It’s fitting that two of the teams who are most likely to contend for the National League West title should start their respective 2012 seasons facing each other right off the bat. The San Francisco Giants, World Series champions in 2010, meet the Arizona Diamondbacks, who won it all in 2001.
As mentioned in my preview, “Gibby-ball” has become all the rage in the desert, with Kirk Gibson instituting an offense focused on running and aggressive tactics. The fans love it, and it paid off for the club, too: the strategy enabled the team to go from back-to-back last-place finishes to winning the National League West crown last season.
This season Gibson has higher expectations for his club, and it’s easy to see why: the team already has one of the better pitching staffs in the division, if not the league; the hitting is well-balanced and they’ve added the bat of outfielder Jason Kubel. Shortstop Stephen Drew starts 2012 on the disabled list, so Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald will take turns plugging the six-hole until Drew can return.
Speaking of disabled lists, the Giants have placed starting 2B Freddy Sanchez on the shelf because his surgically repaired shoulder hasn’t healed enough. It will be up to speedy Emmanuel Burriss to get on base and create some havoc.
Despite missing Sanchez, San Francisco will be an improved team from the start because of the presence of Buster Posey, who hasn’t played since last May. Now that Posey has been ordered to not block the plate, the hope is that he will remain healthy enough to play the catcher’s position all season.
The pitching matchup is rather massive: when it’s Tim Lincecum vs. Ian Kennedy, expect a duel for the ages. Lincecum’s 13-14 record last season belied his handsome 2.74 ERA. The Snakes also happened to be the two-time Cy Young Award winner’s Achilles’ heel, beating the Giants three times in 2011 when Lincecum was the starter.
The National League betting line tends to favor the home team, and so it is this time with Arizona. The Diamondbacks won five of seven games last season when hosting the Giants at Chase Field. Arizona averaged 4.5 runs at home in 2011 last season, while giving up 4.1 runs to the opposition. Four of their seven matchups resulted in one-run games, two of them early in the season.
With pitchers like Lincecum and Kennedy facing each other and this being the first game for both teams in 2012, the expectation is for a close, low-scoring affair.