The Giants have to buck some strong historical trends as they attempt to repeat as World Series champions.
Only three National League teams have ever won back-to-back world championships, the last being the Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine” of 1975-76. Earlier, it was the New York Giants in 1921-22. The other team? Surprise: It was the Chicago Cubs, who won in 1907 and 1908 — and haven’t won since.
The Giants’ own history isn’t very encouraging, either. Their last World Series title before 2010 was the 1954 team, playing in New York, which swept the Cleveland Indians 4-0. The next three years, they finished sixth in an eight-team league, which led to their move to San Francisco.
None of the first three San Francisco teams that got to the Series were able to repeat. The 1962 team came close in 1965 and ’66, finishing 2½ games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 2002 team followed up with a 100-win season, but then lost in the divisional playoffs. In between, the 1989 team faded quickly after being swept by the A’s in the Earthquake Series.
The current Giants have some significant advantages over those teams.
The chief one is that the competition within their division shouldn’t be much. In the ’60s, National League baseball was probably better than it had ever been because the senior circuit teams had cornered the market on black players, due to the pioneering of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson and the racist attitudes of AL clubs.
The pitching was especially tough. Juan Marichal won between 21 and 26 games for six out of seven seasons between 1963-69, but never won a Cy Young Award — which was one award for both leagues at the time — because there were pitchers such as Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson (and Dean Chance of the Angels one year.)
This year’s Giants won’t face that kind of competition to get to the first round of the playoffs. The bitter divorce involving their owners has cut into the Dodgers’ finances; they were also-rans last year and look like the same this year. The Arizona Diamondbacks are in a rebuilding mode. The San Diego Padres, though they’ll again have strong pitching, probably took themselves out of contention by trading their best hitter, Adrian Gonzalez.
The Colorado Rockies seem to be the only legitimate competition within the division, but they collapsed at the end of the season, losing their final eight straight. The collapse came right after Giants general manager Brian Sabean questioned whether the Colorado Rockies were using baseballs from the humidor when they were in the field and regular baseballs when they were hitting. MLB put in new rules governing the use of the humidor, and the Rockies’ hitting declined. Cause and effect or coincidence? We’ll soon know.
The current Giants’ other advantage over the previous World Series teams is their pitching. The 1962 Giants were the only ones with comparable pitching, with Marichal, Jack Sanford (24-game winner that season) and 19-game winner Billy O’Dell, with Stu Miller in relief. But this year’s team is four-deep in excellent starters, all you need in the playoffs, and has an excellent bullpen with Brian Wilson, who is almost as good as he thinks he is, as the closer.
Once you get into the playoffs, pitching becomes even more important. It was pitching and some clutch home runs by Cody Ross early in the playoffs, Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria that proved to be enough for the Giants. The last two are not here anymore, but at some point in the season, maybe at the start, Brandon Belt will give them another good bat.
At this point, it seems they’ll have to beat the Philadelphia Phillies again in the NLCS, then, probably the Boston Red Sox to repeat. That’s not a bet I’d care to make, but the 2010 Giants were the little team that could. If they can keep that attitude ... well, they’ve got a chance.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.