NL West: San Francisco Team to Beat
It seems almost unfathomable that just four years ago, headstrong manager Bruce Bochy angered and outraged San Francisco Giants fans by refusing to play the talented catcher Buster Posey.
Fans of the defending World Series champions were right about the potential they saw in the former Florida State star. Entering the 2013 season, Posey signed the most lucrative deal in San Francisco history, won two World Series rings, and been dubbed--in what is remarkably high praise--as the game's "next Derek Jeter."
In 2011, Posey lost a season when he grittily tried to block home plate and suffered a fractured bone after a violent collision. The Giants have instructed him not to block the plate and may eventually move the slugger to first base. Last season, Posey became one of four catchers in the live ball era in National League history to hit .330 with over 100 RBIs.
The Giants faced a record-tying six elimination games in last year's postseason and won them all en route to their second World Series in three years. Before 2010, the Giants had not won a World Series since moving to California from the Polo Grounds. That takes chemistry, and a team that clicks on all cylinders. San Francisco showed they were a special team when they did not let Melky Cabrera's suspension--after he was named the MVP in last year's All-Star Game--to distract them.
Posey is San Francisco's centerpiece, and if the Giants want to hold off the Dodgers, a team that seems intent on buying a title, he will have to catch a pitching staff that must continue to live up the hype.
Matt Cain anchors San Francisco's rotation. Madison Bumgarner won 16 games last season. Ryan Vogelsong was dominant in last year's postseason and will eat up quality innings. Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito are the wildcards. Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young winner, was inconsistent at best last season and he will need to regain his dominant form. Zito saved the Giants season when he won game 5 of the National League Championship Series against St. Louis, but Zito, who has been criticized for not living up to his contract, cannot have an off year for San Francisco. Sergio Romo, who is cool under pressure, is their closer.
Fan-favorite Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval will provide a dynamic bat. Brandon Belt seems primed for a good year at first base. Angel Pagan just simply knows how to play the outfield at a tricky ballpark, especially with San Francisco's unpredictable winds. How well Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro, and Gregor Blanco do will be question marks.
Down the stretch last year, Bochy simply out-managed Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly in some crucial games, and the Giants skipper may give his team some tactical advantages over the Dodgers if all things remain the same.
The bottom line is San Francisco is the defending World Series champions and the champions of the NL West. They return nearly the same team as they had last year. So until teams give reasons to the contrary, the Giants start the season on top and as favorites to win the division.