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What's Behind the Giants Even-Year Success?

Are the Giants a magical franchise prophesied to win on even years for time immemorial, or is it just random?
October 5, 2016, 3:41pm
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

A rule for life: When there's no reason for a phenomenon to continue, it generally stops, or is simply revealed to be a couple of teenage girls making weird noises with their toes. The San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in even-numbered years going back to 2010, which makes Bruce Bochy the leader of a dynasty, albeit one that enjoys a very long refractory period between peaks. In this, the Giants are akin to the female manatee, which mates only every other year. The question is if there's an underlying reason for this that would suggest that the Giants and/or Flossie the Manatee are about to get lucky again.

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The answer, according to Grant Brisbee, proprietor of the best Giants blog, McCovey Chronicles, is "maybe."

"I get this question a lot, and I struggle with it… In 2010, the Giants had to get an error from Brooks Conrad. In 2012, they had to sweep the Reds in Cincinnati, then get Barry Zito to shut down the Cardinals. In 2014, Matt Williams had to make a dunderheaded move, and then Yusmeiro Petit had to shut down the Nationals for a million innings. There might be a renewed sense of urgency in the odd-year offseasons, certainly. That could contribute. But this is the first time they've really done anything financially to suggest that urgency. This is the first time the Giants went on a spending spree after the odd year, and it's left them with a pretty swell rotation. That's the first time it might have mattered."

In other words, every other year the Giants have had solid teams that benefitted from some real breaks in the postseason, then tended to rest on their laurels. Injuries and park effects have played a part in suppressing the team's offensive production, but it's still unavoidable that despite this season featuring an almost unprecedented barrage of home run balls around the game, Brandon Belt led the Giants with just 17 round-trippers. With the possibility of last season, when Posey and the entire infield combined to have big years, the offense has teetered between "Meh" and, as in 2011, 2013, and the second half this year, being an impediment. Addressing that has seemingly not been a priority. Neither has the pitching staff been an unalloyed good. Not only has finding a consistent bullpen staff been a problem for the last five years, in the three seasons prior to this one the starting rotation had dwindled down to "Madison Bumgarner and Some Guys Who Used to Be Good."

The rest, as Brisbee suggests, is a question of serendipity. Two years ago, the Giants finished six games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and had to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates to advance. Bumgarner pitched a shutout. They beat up Cardinals pitching in the NLCS, then won a World Series in which the Kansas City Royals actually outscored them, 27-30. World Series MVP Bumgarner (repeating from the NLCS) was the difference-maker, allowing just one run in 21 innings while winning two games and saving another.

The Madison Bumgarner + Stuff Happens formula can work in a short series, but in terms of the validation provided by the long regular season, the Giants were hardly a great team. Arguably none of the three championship teams were. They were, like this year's team, just good enough to get in and just good enough to stay alive to the end.

So, the key to the Giants on-year/off-year pattern is not that they're genetic manatees, but until the 2015-2016 offseason, general manager Brian Sabean and ownership has been satisfied to play a conservative hand, and have happily accepted whatever breaks they've gotten. The magic isn't in the year, it's in the way providence gives them a boost every 24 months. Credit the Giants with being run well enough that they're in position to capitalize.