Five major headlines highlight the World Champion San Francisco Giants in 2013 as they look to capture a second straight championship and third crown in four years.
1. Which Tim Lincecum will show up in 2013?
The biggest question mark for the Giants entering 2013 will be the performance of former All-Star Tim Lincecum who is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2012 season. From 2008-2011, Lincecum had a 62-36 record displaying a 2.81 ERA and striking out 977. Throw in two Cy Young Awards, four all-star appearances and a world championship, life was good for "The Freak." 2012 was a humbling season for Lincecum finishing with a career-worst 10-15 record and 5.18 ERA. Manager Bruce Bochy elected to have Lincecum pitch out of the bullpen in the postseason where he relished the challenge, rising to the occasion. Lincecum worked diligently in the offseason and even cut his hair signaling a fresh start to his already successful career. Matt Cain is the bulldog, Ryan Vogelsong is mister consistent, Barry Zito is dependable and Madison Bumgarner will probably be the best pitcher for the Giants in the next year, but for this team to win another championship, Lincecum has to be the ace of the staff once again. The Giants are simply a better team when Lincecum is front and center, dominating hitters left and right. His velocity may not be 92 or 93 mph anymore, but if he can locate his pitches and avoid struggling in the first innings in 2013, Lincecum should be back to his old form and better. The Freak is a man on a mission looking to regain his stripes back and 2013 is also a contract year for Lincecum knowing all eyes will be on him to deliver this year. Giants fans hope Lincecum will produce a monster season hoping to recapture his mojo back.
2. Will Pablo Sandoval's weight be an issue?
After the Giants won the World Series in 2010, Giants management challenged Pablo Sandoval to get into better shape or else he would be sent to the Minors. If it wasn't for two long stints on the disabled list in 2011 and 2012, Sandoval's numbers would have better than the ones produced. He batted .315 in 2011 and .283 in 2012 making the all-star team in both years. He was terrific and outstanding in the postseason winning the World Series MVP as the Giants won another title. During the offseason, Sandoval carried that momentum winning MVP of the Venezuelan Winter League Championship Series last month. Despite a minor setback in January where he was hospitalized with abdominal inflammation, Sandoval is in baseball shape ready for another great season. Kung Fu Panda is simply a big guy who will never grace the cover of a fitness magazine with the perfect body. Sandoval is a big kid at heart playing the game with an affections attitude showing off his million dollar smile. If he plays well, the weight is a non-issue and if he struggles, the media will point to the added pounds. The Panda moves perfectly well at third base showcasing his agility and athletic ability. The Panda will always produce regardless of his physique.
3. Is Sergio Romo ready for the spotlight?
Whether former Giants closer Brian Wilson eventually re-signs with the team or not, Bochy has said Sergio Romo will be the team's closer heading into Opening Day on April 1 in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Romo has the look, attitude and stuff to become a great closer for the Giants this season. The biggest question surrounding Romo in 2013 is the physical toll his body can withstand with the amount of workload throughout the season. The biggest advantage Romo has going for him is the depth of the Giants starting rotation. All five starters can go deep into any game allowing Romo's life to be much easier. The Giants need stability at that closer's slot allowing the other relief pitchers to fit into a specific role during the season. Romo has 17 career saves with 15 coming in 2012. He was lights-out in the postseason saving four games yielding a 0.84 ERA. Giants analyst Mike Krukow said of a closer's attitude, "You gotta have the attitude of a burglar to save games" and Romo is ready for the close games, impossible situations and roaring crowds looking to nail down a Giants win. If Romo can solidify the closer situation in 2013, the Giants chances increase for a repeat.
4. Which Brandon is due for a breakout year?
Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford have established themselves as key parts to this Giants machine going forward. Belt had a solid 2012 raising his batting average up 50%, while Crawford saw his batting average rise by 44%. Crawford made a name for himself with his glove in the postseason making some incredible plays, showing off his strong arm and range. Belt had stretches throughout the season putting together some great weeks, rebounding nicely in his second season in the big leagues. Both players struggled at times in 2012, but rebounded in the postseason contributing with important hits and timely at-bats. Both players are entering their third season and which Brandon is ready to take that next step? Shortstop and first base are crucial defensive positions that are essential to the success of the team. The talent is their for both studs and consistency is the name of the game especially with the bat.
5. Will a major injury derail a repeat?
The 2011 Giants were robbed of any chances of a repeat when Buster Posey suffered a season-ending injury in May that season. No one will ever know whether the Giants would have made the playoffs that season if Posey had played. Injuries are part of baseball with the long grind of 162 games. I'm sure different Giants will spend a stint on the 15-Day DL or suffer some minor injury, but the Giants cannot afford a catastrophic injury. Role players can be replaced and you can win games during a stretch without a superstar, but if the Giants want to repeat as champions, no significant injury can happen. Everyone said last year they couldn't win after losing Wilson, they shut those critics up. The Giants, I repeat cannot afford to lose Posey, Sandoval or Cain for a majority of the season. Injuries will happen, but a huge injury could derail any intentions of a repeat.
The talent and chemistry is there for the Giants to be celebrating once again in October and they fully understand it will be a long journey filled with hurdles along the course of a long season. The National League has gotten better with teams like the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Dodgers all looking to knock off the champs. Winning a championship is never easy and trying to repeat will be an even more daunting task, but this Giants team likes doing the impossible and never makes baseball life easy for the fans.
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