A year ago, the Giants opened the season as defending World Series champions. Denied the chance to even defend its title, San Francisco will begin the 2012 season against the team that dethroned it as division champions.
The Arizona Diamondbacks begin defense of their National League West title this evening with the opener of a three-game series against the Giants and their ace, Tim Lincecum.
After capturing their first World Series title since 1954 two seasons ago, the Giants finished eight games behind the Diamondbacks to first place in the division, and even had to watch as Arizona clinched the NL West with a home win over San Francisco on Sept. 23.
The victory completed the Diamondbacks' journey from worst to first and gave the club only its second playoff appearance since 2003. Arizona failed to extend the magical run when it lost to the Milwaukee Brewers in five games of the postseason's opening round.
The D-Backs, led by reigning NL Manager of the Year, Kirk Gibson return largely the same squad from last year, one that is led outfielder Justin Upton and staff ace Ian Kennedy. Arizona did add Trevor Cahill to the rotation this past offseason while also signing Jason Kubel to the outfield.
Arizona will open the season against one of the league's top pitchers in Lincecum, but might not be too intimidated by the two-time Cy Young Award winner. After all, Lincecum went 0-3 with a 4.32 earned run average in four starts versus the Diamondbacks last season.
The right-hander will look to bounce back this year after posting his first sub-.500 record in the majors. Lincecum went 13-14 in 33 starts, posting a 2.74 earned run average and 220 strikeouts, and it was his loss in Arizona in his final start of the season that secured his losing record. He was touched for five runs over five innings in that Sept. 25 outing.
The 27-year-old figures to have some extra juice tonight as the Giants and Diamondbacks play each other for the first time on Opening Day.
"Obviously, the opponent is the Diamondbacks, and that's going to be a big game, because we have a little bit of remembrance of where we were last year and they were able to celebrate in front of us," Lincecum told the Giants' website. "I'm sure a lot of people are itching to get back out there against them and start the battle over. Hopefully, it'll be in our favor this time."
One piece that San Francisco did not have in its final series versus Arizona last year is catcher Buster Posey, who returns after missing most of the 2011 campaign due to a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in his left leg following a home-plate collision with the Marlins' Scott Cousins on May 25.
The Giants vastly missed Posey's bat as the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year is a career .294 hitter and hit .305 during his rookie campaign with 18 homers and 67 RBI.
There will be some new faces hitting ahead of Posey. Though San Francisco was unable to keep outfielder Carlos Beltran, the club's big trade acquisition from last season, it did add some speed to the lineup in the former of outfielders Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan.
That new-look lineup goes against Kennedy, who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting last year after an incredible campaign that saw the right-hander go 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and 198 strikeouts to only 55 walks in 33 starts. Kennedy went 12-1 in the second half with a 2.11 ERA and rattled off seven straight winning starts from July 8-Aug. 12.
Kennedy, making his second straight Opening Day start, had great success against the Giants in 2011, going 3-0 with a 1.22 ERA in five meetings.
The Diamondbacks won their final five games versus the Giants last year, earning a split of the 18-game season series.