence are solid in their starting positions. The Giants are looking for Pagan to continue legging out extra base hits in the leadoff spot in the batting order, and for Pence to return to All-Star form as Buster Posey's protector in the No. 5 hole.
At the outset of the 2012 season, the Giants' starting infield remained a massive question mark. The infield is a very different story going into the 2013 regular season.
Brandon Belt finally established himself as the everyday first baseman as the Giants made a final playoff push in 2012. Over the course of the second half of last season, Belt's offensive production improved dramatically. After the All-Star break, Belt batted .293, raising his season batting average to a respectable .275.
This spring, Belt's success at the plate has only continued. He has been on an absolute tear during spring training, posting an exceptional line of .433/.460/.900.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford and second baseman Marco Scutaro are set to anchor the middle infield. Crawford should continue to benefit from Scutaro's veteran presence, and their cemented everyday tandem will cut down the number of errors on the field. In 2012, Crawford got off to a shaky start at shortstop, committing 10 of his 18 errors before June. However, once he settled into his position, Crawford blossomed into one of the league's top shortstops defensively.
Third baseman Pablo Sandoval is ripe for a career year in 2013. After struggling at the plate in 2010, and being plagued with minor injuries in 2011 and 2012, the Kung Fu Panda is looking to break out in 2013.
Unfortunately, his 2013 debut may be delayed. Sandoval currently has ulnar neuritis in his right elbow, and could possibly be scratched from the Opening Day roster. According to Alex Pavolvic of the San Jose Mercury News, the power-hitting third baseman "...was limited to light conditioning a day after manager Bruce Bochy said the third baseman's status for the season opener would start to become an issue if he didn't make progress by the end of the weekend."
Should Sandoval become unavailable due to injury, utility infielder Joaquin Arias is the probable candidate to take his place at the hot corner.
Cain has been the poster child of consistency throughout his career as a Giant. He finally garnered national notice in 2012 after throwing one of the most dominant perfect games in MLB history, blanking the Houston Astros on June 13, 2012 in front of his home crowd. Cain was also named the starting pitcher for the NL All-Star team and finished the season 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA.
None of these accomplishments should come as a surprise. In his eight-year MLB career, Cain has a 3.27 ERA along with a career 1.173 WHIP. His 85-78 record purely confirms his "hard-luck" reputation.
Cain will pitch to reigning NL MVP Buster Posey, whose presence behind the plate is crucial to the Giants' success. Going into 2012, Posey returned to the lineup after a devastating ankle injury. There were question marks surrounding his productivity and ability to rebound after being named Rookie of the Year in 2010.
In 2012, Posey established himself as a superstar. The sky's the limit in 2013.
For a defending World Series champion team that has remained entirely intact, the Giants remain underdogs in the NL West, projected by many to finish behind their division-rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
What many critics consider to be a weakness is actually San Francisco’s biggest strength. The Giants’ success in the 2012 playoffs depended largely on their chemistry and ability to come together as a team against seemingly insurmountable odds. What other club would have possessed the where-with-all to win all six of their elimination games?
The Giants are redefining the recipe for success in MLB. The experiment continues April 1st, 2013.