After winning the World Series in 2010, the Reds mostly stood pat, trusting in their core to deliver again. Then Buster Posey broke his leg and that year didn't quite work out. Last year, with a healthy Posey, they won again, and once again have pretty much let things be. There were no major personnel moves apart from letting Melky Cabrera and the iconic Brian Wilson (injured last year) walk. If you haven't seen the Nationals or Reds previews, feel free to jump to those or stay here. As always, projected stats are courtesy of Bill James and Fangraphs. Let's start with the lineup.
CF Angel Pagan (S): .277/.332/.403, 8 HR, 27 SB, 3.5 WAR
2B Marco Scutaro (R): .281/.344/.378, 8 HR, 1.9 WAR
3B Pablo Sandoval (S): .298/.356/.498, 22 HR, 4.2 WAR
C Buster Posey (R): .324/.400/.534, 24 HR, 6.8 WAR
RF Hunter Pence (R): .277/.338/.464, 23 HR, 2.8 WAR
1B Brandon Belt (L): .282/.374/.463, 16 HR, 2.9 WAR
LF Andres Torres (S): .240/.328/.370, 6 HR, 13 SB, 1.6 WAR
SS Brandon Crawford (L): .245/.306/.351, 6 HR, 2.2 WAR
The only difference here is Torres, who hits slightly better than Gregor Blanco but is not as slick with the glove (necessary in San Francisco's huge outfield). The two may in fact platoon, but I expect Torres to get a small majority of the at-bats, with Blanco being saved as a late-innings defensive replacement. Bill James has clearly factored in Sandoval's Jekyll and Hyde reputation; Kung Fu Panda has alternated excellent seasons with mediocre ones for the past five years. He's due for an All-Star level campaign this year, and may come into the spring riding high off of his World Series MVP performance. As a hitter, he is terrifying, a switch-hitter with good plate coverage who's sort of a poor man's Vladimir Guerrero in that he can crush anything between his ankles and his forehead. Plus, he's just a delight to watch.
The Giants may be making a leap of faith that Posey can carry this lineup for long stretches, but given his incredible 2012 second half, that faith seems justified. It's hard to find any faults in the 2012 MVP's game; he's a good defensive catcher and a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat whose home runs are only kept down by playing in cavernous AT&T Park (plus 18 games a year in Dodger Stadium and Petco Park). The faith that GM Brian Sabean and the organization are placing in the 31-year-old Pagan and 36-year-old Scutaro to solidify the top of the lineup is much more questionable. Pagan was re-signed for four years and $45 million, Scutaro for three years and $20 million, but there is no guarantee that either can sustain their 2012 performance in 2013, let alone in a year or two. Fortunately for the Giants, their primary strength (apart from Posey) is on the mound.
RHP Matt Cain: 226.0 IP, 188 K, 57 BB, 2.95 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 4.4 WAR
LHP Madison Bumgarner: 203.0 IP, 174 K, 48 BB, 3.37 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 4.8 WAR
RHP Tim Lincecum: 197.0 IP, 211 K, 87 BB, 3.47 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 3.7 WAR
RHP Ryan Vogelsong: 185.0 IP, 155 K, 66 BB, 3.75 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 2.7 WAR
LHP Barry Zito: 192.0 IP, 133 K, 75 BB, 3.94 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 1.9 WAR
That's a solid staff, and the Giants can take heart in the knowledge that this is the last year they'll be paying Zito $21 million to be a fifth starter (although they were surely appreciative of his mini-renaissance during the playoffs). Even with the staff, however, there are questions, with the exception of the rock-solid Cain. I think we can safely say that the Freak of 2008-10 (a 2.83 and 757 punchouts over those three years) is sadly gone forever, but even a return to 2011 Lincecum would be welcome. The trend lines are bad (slowly declining strikeout rate, more quickly growing walk rate) over the past four years, but he's still just 29, and actually threw fewer innings last year (including playoff appearances) than in any of the previous four seasons. I have already advocated for the Giants to use him and Jeremy Affeldt in sort of a two-headed super-relief role, but $22 million is a lot to pay for a reliever, so it looks like he will start.
Vogelsong recovered from many years of wandering in the wilderness (including three years in Japan) to have his two best seasons at age 33 and 34. Can he keep it up, or will he revert to the 5.87-ERA, 1.589-WHIP mess of his previous big league stint (2003-6)? The concern with Bumgarner is his durability. Still just 23, he tossed 223.1 innings last year, and was clearly fatigued by the tail end of the season, getting knocked around throughout September and his first two playoff starts. During that time, the whole league hit like Matt Holliday against him. Will he suffer a World Series hangover? If not, he's one of the best lefties in baseball and a superb complement to Cain. And even without Wilson, the Giants' bullpen is deep, with Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, and Sergio Romo the big names. With a clean bill of health from their big guns, the Giants should threaten to win their division again and make a push at a third World Series in four years.