|Buster Posey, back for a full season, should help improve the Giants' 86-76 mark of '11. (Getty Images)|
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Giants:
• Primed for a bounce-back season. Go ahead and call the 2011 Giants a disappointment. True, they failed to even qualify for the playoffs to defend their World Series crown. So, yeah, go ahead, haul out the negativity. I'm not. I would submit the exact opposite: Dealing with what was, and not what might have been, last year's Giants actually had an incredible season. I mean, they ranked 29th in the majors in runs scored but remained in contention into early September and they finished 86-76. That is absolutely, positively ludicrous. No way, given no sticks, the Giants should have been anywhere near .500, let alone north of it. The Mariners were 30th in runs and finished 67-95. The Padres were 28th in runs and finished 71-91. The Giants should have Buster Posey back for a full season. With Melky Cabrera, they didn't exactly add Mickey Mantle, but he'll help, too. The offense will be better.
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• Better wheels. Nobody's talking the 1985 Cardinals of Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee. But new center fielder Angel Pagan slots in very well at the leadoff position, and if Brandon Crawford can get a solid grip on shortstop, the Giants actually will show flashes of speed. Hey, maybe even the skipper will call for the occasional steal. "It will be easier to be more aggressive," Bruce Bochy says. "We don't want to run into outs, but we want to put more pressure on the other club. We've got guys who can go first-to-third, score from first on a double. That's going to help out."
• Pitching. See the first item. It bears repeating: That the Giants won 86 games while scoring fewer runs than everybody in baseball except Seattle was a testament to Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and a stellar bullpen including Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Guillermo Mota, among others. You can argue whether a guy like Vogelsong, who pitched his way onto the All-Star team, can hang another masterpiece like 2011. But there is depth here, and no reason to think the Giants pitching won't rank among the best in the majors again. "We're pitching and defense," Bochy says. "We've shown that when we score runs, we're one of the better teams in baseball."
• Buster Posey's leg again in one piece. All signs this spring have pointed toward Posey being back in the lineup by opening day. The Giants are going to have to be smart about things and give him periodic days off. Look for them to mix him in some at first base. And Bochy has ordered him not to block the plate. The onus will be on not only Posey, but on the Giants as well to keep him fresh, healthy and in the lineup.
• Familiar spring sight: Freddy Sanchez returning from injury. This time, he's recovering from shoulder surgery (for good measure, he has endured some back spasms this spring as well). The Giants are a better team with Sanchez in the lineup. His bat can really help this lineup. But he's been as fragile as any player in the game over the past few seasons. At 34, the days of him winning a batting title (2006, when he hit .344 with the Pirates) have long since passed. And he doesn't exactly seem to push himself to get on the field. Maybe the best insurance policy of the winter was scooped up by GM Brian Sabean, who signed veteran Ryan Theriot. At least with him and Mike Fontenot, the Giants have options and depth.
• Aubrey Huff on the decline. He has a lot to prove this summer. He admittedly came to camp following the 2010 World Series win not in the best of shape. Then he played like it. His batting average dropped 44 points, to .246 from .290, and so did his production: His homers went from 26 in 2010 to 12 in '11, and his RBI shriveled from 86 to 59. In the near future, the Giants almost certainly will move Posey to first to make way for young catching prospects like Andrew Susac and Hector Sanchez. Huff could really help them out now by playing so well he prevents them from thinking about that sooner instead of later.
• Situational hitting. It must improve. Mired in their season-long pit last summer, the Giants hit .173 with two out and runners in scoring position. How bad is that? Try this: It was the worst mark for a big-league team in the three decades in which the figures are available.
• Even if the Giants line up the way they project, they still can use another bat. Currently, Cabrera is in left, Pagan in center and the dependable Nate Schierholtz is in right. Dependable, but not exactly a prototypical corner outfielder: Schierholtz hit .278 with nine homers and 41 RBI last season, and his career splits are .278/.326/.430. Expect Sabean to continue trolling for another outfield bat as the season rolls along.