Will we ever see the Giants coming?
The team Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy put together since saying goodbye to Barry Bonds is the only National League team to win the World Series twice within three seasons since the Big Red Machine, yet the Giants somehow seem cuddly, not menacing. They appear beatable right up to the time they get the 27th out and storm the mound.
The hitters who face Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong will tell you there was nothing fluky about how the Giants throttled the Tigers last October and the Rangers in 2010. But Clayton Kershaw and the big-spending Dodgers will be the talk of Arizona, not the Giants.
If Don Mattingly can get Matt Kemp to hit like he did in 2011, maybe it won't matter that the left side of the Dodgers infield is a mess and that Josh Beckett loves his fried chicken and beer. But the Dodgers and Diamondbacks know they have to go through the Giants to get anywhere, and Buster Posey is waiting for them.
Last year: 94-68. Won six elimination games against the Reds and Cardinals to reach the World Series, and Barry Zito beat Justin Verlander in Game 1 en route to a sweep of the Tigers.
Manager: Bruce Bochy is as good as it gets at knowing his players and how they fit together. He's entering his seventh season in San Francisco and should control his future.
Key reinforcements: OF Andres Torres, RHP Ramon Ramirez.
Gone, not forgotten: RHP Brian Wilson, OF Melky Cabrera, IF Ryan Theriot, IF Carlos Sanchez, RHP Guillermo Mota.
Big fun: Having turned down a spot on Team USA for the World Baseball Classic, NL MVP Buster Posey should be at full strength when spring training begins.
Big worry: A heavy 2012 workload took a toll on Madison Bumgarner in the playoffs. How will Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong be after throwing a combined 463 innings last year?
Last year: 86-76, as midseason trades bringing Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett and Brandon League couldn't improve a 43-40 record after June.
Manager: Don Mattingly enters his third season under the gun after a buildup that has seen the payroll go from $120 million in 2011 to about $213 million this year.
Key reinforcements: RHP Zack Greinke, LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, IF-OF Skip Schumaker, IF Alfredo Amezaga, C Ramon Castro.
Gone, not forgotten: OF Shane Victorino, RHP Joe Blanton, RHP Todd Coffey, LHP Randy Choate.
Big fun: There will be stiff competition for the No. 5 starter spot, as no team has more depth in the rotation. The cast behind Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley includes Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly (possibly behind after a shoulder scope in September) and Ryu.
Big worry: Ramirez must prove he still can play shortstop, just as Carl Crawford is under the gun to show the $102.5 million left on his contract is more than a tax GM Ned Colletti paid to get Gonzalez and Beckett.
Last year: 81-81, with Daniel Hudson's injured shoulder and Josh Collmenter's sophomore slump sabotaging the rotation.