2013 Giants have the edge to do it again

Truth be told, this sportswriter doesn’t dig the shenanigans that go along with projecting the outcome of an entire baseball season.

I’m not talking about the excitement of the season finally getting under way, that part is awesome. But the whole song and dance that goes into pouring over last season’s stats and pretending to be clairvoyant and able to foresee the outcome of upcoming season is, well, not as fun.

All the over-thought-up predictions and overly-built-up suspense is difficult enough with a sport like football, with 19 games in a season (counting the Super Bowl) and teams performing once a week.

But with a sport like baseball, which spans nearly every day over half of the year, you can sit down at the All-Star Break and think to yourself: “Dang, my season preview could was TOTALLY off.”

And there might not be any team that is sending sports nuts into a tailspin re-thinking their season previews like the San Francisco Giants.

All the hype and grandeur from the winning their second World Series in three years might have overblown anyone’s season preview, only to have it slapped away after Opening Day when the Orange and Black fell 4-0 to Clayton Kershaw and those pesky Los Angeles Dodgers.

But then again, any writers’ counter-analysis would have again been upended by Tuesday’s game, in which Madison Bumgarner pitched eight shutout innings and led the reigning World Champs to a 3-0 victory down at Chavez Ravine.

I guess the moral of the story is that, no matter how hard we try, we really can’t take all of these little bits of information from the preseason and say exactly how the rest of the Giants 2013 run is going to pan out.

Just because a stolen base in the World Series won the country free tacos, that doesn’t mean Angel Pagan won’t occasionally get thrown out stealing second.

Just because Pablo Sandoval is playing through his most recent ailment, that doesn’t mean he won’t — in his usual Kung Fu Panda fashion — sustain another wacky injury throughout the season. (Sliding into the splits, anyone?)

And for the last freaking time: just because Tim Lincecum cut his hair, he won’t magically take the mound and have his Cy Young-winning velocity back. Or that his troubles from last season will automatically follow him into his 2013 campaign.

What we can deduce, however, is that the bulk of returning players from the 2012 season will work in the Giants favor and give them an edge in getting back to the playoffs in this upcoming season.

Even with Sandoval’s elbow woes, San Francisco isn’t lacking in position players that can fill in for him.

Joaquin Arias, who was a big part of the Giants’ Tuesday victory over the Dodgers with two hits and an RBI, is an obvious choice. And rookie Nick Noonan, fresh off a Cactus League run where he tallied 18 hits, a home run and seven RBIs, is also defensively sound enough to be plugged in at third base,  should the occasion arise.

The return of that masterful starting rotation is huge. Barry Zito blossomed in the 2012 postseason and showed signs of maintaining that dominance during Spring Training with two wins and a 2.70 ERA, something that should definitely boost the confidence of the fan base.

Bumgarner already showed with eight shutout innings in Tuesday’s game against the Dodgers that he can adjust his mechanics and keep the opponent from getting on base.

Matt Cain might have gotten rattled by LA in the first inning of the season opener, but he settled down in subsequent innings and showed he’s still solid as ever. Don’t forget, the workhorse went 16-5 in 2012 with a 2.79 ERA, besting his performance from the previous season. If anything, he was probably just working out some “first day of school” kinks.

And we can expect the same good stuff out of Ryan Vogelsong, coming off of the first semi-full Spring Training of his entire major league career. When he wasn’t representing Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, he posted a 3.60 ERA in his time in Scottsdale. And you know he’ll be itching to best the 14-9 record he had last year, and beat that 3.36 ERA from the 2012 campaign.

Sure, Lincecum is still a bit of a wild card given the woes from his previous year. But again, with over 150 games left, writing him off before we’re even a week into the regular season is just plain silly.

A returning roster also lends itself to a stacked offensive lineup. The Giants have power all the way from lead off man Pagan down to Buster Posey and on to the Brandons (Belt and Crawford).

Being that AT&T Park isn’t hitter-friendly, having a lineup of players that are comfortable hitting there will be beneficial, particularly when heavy hitters like the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals, who typically hit well there, (except when the Giants beat the Cards in the NLCS ) come into town.

One problem has already struck the Giants offense, a familiar foe from the beginning of the 2012 season: Stranding too many men on base.

We saw evidence of this Tuesday in a 3-0 win. The Giants left five men on base and only had one run to show for their first nine hits.

Keep in mind though, that 37-year old Marco Scutaro isn’t bashing those base-clearing line drives at the moment. Once his bat heats up, it’s safe to expect something akin to his .377 batting average and soaring line drives over the 2012 post-season, and that fewer men will be stranded.

And one of the Cactus League’s big hitters was Belt, who was sick on opening day. Getting his bat back in the lineup will be beneficial in helping get guys past second base and putting more runs on the board.

And that isn’t even counting the run support that will come from Sandoval or Buster Posey going on another game-defining hitting streak.

So, what do I have to deduce with the need to make an actual full season prediction pushed in my face? I say the Giants are headed back to the playoffs in 2013; clinching the NL West, ending with a better record than the Dodgers, and like last season, the road to the playoffs will not be pretty.

Expect the same competitive, nail-biter antics that we watched last season.

Heck, maybe that really is enough to project how the Giants will fair in the 2013 baseball season. Just don’t be surprised when something “out of left field” turns every season preview you’ve read on its head.

Prediction: 94-68 (1st place in National League West)