The San Francisco Giants pretty much flew under the radar all season, and that continued throughout the playoffs. Then, they won six straight games facing elimination against the Reds and Cardinals before sweeping the Tigers in the World Series.
What Went Right: THEY WON THE WORLD SERIES, SO EVERYTHING. But anyway, back to reality. Buster Posey's return from a broken leg in 2011 resulted in him putting an MVP caliber season together and winning the batting title at age 25. Melky Cabrera had a great first 2/3 of the season, but was suspended for testosterone usage and didn't contribute a lick to the stretch run or playoffs for the Giants. Angel Pagan produced at an otherworldly level after being acquired from the Mets last offseason, and was incredible in center field for the team. Gregor Blanco replaced Cabrera in the lineup for the Giants, and was a more than adequate fill-in as a fourth outfielder and occasional starter for the team. Brandon Crawford's defense at shortstop was impeccable. Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt were a dynamic pair of relievers for the team, and Romo finally getting into the spotlight paid major dividends for the team. Marco Scutaro's pickup from the Rockies was an inspired trade by Brian Sabean, as he went on to win the NLCS MVP award.
What Went Wrong: While the Giants' rotation was very good, none of their starters had a four win year, a sharp contrast from a year ago when they had three pitchers worth at least four wins above replacement. Closer Brian Wilson blew his elbow out and threw just two innings all season, and unfortunately, he DIDN'T GO AWAY despite being hurt. Tim Lincecum's decline was shocking, and he might actually be better served as a reliever in 2013 after his ERA jumped to over 5.00. Trade deadline acquisition Hunter Pence was pretty much a bust, and he provided the same value as the man he replaced in right field, Nate Schierholtz. Brandon Belt showed flashes of brilliance at first base, but didn't make the leap many expected him to. Aubrey Huff was a complete and utter waste of a roster spot, and Ryan Theriot was as well.
Most Surprising Player: For as awesome as Posey was this year, and for as much as Cabrera repeated his 2011 season, Gregor Blanco's 2012 came out of nowhere. His 2.4 fWAR doubled his career total, and came after a season where he didn't get one major league plate appearance, playing 74 games in AAA for the Royals and Nationals. Of course, Blanco got 453 plate appearances for the Giants, stole 26 bases, walked at a double digit rate, and posted great defense on all metrics across the board. Blanco had shown flashes of brilliance in his previous major league stints with the Braves and Royals, but most assumed he wasn't an every day player. He might not be next year, but his 2012 season may have been the key point for the Giants 2012 World Series run.
Most Disappointing Player: Tim Lincecum times a million. We've been over it before, time and time again, but it's worth repeating: Lincecum's best days may be behind him after the disappointing 2012 season he had. He threw under 200 innings for the first time in his career over a full season, posted a strikeout rate that was a hair above last year's for his worst career mark, walked nearly a batter more per inning than his career norm, and had a homer rate over 1.00 for the first time over. Put it all in a blender, add in a fastball/slider combo that is drastically dropping in velocity, and you have a 5.18 ERA that is nearly two runs higher than his career ERA, a 4.18 FIP that is a full run higher than his career mark, and a 1.5 fWAR season that has resulted in swirling rumors about Lincecum's future in the bullpen.
Prospects Up: Shortstop Joe Panik had a solid season in high-A, walking more than he struck out and showing decent power for a middle infielder. Catcher Hector Sanchez was the major league backup to Buster Posey and got a decent bit of playing time when Posey would play first base. Sanchez had a middling year, but it was fine for a backup. 19-year old Kyle Crick raised eyebrows by striking out 128 in 111 1/3 innings, but had way too many walks. Josh Osich struck out a batter per inning as a reliever in his pro debut season.
Prospects Down: Top prospect Gary Brown had a disappointing year in AA, homering half as much and stealing 20 fewer bases in nearly identical playing time, along with his walk rate falling and his strikeout rate rising during his age 23 season. Shortstop Ehire Adrianza tanked with the bat in his first year in AA.
The Future: The Giants are the champs for the second time in three years, but 2013 will be an interesting year for them. Pence is going to be very expensive in his final year of arbitration after a disappointing start to his Giants career, and Wilson also has one more year of arb left and could make at least $9 million. Numerous key members of the 2012 championship team are free agents, including Cabrera, Pagan, Scutaro, and Affeldt. Thankfully for the Giants, the main core of Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Matt Cain will still be around. But it's going to be interesting to see how the Giants retool for next year while potentially losing so many key players from this season.