Giants’ fans are ready for the return of catcher Buster Posey — pictured at Oracle Park on April 27, 2019 — who didn’t play in 2020. (S.F. Examiner file photo)

Giants’ fans are ready for the return of catcher Buster Posey — pictured at Oracle Park on April 27, 2019 — who didn’t play in 2020. (S.F. Examiner file photo)

Giants eager to prove they are again contenders

Some expect success from team that won three World Series titles not too long ago

Things are returning to normal.

Sure, it is a statement you are hearing more as COVID-19 restrictions are slowly eased. But you can also apply the statement to the Giants.

Fans saw early signs of that in the abbreviated 2020 schedule, where the Giants were eliminated from the playoffs by losing the final game of the regular season. But was the loss a blip produced by a 60-game slate?

Farhan Zaidi, Gabe Kapler and the rest of the Giants are about to find out. Beginning with Thursday’s Opening Day matchup with the Seattle Mariners in Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, there are again expectations of success for a franchise that not too long ago won three out of five World Series championships.

Coming off four straight losing seasons — including a 29-31 mark last year — the Giants’ roster is moderately better than it was at the end of 2020. Zaidi, in his third season as president of baseball operations, stuck with his rebuild plan instead of jumping into the deep end of the free-agent pool.

A .500 record over a full 162-game schedule — especially in the National League West with the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and an emerging power in the San Diego Padres — would be an accomplishment.

But you never know when magic might strike. Three core members of the three World Series title teams — catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford — are still on the roster and all three are entering the final year on their contracts, although Posey and Belt have options on their deals for 2022. In fact, 10 of the 11 players with the highest salaries on the team might be in their last season with the Giants.

Those issues are for another day. With Opening Day here, what type of team will the Giants have?

From a health perspective, the Giants have two small questions entering the season. Belt — who had surgery on his right heel, had COVID-19 and also battled mononucleosis — only saw action during the last week of camp. That could land him on the injured list to begin the season, but it would be a short stay. Third baseman Evan Longoria has plantar fasciitis in his left foot, a problem he has dealt with for several seasons. He saw his first defensive action Saturday but has been hitting. Left-handed pitcher Alex Wood had a nerve ablation procedure on his back.

Kevin Gausman will be the Opening Day starter, followed by Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb, Anthony DeSclafani and Aaron Sanchez in the rotation, all right-handers. Webb was among the spring standouts. Wood, a starting candidate before his procedure, will likely begin the season in the injured list but shouldn’t miss much time.

Speaking of relievers, lefty Jake McGee will lead a bullpen-by-committee approach, with the back end being much more reliable than 2020.

Posey missed a few days during the spring due to a hip issue, which is a slight concern after he opted out of last season. Belt, Crawford and Longoria will be joined by Donovan Solano and Tommy La Stella, who will split time at second, with Wilmer Flores seeing spot action around the infield.

While outfield prospect Heliot Ramos turned a lot of heads in spring, he will begin the season in the minors but could make his debut this summer. Meanwhile, Mauricio Dubon will start in center and Mike Yastrzemski in right, with Austin Slater and Alex Dickerson platooning in left. Outfield defense was a concern this spring.

San Francisco Giants center fielder Mauricio Dubon high-fived third base coach Ron Wotus as he celebrated hitting a three-run homer against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park on Sept. 23, 2020. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco Giants center fielder Mauricio Dubon high-fived third base coach Ron Wotus as he celebrated hitting a three-run homer against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park on Sept. 23, 2020. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The early schedule features four days off, which will benefit the pitching staff as it ramps up following the abbreviated 2020 schedule. But the Giants also face the Padres nine times in the first 34 games, although they don’t take on the rival Dodgers until May 21.

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