The Giants have won the World Series two of the last three years, and I still can't quite figure out how they pulled that off.
They haven't had dominant offensive players. Their pitching has been very good, but other teams have had better pitching staffs, and last year's Giants had a miserable year from their highest-paid pitcher (Tim Lincecum) and lost their closer for the season before finding Sergio Romo to both replace him and photobomb pretty much every one of his teammates during the postseason.
They got hot at the right time last October. That's really the only explanation, and teams have done this before without dominant talent.
The Giants are going to try this again in 2013. They've returned essentially the core that won the title in 2012, with the exception of the PED-suspended Melky Cabrera, allowed to walk as a free agent. Gregor Blanco, who had never been anything special, filled in competently. The Giants got a career year out of Angel Pagan in center field; he cashed in with a four-year, $40 million, backloaded deal, the kind Jim Hendry would have lavished on him if Pagan had stuck with the Cubs. The Giants also brought back a star of their 2010 championship team, Andres Torres, to be their fourth outfielder.
Pitching-wise, the Giants are still strong, with Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong heading their rotation. They are hoping that Lincecum recovers his pre-2012 form; if he does so, this is probably the best top four of any starting rotation in baseball. Barry Zito is entering the last year of the seven-year deal he signed before the 2007 season (the Giants have an $18 million option with a $7 million buyout for 2014); he was very good as a fifth starter in 2012, picked up some of Lincecum's slack and was outstanding in the postseason.
Maybe Lincecum's new haircut, which makes him look 12 instead of 15, will do the trick. Even with all that pitching, San Francisco finished sixth in the NL in runs allowed; their offense, which can be shaky, might not score enough runs (also sixth last year) to balance things off unless the pitching staff can be as solid as it was during last year's postseason.
The Giants were a little lucky in 2012, outperforming their Pythagorean projection by six wins. Just as teams that underperform tend to win more games the following year, teams that overperform that projection tend to regress a bit. The Giants went 20-10 from September 1 to the end of the season and then 11-5 in the postseason. That's .674 ball over a 46-game stretch when games mean the most, a pace that's likely unsustainable over a full year.
The Cubs will find out about the Giants early on, as they'll be the second team in to visit Wrigley Field this year, April 11-12-13. The Cubs' annual visit to AT&T Park comes up July 26-27-28.
This concludes our look at the Cubs' NL opponents. Tomorrow, the first look at interleague rivals begins with a preview of the White Sox.