Opening day series preview: San Francisco Giants come to Dodger Stadium

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

The Giants may have won the World Series in two of the last three years, but I have them finishing in third place in the National League West in 2013.

The San Francisco Giants didn't just win the World Series in 2012 and 2010. They have won 88, 92, 86, and 94 games in the last four years, pretty good for a team that looked lost following the 2008 season after four straight years of less than 77 victories.

Much has been made about how the Giants have sat on their hands this past winter but it is a mite different from the opening day 2012 lineup.

Matt Cain will replace Tim Lincecum as the opening day starter.

Marco Scutaro will replace Ryan Theriot as the opening day second baseman.

Hunter Pence will replace Melky Cabrera as the opening day right fielder.

You can bet Aubrey Huff will not be the starting left fielder.

First base - Brandon Belt: If the Giants are to repeat they will need big things from their young slugging first baseman. His sophomore season provided glimpses of what might be coming. Only seven home runs in 411 at-bats and you might wonder what all the fuss is about. But given his home/road splits you would think he plays his home games in Coors, not in one of the toughest parks in baseball for a left-handed hitter. Belt had a .234 OPS point differential between home (.906) and road (.662) in 2012.

Second Base - Marco Scutaro: The long-time infielder was picked up last summer to play second base. Little did the Giants know they had just acquired the major piece that would lead them to their championship. Every Dodger fan knows that Scutaro went Marlon Anderson on the baseball world. For most of his career he's been a nice player. Last year he was Bruce Banner with the Rockies but the Hulk with the Giants. At age 37 I'd expect him to drop back down to a .700 OPS hitter, if not lower. It would not surprise me if Marco Scutaro, 2012 hero, is not the Giants' starting second baseman next year at this time.

Shortstop - Brandon Crawford: He's not much of a hitter just as Mark Ellis is not much of a hitter. Also like Mark Ellis his game is defense. He doesn't get much respect around LA but after a year of watching Dee/Cruz/Hanley man shortstop they should change their opinion. The man can pick it, and hits just enough to keep his name in the lineup.

Third Base - Pablo Sandoval: Just how many odd/even people play this game of baseball? Since becoming a regular in 2009 he has posted an OPS of .943 / .732 / .909 / .789. This is an odd year. He has missed over 100 games the last two years and might have trouble once again staying on the field in 2013. Pablo has an ulnar nerve problem that is supposedly caused by a bone spur. Earlier this week he said he was pain free but later in the week he asked out the game. Questionable for opening day, we might see Arias instead with Panda on the bench. Bone spurs don't go away, so it could be a painful season for the Panda.

Catcher - Buster Posey: A well deserved MVP. Who is this guy? Is he getting better or was that a crazy fluky year? Dodger fans better hope that his previous best (.862 OPS) is his future ceiling because if he's their Mike Piazza, it is going to be a long decade. It's kind of scary to note that Posey had an OPS over 1.000 in July, August, and September. For a catcher, that is crazy. I guess playing 29 games at first base was a good move.

Right field - Hunter Pence: Lost in all the angst over how Scutaro overshot anything he had ever done was Hunter Pence under performing anything he had ever done. I'd call that a draw. I'll take the parlay on Scutaro regressing and Hunter impressing, but the only question is how much. Ever since Pence showed up in 2007 he has been one of the top right fielders in the game. Truly he has. Number one among all NL right fielders using bWAR.

                                                           
Rk         Player WAR/pos From   To   Age   PA  HR RBI  OPS
1    Hunter Pence    18.1 2007 2012 24-29 3787 138 516 .813
2    Jayson Werth    16.6 2007 2012 28-33 3107 120 389 .844
3      Corey Hart    15.2 2007 2012 25-30 3482 143 468 .830
4    Justin Upton    13.1 2007 2012 19-24 3030 108 363 .832
5    Andre Ethier    12.9 2007 2012 25-30 3542 118 480 .838
6    Ryan Ludwick    10.4 2007 2012 28-33 3081 129 486 .810
7       Jay Bruce     9.4 2008 2012 21-25 2709 134 376 .813

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/27/2013.

Center field - Angel Pagan: That is called winning a trade. Andres Torres for Angel Pagan. Not only did they get the New York Met 2009 version of Pagan they now have Torres back on the team. Pagan had a great year, if it seemed like he tormented the Dodgers, you would be right. His .865 OPS against the Dodgers was almost 100 points higher than his .778 season OPS. He'll be around for a few years now that he signed for four years and $40 million.

Left field - Gregor Blanco: He's fast and he takes a walk, but he's also the weakest link. When the Giants upgrade their team in 2013 you can bet it will be in left field. The one-time Giants center fielder Torres could be on the right side of a platoon since Blanco is left-handed, and Torres can at least hit left-handed pitching. That 2010 breakout year for Torres is long forgotten.

Bench - The Giants better not have any injuries because they have a thin bench with little help staring at them in the minors. Brett Pill might be able to help at first but he starts the year on the DL. Torres could help in left field, but if he's asked to play right or center that is a big drop off. Joaquin Arias is the utility infielder who will have to step in for Panda, or Scutaro, when they need a day off. They are carrying three catchers, including Hector Sanchez and Guillermo Quiroz and the only reason I can come up with is that Posey is going to get some time at first base. I wonder if Belt will play left field when that happens. Infielder Nick Noonan rounds out the bench.

Rotation for Series:

Game 1 - Matt Cain: I despise Cain for becoming what I expected Chad Billingsley to become. Up until 2008 things were looking very much the same for the both of them. Cain was drafted with the 25th pick in 2002, Billingsley 24th in 2003. Once upon a time many an analyst would have picked Chad Billingsley over Matt Cain. That was four years ago, and Matt Cain now stands alone. What a beast he has become. In 2008 his BB/9 rate was 3.8. He has dropped that each year down to a stunning 2.1, while keeping his K/9 rate at 7.9. In the last three years his finished 12th, eighth, and sixth in Cy Young Award voting. He will get closer in 2013 and might even win it. He's only had to make two World Series starts because the Giants are 8 - 1 in World Series play.

Game 2 - Madison Bumgarner: You'd have to think San Francisco fans would be a bit alarmed about the downfall of Two-Time Timmy but they know they have an ace in their back pocket. The tall left-hander is only entering his age-23 season. He's got brilliant peripherals with a BB/9 rate of 2.1 along with K/9 rate of 8.3 He's pitched over 200 innings two years in a row. Has struck out exactly 191 the last two years. The only reason he's not the best young left hander in the NL is because of Clayton Kershaw. Bumgarner is good. Hell, he's great.

Game 3 - Tim Lincecum: One of the worst springs in baseball. His velocity has still not come back to Cy levels. The command is still awful. He's pitching for a contract, while making $22 million this year. If he does not rebound, I hope he saved his money. That said, I'm having a hard time believing he's done. He won a Cy in 2008 and 2009, and both years the Dodgers went to the NLCS. Now he's a fourth starter, and couldn't even make the postseason rotation. I'm hoping for another Cy for Timmy if that is what it will take to get the Dodgers back to the NLCS.

Bullpen

Closer - Sergio Romo: The San Fernando Valley Dodger fan stepped right in for Brian Wilson, and you never would have known the Giants had lost a top notch closer. Elite command. Gets the job done.

Setup: The Giants will be sending so many lefties at Andre Ethier, his head will be spinning. Good ones. Javier Lopez takes a beating from right-handed batters, but does his main job well. Get out lefties. Jeremy Affeldt has been getting lefties out for over a decade now. Jose Mijares is not on par with the other lefties but he'll still give them trouble. Sergio Casilla is their main setup man. Too bad the Dodgers don't have someone on the bench from the right side.

It should be a great opening series with two Cy Young candidates going at it right from the get go.

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