SAN FRANCISCO -- Funny how nobody's asking whether the Giants can win another World Series in an even-numbered year.San Francisco's widely recognized and self-acknowledged shortcomings cast doubt upon the notion that it can even contend, much less win it all as it did in 2010, '12 and '14.However, the Giants
SAN FRANCISCO -- Funny how nobody's asking whether the Giants can win another World Series in an even-numbered year.
San Francisco's widely recognized and self-acknowledged shortcomings cast doubt upon the notion that it can even contend, much less win it all as it did in 2010, '12 and '14.
However, the Giants possess just enough holdovers from their championship seasons -- Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Madison Bumgarner, among others -- to enable them to approach 2018 with at least a modicum of optimism.
The Giants' outlook brightened somewhat on Dec. 20 when they filled their void at third base by trading for Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria. San Francisco still sought help in the outfield and bullpen as 2017 concluded.
Here's a look, in descending order, at the five biggest issues facing the Giants in the new year:
Where will the runs come from?
The Giants' team-wide 2017 slump prompted a change in hitting coaches from Hensley Meulens to Alonzo Powell, as well as some tweaks in the lineup -- most notably the addition of Longoria, whose home run total dipped from 36 in 2016 to 20 in '17. With Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval unlikely to play full-time, San Francisco's batting order is guaranteed to have a different look.
Who will complete the starting rotation?
Competition for the fourth and fifth spots promises to be spirited. Chris Stratton, who performed assertively toward the end of last season, has an edge at claiming one spot. Ty Blach, who spent most of 2017 in the rotation, proved capable of competing. Tyler Beede, regarded as a top prospect since the Giants drafted him 14th overall in 2014, will receive every opportunity to make the rotation. Keep an eye on Andrew Suarez, a rookie left-hander whose stuff has impressed many Giants decision-makers.
How's Brandon Belt?
The first baseman is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training, though his battles with concussion symptoms -- including last year's episode after Arizona's Anthony Banda beaned him with a 79-mph curveball -- cause some concern about his long-term welfare.
Who's on the hot seat?
Lots of people. A poor first half could precipitate some moves before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. A subpar season may cause more changes to manager Bruce Bochy's staff and the front office, similar to what has transpired in the last few months.
What else should the Giants monitor?
Ages. The club's nucleus should have a few years left to excel together. But it's up to the player development staff to begin grooming replacements. Longoria's 32. Belt turns 30 this year. Crawford and Posey will be 31 by Opening Day. Bumgarner is just 28, but he has thrown a lot of pitches. At 27, Panik is a relative puppy. However, second basemen often wear down quickly, due to the position's grueling nature. The evaluation process remains constant because the calendar demands it.
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his [podcast](https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/san-francisco-giants-podcast/id891432086?