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MLB preview: San Francisco Giants

I don't really love the Giants, but if I can pick the Phillies to win a very competitive NL East largely because of three excellent starting pitchers, I can do the same for the Giants in a much more winnable division.

2011 record: 86-76 (2nd in NL West). Projected 2012 finish: 90-72 (1st in NL West).

Projected starters: C Buster Posey, 1B Aubrey Huff, 2B Freddy Sanchez, SS Brandon Crawford, 3B Pablo Sandoval, LF Melky Cabrera, CF Angel Pagan, RF Nate Schierholtz, SP Tim Lincecum, SP Matt Cain, SP Madison Bumgarner, SP Ryan Vogelsong, SP Barry Zito, CL Brian Wilson, RP Sergio Romo, RP Jeremy Affeldt.

Half-full outlook: Other than the one in Philadelphia, the Giants' 1-2-3 rotation punch has no rivals. Bumgarner's emergence (he had a 5.5 WAR season in 2011) and Cain's incredible consistency have made Lincecum's 3.6 WAR decline in the last two seasons a lot less noticable than it otherwise might be. While Vogelson's 2011 season was largely smoke and mirrors (his 2.71 ERA was nearly a run better than his 3.67 FIP), but it was still pretty darn good for a No. 4 starter. Zito is a problem, even in a No. 5 role, but Wilson's injury problems may not extend into the season after all. That could help the Giants field a really good bullpen to go with a really, really good rotation. And while I don't expect the Giants to score many runs, having Posey back is going to help siginifcantly.

Half-empty oulook: If Cabrera can replicate his .305/.339/.470 line from last year ... if Huff is closer to a 6.0 WAR player, like he was in 2010, than a -0.6 WAR player, like he was in 2011 ... if Posey is able to play 120-plus games ... if the currently disabled Sanchez can somehow put the injuries that have derailed his career behind him ... if Brandon Belt ever gets a shot (don't bet on that happening soon) ... and if Sandoval is a 5.5 WAR monster like was in 2009 and 2011, instead of a player worth under 2 WAR like he was in 2008 and 2010 ... if all of those things happen, the Giants will be pretty good offensively. Otherwise, they will struggle, and there is the very real possiblity they will struggle to the point that their pitching can't carry them to the playoffs.

Halfway between the two outlook: I don't expect the offensive "ifs" I came up with to all happen for the Giants. I'm not sure any of them will. But I do think their pitching will be fantastic. Like most of the stathead community, I am not a fan of what general manager Brian Sabean has done with this team of late. But having Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner will make up for a lot of flaws elsewhere.


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