Giants' return to health could net playoff return
Posey and Co. set to thrive in intact lineup, complement hurlers
Buster is back.
Freddy is on the way back to the field, and it's only a matter of weeks before "Vogy" takes the mound at home. There's no need to worry about Brian Wilson, either.
Panda is back, too.
Welcome to the 2012 version of San Francisco Giants, a new and improved copy of last year's squad, complete with the same old nicknames, but better health and a lot more speed. The Giants are feeling optimistic, and it's hard to blame them. They may have just found the perfect formula to take back the National League West crown and another World Series title.
"We are looking to get back to the way it was when we won it all in 2010," Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval said. "We had fun together and we won. We were healthy and it all came together. That's what we want."
Sandoval could get his wish.
W: Kennedy (1-0) L: Lincecum (0-1)
SV: Putz (1)
Buster Posey, coming back from season-ending ankle surgery last year, had a fine Spring Training and is poised once again to provide the offensive punch the club needs. Posey said he is going to catch "as much as I can" and will also see action at first base this season.
"He's going to do a lion's share of the catching. I don't know how many games," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I think we can answer that a little bit better as we get into the season. He'll be our starting catcher and occasionally, he'll play first base to keep his bat in there. We'll keep an eye on him."
Posey will be ready. He can't wait for Opening Day against the D-backs.
Just ask him.
"I'm really optimistic because I think I have made a lot of progress this spring," Posey said. "I think it's only going to get better and better."
It's hard to top what the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year has done so far in his young career, but Giants fans will be pleased if he comes anywhere close.
It's also hard to bet against Buster.
"We thought he would be fine. He has not had any hiccups since rehab," Bochy said. "Buster is coming through all the stuff we put him through, and we think he is really back to where he was. He's not showing any ill effects of the injury."
The good news for Giants fans is that Sandoval and Posey won't have to carry the entire load on offense this season. The additions of athletic outfielders Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, along with the emergence of outfielder Nate Schierholtz and shortstop Brandon Crawford, provide an element not seen often in the home dugout in San Francisco: speed.
"It seems like everybody is committed to win. That's a great attitude," Pagan said. "I'm all about winning. I'm all about playing hard every day. And these guys have taught me how to play hard day in and day out and just be a winner. That's what I came here to do."
Pagan also came to San Francisco to score runs. Last year, the Giants' offense struggled, and Pagan is seen as part of the solution to that problem.
"We all know that every time we put three or four runs on the board, the pitching staff will fight like an upside down cat to protect that lead," Pagan said. "As a hitter, you will fight the same way to put them on the board."
Once again, the Giants will only go as far as the pitching will take them. And with names like Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong in the rotation, it's not a stretch to think the pitching will take them into October. Barry Zito, who has been working on his delivery, remains the biggest question mark among the starters.
The bullpen, anchored by Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo, remains intact. The club is confident Wilson, who was slowed by elbow inflammation last season, will make it through an entire season.
Vogelsong, who was slowed by a sore back, and Freddy Sanchez (dislocated shoulder) will start the season on the disabled list, but the club expects contributions from them early in the season. In fact, Vogelsong will make his 2012 debut on April 15 against the Pirates at home.
"Vogy" knows the road back to a division title will not be an easy one.
"Obviously, the Diamondbacks have to be the favorites, because they are the defending champs and added some good players and are stronger," Vogelsong said. "We have to go get them, but you can't overlook the other teams in the division. The Dodgers played us really tough last year, and the Rockies are better. It's going to be another battle. Everyone seems evenly matched."
Some questions about the 2012 club remain. Some wonder if Crawford will hit enough to stay in the lineup or how much production the club will need from Aubrey Huff before it calls for Brandon Belt or Brett Pill at first base.
Huff, for one, is focused on the present.
"Our goal is to win the division and get to the playoffs," he said. "We are healthy, and I think that's an attainable goal. Last year, we were decimated by injuries, and this year, everyone seems to be healthy with a few exceptions. Everyone seems in good spirits and in good health."
In other words, Buster isn't the only one who is back.