Early on, the San Francisco Giants are looking like a serious playoff contender with a 10-5 record, including three consecutive wins to take a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
Maybe it's as simple as this team just being very good during even years this decade. It won the World Series title in 2010 and again in 2012. It missed the playoffs in 2011 and again in 2013, when it posted its first losing season in five years.
Naturally, the Giants are on their way to winning it all again, right?
OK, it's really not that simple. There are several reasons why they were so successful in their championship seasons, why they weren't good enough in 2011 and why they were a complete disaster last year.
A lot of the same faces remain from the championship teams but several also remain from last year's 86-loss team. Remember that they were 9-4 at one point last season. And 13-7. And 19-12. On May 16, they were 24-17 with a one-game divisional lead. Then, things slowly begin to unravel, and they were out of the playoff race by early August.
So why should we believe that they have truly turned things around and are headed for another magical season?
Two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum probably won't ever again be as good as he was from 2008-2011, and there's a good chance Buster Posey will never again match his MVP season of 2012. The necessary 15 to 20 game improvement that it will likely to take to win a playoff spot will have to come from the combination of several other positives that take place.
If the first two weeks of the season are any indication, there is plenty of reason for optimism. Here are four reasons why it's apparent that last year's struggles are in the past.