No team wins a world championship on the strength of a single unit, so to say the Giants won it all in 2012 because of their starting rotation is an oversimplification.
So, too, is saying that Buster Posey makes the offense go, or that Sergio Romo is critical to bullpen success.
But when you think of the Giants and the keys to their shot at repeating, where does the mind go first? The rotation, of course.
More than anything, the Giants’ starting rotation has defined this glorious era on the shores of McCovey Cove — from Tim Lincecum’s explosive first few years on the scene; to Matt Cain’s slow, steady boil to perfection; to Madison Bumgarner’s precocious debut and subsequent development; to Ryan Vogelsong’s borderline defiant perseverance; to Barry Zito’s insanely timely redemption song after years of ridicule.
How wonderful, then, that all five men will again be taking turns atop the finely groomed pile of dirt that serves as the center of San Francisco’s baseball universe.
As far as building blocks for a repeat go, that’s pretty damn good. Healthy years from Posey and Romo would be nice, too.
But looking back for a moment at that rotation, it’s not difficult to see some delicate pressure points where things could start breaking down.
Lurking troubles, thy names are Lincecum and Zito.
This isn’t the sounding of any alarm, mind you. Just a little food for thought.
Zito does appear to have finally wrested complete control of his game both mentally and physically, having come to peace with the beast that is his contract and the outsized expectations it created while, almost simultaneously and unlikely coincidentally, having figured out exactly what type of pitcher he’s morphed into over the years.
However, can we yet categorize his comeback as Alex Smithian? Are you convinced that this is the new-and-improved Zito, the real Zito forever more? Or was his playoff brilliance one last look at the former superstar, having nearly faded from view, streaking back across the sky for a final glimpse at lost majesty?
And what to make of Lincecum? As dynamic as he was coming out of the bullpen last fall, did it do a single thing to convince you he’d recaptured the magic that had — poof! — so suddenly disappeared?
Are we to believe that carving up the Cardinals or tearing through the Tigers, a handful at a time, in the chilled, frenzied, adrenalized atmosphere of October will translate to methodically dismantling the Dodgers and Diamondbacks for seven-plus innings, repeatedly, throughout the warmed-over, languid slog of the regular season?
You’d like to think so, but Lincecum has missed both time and plenty of spots this spring, and we’re not exactly talking apples-to-apples when we’re talking playoff ’penmanship vs. working through lineups every five days.
It’s not even apples-to-oranges. More like apples to ska bands.
Look, as evidenced by Zito’s renaissance, such transformations often take time. A lot of time. And on a slightly different level, Lincecum is charged with making a similar transformation. We now have enough evidence to support the notion that he’s lost some hop on his fastball, and now it’s on him to compensate.
National pundits who’ve been watching Lincecum this spring certainly have their doubts, but the man at least deserves the benefit of the doubt from those of us who’ve seen him on a far more regular basis.
The fact remains, though, that in Lincecum and Zito — 40 percent of the team’s backbone — the Giants have two very different pitchers, both coming off exhilarating and faith-affirming October heroics, yet both still a bit of a question mark.
You want keys to the title defense? That’s a good place to start, too.
Mychael Urban has covered Bay Area sports for more than 22 years as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet, CSNBayArea.com, KNBR, MLB.com, ESPN The Magazine and various newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @BigUrbSports. His website is UrbsUnchained.com.