COMMENTARY | Every team has questions at the start of a new season, even the defending world champs. The questions surrounding the San Francisco Giants are a little more fun than most, though. Questions like, where will the World Series trophies be displayed? Or, how many new World Series champions shirts will be available on opening day? Those are fun questions.
The Giants do have some not-so-fun questions, too. Here's a look at three of the more pressing ones as the team speeds toward opening day:
Will Tim Lincecum return to form?
The ship may have already sailed on Lincecum ever regaining the form that won him back-to-back Cy Young Awards a few years ago. He may never regain the velocity he's lost from his fastball, and he may never intimidate major-league hitters like he once did. The Giants know all of this.
The Giants also know that they need Lincecum to at least be better than he was in 2012 if they want to get back to the playoffs to defend their title. Last year was Lincecum's worst as a professional, as he failed to log 200 innings for the first time since his rookie season, compiled his lowest strikeout total since 2007, and posted a career-high 5.18 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. He looked out of sync all season and was the least reliable starter in the Giants' rotation, something that would've been unimaginable even a year earlier.
Lincecum has come to spring training in great shape and has worked all winter to improve his mechanics, both encouraging signs. He's battled blister problems this spring but they appear to be behind him, and his last few outings have been promising.
The Giants have to hope the steps Lincecum has taken to get better are enough, because if he falters the team's pitching depth is razor-thin at the minor-league levels. Their best starting pitching prospects are still a few years away from making the leap, leaving the Giants with journeymen and also-rans to fill out the rotation should a need arise. And while Lincecum was nearly flawless as a reliever during last year's World Series run, the team doesn't have the luxury of putting him in the bullpen. They need him as a starter.
The Tim Lincecum of a few years ago may be gone, and the Giants can survive if that's the case. But if the Tim Lincecum from last year is here to stay, the Giants may be in trouble.
Will the offense hit enough?
Ah, the eternal question. The question that has followed the Giants around for the past few seasons, and the question they've answered affirmatively in two of the last three years. And yet, it will be asked again until the Giants silence their doubters.
There is reason to ask, though: The Giants didn't add any pieces to their offense over the winter except for Andres Torres, and they're counting on guys like Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro to repeat their career years from '12. They're also hoping that younger players such as Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford make a big leap at the plate in their second full big-league seasons and that expensive right fielder Hunter Pence performs much better than he did for the Giants last year.
The Giants may not be built to win a slugfest, but they do have the pieces to field a dynamic lineup that can beat teams a number of ways. Their decision to not add to the offense over the winter, though, coupled with the hope that players can match their career-bests at the plate, means the questions about whether or not the Giants can hit enough aren't likely to stop.
Can the team stay healthy?
The Giants' run of success has coincided with a run of mostly good health. Though they've been able to overcome season-ending injuries to players like Brian Wilson and less-severe injuries to players like Pablo Sandoval, the Giants have been able to keep their players on the field during their World Series runs.
Health is even more imperative to the Giants in 2013 since they have very little depth to speak of waiting in the minors. So far this spring, they've already dealt with injuries to Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval, Javier Lopez and Jose Mijares. Plus, Marco Scutaro is 37 this season, and Angel Pagan has played in 150+ games only twice in his career. On top of all that, the Giants have to be wary of their pitching staff's workload since it is coming off of another extended postseason run.
It's scary to think of a Giants team filled with injury replacements from Triple-A Fresno, unless the idea of Todd Linden playing every day sounds good to you. All teams need to stay healthy to succeed, but the Giants are more ill-equipped than others to deal with any major injury. They simply must keep their players on the field in '13 if they hope to repeat their success.
Oh, and keeping Buster Posey healthy would be nice, too. We've all seen what happens when he gets hurt.
Dave Tobener is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer who has written about the Giants for the better part of a decade. His work has appeared on numerous sports websites, including Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew. You can find him on Twitter @gggiants.
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