The Bee's Matt Kawahara take a Q&A look at the team as it enters spring training.
THE SAN FRANCISO GIANTS
1. CAN TIMMY TURN THE PAGE?
It's a new-look Tim Lincecum reporting to spring training this year. The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner cut his shaggy locks and put on 10 pounds through an offseason workout regimen designed to restore his dynamism. So how will those changes translate to the mound? Lincecum had a career-high 5.18 ERA in 2012 and was sent to the bullpen in the playoffs. He'll be back in the rotation this spring, heading into a contract year, perhaps the biggest unknown on a pitching staff that is still the backbone of the Giants. In the past, Lincecum has eased into spring, using March to get work in, but he said that won't be the case this year. He wants to see results quickly.
2. WHO'S IN LEFT?
Left field is the one spot without an obvious front-runner. Returning is Gregor Blanco, who stepped in when Melky Cabrera was suspended and then stepped up in the postseason. Andres Torres, a key during the Giants' 2010 title run, is back after a season with the New York Mets. A switch hitter who batted .286 against left-handers last season, Torres could platoon with the left-handed Blanco, along with backing up Angel Pagan in center and Hunter Pence in right. And with Buster Posey likely to get time at first base again to stay fresh, keeping Brandon Belt's bat in the lineup may mean sticking Belt in left at times.
3. ANY WBC EFFECT?
Nine Giants will spend part of spring training playing in the World Baseball Classic: their five top relievers (Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Jose Mijares, Sergio Romo), the top of their lineup (Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval) and starter Ryan Vogelsong. The Giants are confident the pitchers' workloads will be watched and all players handled with care. Still, the Giants likely won't be at ease until all are back in camp showing no ill effects particularly Romo, their Opening Day closer, and Sandoval, who followed a month of postseason play with winter ball in Venezuela.
4. ANY WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY?
The Giants return much of their World Series team, along with additions such as Torres and infielder Tony Abreu. Does that leave room for any surprises on the Opening Day roster? Last year, the Giants raised a few eyebrows going into the season with Hector Sanchez, then 22, as their lone backup catcher and keeping a largely unknown Blanco as a backup outfielder. Sanchez hit .280 in 74 games as a rookie while spelling Posey, and Blanco's presence was important in the second half. With 21 players back from the World Series roster, the window for any upstarts this spring seems slim, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
5. CAN THEY STAY HEALTHY?
Many players are in a familiar position defending a World Series title. The last defense, following their 2010 championship, didn't turn out as planned; the Giants missed the playoffs in 2011. The players and manager Bruce Bochy already have talked about putting 2012 behind them, and they sound confident they won't be resting on any laurels. But as they saw two years ago, with a season-ending injury to Posey, few things can derail a season like health issues to key players. Protecting Posey, the reigning N.L. MVP, and others will be paramount this spring after another short offseason.