San Francisco Giants: What's Wrong with the World Series Champions?

Bryan ValeContributor IIIJuly 4, 2013

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 3:  Pitcher Barry Zito #75 of the San Francisco Giants sits in the dugout after being pulled from the game in the 5th inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on July 3, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated San Francisco 3-2 in 11 innings.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Just when San Francisco Giants fans thought the 2013 MLB season couldn’t get any more painful, their team was trounced, no-hit and walk-offed (real word) on three consecutive days by the Cincinnati Reds. The Giants are now 39-45, and things don’t seem to be turning around.

Forget defending the World Series title; the Giants will settle for a .500 record right now.

So what’s wrong with the Giants? How can a team that wins 94 games and the World Series one year—indeed, how can a team that has won two out of the past three World Series—be six games under .500 after 84 contests the next year?

Of course there are the obvious reasons. The Giants have always been built around strong pitching, and that hasn’t been there this year. Injuries have thinned the bullpen, Ryan Vogelsong finally regressed before landing on the DL, Barry Zito is still Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum ran out of Freak.

Matt Cain’s rough start to the season wouldn’t have been a big deal in any other year, except that this was the year the back three in the rotation finally imploded.

Meanwhile, the Giants’ offense, which was never very strong, has been decimated by injuries to Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval. Brandon Belt’s slumping for much of the year hasn’t helped.

But why is it all happening this year? The Giants just won the World Series! Twice! This isn’t supposed to happen to World Series-winning teams, right?

Or is this a case of a "World Series hangover"?

Well, to find out, I did some quick and dirty research on how teams have performed the year after winning the World Series over the last 10 years. The results:

Record Playoffs?
St. Louis Cardinals
88-74 Lost NLCS in 7
San Francisco Giants
86-76 No
2010 New York Yankees 95-67 Lost ALCS in 6
2009 Philadelphia Phillies 93-69 Lost WS
2008 Boston Red Sox 95-67 Lost ALCS in 7
2007 St. Louis Cardinals 78-84 No
2006 Chicago White Sox 90-72 No
2005 Boston Red Sox 95-67 Lost ALDS in 3
2004 Florida Marlins 83-79 No
2003 Anaheim Angels 77-85 No

Source: Baseball-Reference. Obviously.

While a "World Series hangover" doesn't seem to be inescapable, it's certainly not unprecedented. Of the last 10 World Series champions, half missed the playoffs the next year, and two finished below .500.

Obviously these teams were all in unique situations, so it's tough to draw sweeping conclusions.

But it's safe to say that what the Giants are going through just happens to teams sometimes. A team gets hot, the players click, the ball bounces the right way, and suddenly they're holding a World Series trophy. The next year, maybe a few injuries happen, maybe the chemistry isn't what it was, maybe the breaks don't go the team's way, and suddenly you're looking at a losing season.

The puzzling thing about the Giants, though, is that they were no fluke team (unlike some of the teams on the list—cough, cough, Marlins, White Sox, Angels). They won the World Series two out of three years, which no team had done since the Yankees in the late '90s. And they've had a winning record for four straight years.

The way I see it, there are three possible explanations for the Giants' 2013 season to this point:

  1. The Giants are just in a rough patch. They'll heat up in the second half, win 90ish games and challenge for the division title.
  2. The Giants are unlucky. This isn't their year.
  3. The Giants are a deeply flawed baseball team.

I'm crossing my fingers for No. 1, but I suspect it's No. 2 or No. 3. If it's No. 1—well, no worries. If it's No. 2—well, that's baseball.

But if it's No. 3, then GM Brian Sabean has some work to do, whether that's finding another starter, shoring up the bullpen or somehow adding another bat.

Sabean's got five All-Star-caliber players—Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval—on the roster right now, and they're all in the primes of their careers. That's rare, and it's not an opportunity you waste.

What's wrong with the Giants? Either the baseball gods have it in for them, or they're in deep trouble.