San Francisco Giants: 5 Bold Predictions for Giants' 2012 Season

Zack Ruskin@@frozentoothContributor IIJanuary 28, 2012

San Francisco Giants: 5 Bold Predictions for Giants' 2012 Season

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    From winning the World Series in 2010 to missing the playoffs in 2011, the San Francisco Giants have experienced euphoria and crashed back to earth.

    The Giants are a pitching-rich, offensively depleted team. They enter 2012 with one mission in mind: to prove their championship a season ago was not a fluke. It won't be easy. Everything that seemed to go right on their path to the World Series went wrong the following season.

    Will Buster Posey return to form? Can Aubrey Huff find his swing? Does Tim Lincecum have another Cy Young season in the tank? Fans are eager to see if a team largely unchanged during the offseason can overcome the hardships and disappointments of 2011.

    Let's take a look at five major possibilities for the 2012 season.

Brandon Belt Starts in Left Field

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    San Francisco Giants fans will be forever grateful to Aubrey Huff for his contributions to their World Series campaign in 2010.

    Huff offered timely hitting and veteran grit, and deserves his ring as much as anyone. Unfortunately, the Aubrey Huff that played in 2011 did not resemble him. Huff, a career .279 hitter, offered a paltry 12 homeruns and 45 runs in 521 at bats last season. Meanwhile, Brandon Belt hit nine homeruns and scored 21 runs in only 187 at bats. If not for a wrist injury, questionable managing and Huff already speaking for first base, Belt may have had a real impact in 2011.

    Now, in an outfield featuring Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Nate Schierholtz, Belt will get his chance in 2012 to play a full season in the bigs.

    Manager Bruce Bochy will likely platoon him with Schierholtz to begin the season.  It won't matter. Belt's offensive prowess and sheer power will earn him a spot in left field that he will keep for many seasons to come.

Pablo Sandoval Goes for 35 HRs and 100 RBIs

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    Amidst the worries over whether Buster Posey will be at full health, many seem to have forgotten the lone batter from the San Francisco Giants to appear in the 2011 All Star Game.

    Pablo Sandoval hasn't.

    After playing a minimal role on the 2010 team, starting in only one game of the World Series, Sandoval entered 2011 in great shape. His .315/.357/.552 line was a vast improvement from the year before. His numbers seemed to grow even better with the power of Carlos Beltran behind him in the line-up.

    Now the Giants have their clean-up hitter back.

    If Buster Posey can provide for a season the assurance Beltran offered Sandoval for just over a month, 2012 may be the year that San Francisco witnesses its first true offensive powerhouse since Barry Bonds.

Brian Wilson Shaves His Beard

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    The "Fear the Beard" motto may soon need a makeover.

    Brian Wilson, the San Francisco Giant's ulcer-inducing All-Star closer, may soon part ways with his chin monster.

    Many felt the beard would go as soon as Wilson blew a save in 2011. That opportunity presented itself during the Giants first home game of the season. Then everyone assumed the beard would bear the brunt of Wilson's altercation with a Gatorade jug following his second blown save in a week last July. But the beast remained.

    Entering 2012, Wilson returns from an injury that dampened the end of his season. The entire Giants roster is eager for a fresh start, one with healthy players and no Aaron Rowand.

    Whatever demons followed San Francisco during 2011 must be left behind, and so the beard must go.

Matt Cain Outpitches Tim Lincecum

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    From the moment Tim Lincecum threw a pitch in 2008, a seismic shift in focus took place. Two Cy Young awards and a World Series championship later, and almost any baseball fan can tell you what team The Freak plays for.

    That's the way Matt Cain likes it.

    Cain fits comfortably in the role of unsung hero. Since 2007, he has delivered 200+ innings pitched per season, and averaged over seven strikeouts a game. He's a two-time All Star, and the longest tenured Giant currently in uniform.

    In 2011, Cain finished with a 2.88 ERA, allowing 177 hits in 221.7 innings. Lincecum allowed 176 hits in 217 innings. No one is doubting Tim Lincecum's dominance on the mound, but with only a finite number of years left in his prime, 2012 is the perfect season for Cain to go all-out.

    With a deep rotation of bullpen relief, Cain needs only to demonstrate the consistency and poise that has defined his career thus far to generate 18 to 20 wins.

    It's run support that will ultimately decide Cain's 2012 legacy. With Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval both healthy and swinging a decent bat, Cain can earn the recognition he has so long deserved. 

The Giants/A's Rivalry Reignites

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    Some rivalries are legendary, and some are a bit more subdued.

    The San Francisco Giants have always played rival to their Southern Californian nemesis, the Los Angeles Dodgers. But back at home, a more feeble competition with the Oakland A's has lost some of its spark.

    The Giants vs. A's dynamic reached a zenith with the 1989 World Series. One earthquake and a four game sweep later, the A's emerged victorious. Since then, things have cooled off. The A's have been in a downward spiral for the last five seasons, and Oakland fans tend to care more about the matchups featuring AL East teams like the Yankees

    Things are about to heat back up.

    A dispute regarding territory in San Jose has linked the two teams in recent months. The Giants are unwilling to secede turf used by their Single-A affiliate to allow the Athletics to build a new stadium and move south. After sharing the Bay Area for more than 40 years, the A's want out, and the Giants stand in their way.

    In a related matter, the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders agreed last August to end their annual tradition of playing one another in the preseason. The decision was made in light of violence that occurred at Candlestick Park following the game. 

    Fan violence has no place in sports. That said, the good parts of the 49ers vs. Raiders rivalry will surely find their way into the six regular season games and three preseason meetings between the Giants and A's in 2012.