Champion Giants look for another special season

Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro made a pact over the winter as

they weighed their baseball futures: They vowed to keep in touch

during free agency.

They did just that, and both landed right back where they

thought they best belonged – with the World Series champion San

Francisco Giants.

Not a bad place to be lately. The Giants’ starting lineup

features World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, reigning NL MVP Buster

Posey and, of course, the guy with a perfect game at the front of

the rotation in Matt Cain.

CEO Larry Baer, general manager Brian Sabean, manager Bruce

Bochy and all their players realize just how rare it is to keep

almost an entire roster together. Especially after a championship

season.

”I think that’s the best thing we have,” Pagan said. ”The

chemistry’s the same. The atmosphere’s going to be the same. The

way we got along last year, it doesn’t get any better than

that.”

Sabean has kept his club intact, determined to make another

special October run after capturing two World Series titles in the

past three years.

”When you get a good group that you can keep intact everybody

involved is a little bit more comfortable to start a season,”

Sabean said. ”What’s interesting is a lot of these guys we didn’t

have in the past in the organization and a lot of these guys we

didn’t have for a whole year. It’ll be interesting to see how they

all jell at the beginning of the season and carry it out through

the whole season.”

It started with bringing back lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt on a

three-year contract, then Pagan for four years. Scutaro, the NL

championship MVP, reached agreement on his three-year deal a day

after Pagan got his multiyear deal in December.

There are so many key returners for the Giants, who pulled off

remarkable rallies in the division series and NL championship

series before a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers to capture

another improbable championship.

”No question it’s a pretty big advantage,” Bochy said of the

continuity.

Pagan received a $40 million, four-year contract, Scutaro earned

a $20 million, three-year deal and Affeldt came back on an $18

million, three-year contract.

San Francisco even added a familiar face from the previous

championship run from 2010, signing energetic outfielder Andres

Torres as someone who can play all three positions.

”He’s going to help us a lot, and hopefully he’s part of

another championship team,” Pagan said of Torres, who was sent to

the Mets in the trade that brought Pagan to San Francisco before

last season. ”That’s what we’re here for.”

Scutaro, 37, hit .362 with three homers and 44 RBIs in 61

regular-season games with the Giants after he was acquired in a

July 27 trade with Colorado. Hunter Pence, another midseason

acquisition after being traded by the Phillies, is another reason

the Giants were able to win six games last fall when facing

elimination.

”There are many different ways you can try to improve your

team,” right-hander Ryan Vogelsong said. ”I’m looking forward to

seeing what this team can do for a full season.”

The Giants came back from a 2-0 deficit to Cincinnati in the

division series and then rallied from 3-1 down in the NLCS against

the St. Louis Cardinals, who visit San Francisco for the Giants’

home opener.

”It’s exciting, because we have the same team that won the

World Series,” Sandoval said. ”We know each other and we’re going

to come here to defend. We don’t have to adjust to anything, just

play our game. I hope all the guys stay healthy. If we’re healthy,

and not hurt, I think everything’s going to be easy.”

Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda, batted .369 during the postseason

with five doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs. That’s after he spent

two stints on the DL last season and underwent surgery for a broken

bone in his right hand. He’d already had the procedure on his left

hand.

”We got the hamate bone out of the way. There’s no way he can

hurt that again with both hands, so that’s nice,” Bochy said.

After ending last season as a reliever – and a reliable one at

that – two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum is determined to

redeem himself and prove his worth as a starter in a contract

year.

He cut his hair short, a new look as he starts anew. He worked

out with a personal trainer during the offseason to add about 10

pounds of strength, and tweaked his mechanics.

”I tried to use last year as a gauge and not really anything to

try to focus on,” Lincecum said. ”I know last year wasn’t where I

wanted to be, so when I feel like my body’s in a right position and

doing the things it needs to be, I’m going to get the success or at

least what I want out of it.”

Lincecum enters the last year of a $40.5 million, two-year deal

that pays him $22 million this season, yet he isn’t necessarily

thinking about his future as much as rediscovering his dominant

form of the past. He went 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA in 33 starts and

186 innings last season, his sixth in the majors.

Then, Bochy moved The Freak to the bullpen for the postseason in

a move that worked perfectly.

Lincecum, who pitched and won the Game 5 World Series clincher

at Texas in 2010, allowed one earned run on three hits with 17

strikeouts in 13 innings for an 0.69 ERA as a reliever during last

season’s championship run.

”We’re just looking for Timmy to pitch like the years that he

had,” Bochy said. ”He had great years with us throwing strikes

and locating well.”

Posey will look to build on his sensational comeback season. He

surprised most everybody in his first year back after suffering

season-ending leg and ankle injuries in a May 2011 collision at the

plate.

”We really didn’t know how much we could use him,” Bochy said.

”With the job that he did winning the Most Valuable Player I’d say

he exceeded what we thought we might have in Buster in 2012 coming

off that injury. The credit goes to him in how hard he worked to

get himself back to that point.”