On Nov. 1, 2010, Nelson Cruz swung and missed at a Brian Wilson fastball. And with that, the San Francisco Giants were world champions.
It was the team’s 53rd season in San Francisco, and for the first time they were World Series champs.
You know what happened next. They did it again in 2012, and once more in 2014. The Giants built a dynasty where previously there had only been heartbreak.
There have now been 62 seasons in San Francisco Giants history (and of course many, many more if you want to extend history to the New York days), and 59 of those have ended short of a trophy ceremony.
Which of those 59 was best?
This week at SB Nation we’re rolling out a series (the brain child of brilliant NBA writer Mike Prada) across all the team sites, with the goal of determining the best teams never to win a championship. This is a painful exercise that includes reminiscing about teams whose seasons ended in heartbreak. But so goes the life of a sports fan.
So I set out to find the best San Francisco Giants team that fell short of the ultimate goal. I landed on four contestants, and one
champion err, winner. And before you smart alecks hop in the comments: Yes, I understand that baseball has a lot of variance, and that you could make a strong case for any of these teams not only being the best non-title winning team, but also better than one, two, or all three of the championship teams.
But that’s not the exercise.
So here they are: The best San Francisco Giants teams to never win a championship.
Note: Going forward in the article, I am going to use the term “Giants history,” and similar terms, to refer only to San Francisco Giants history.
Fourth place: 2003
Record: 100-61 (1st in NL West, 2nd in NL)
Pythag record: 93-68
Season result: 3-1 NLDS loss to Florida Marlins
Top five players (by rWAR): Barry Bonds (9.2), Jason Schmidt (6.0), Ray Durham (3.2), Jose Cruz (3.1), Marquis Grissom (2.4)
The Giants have won 100 or more games three times. Spoiler: All three times are on this list, as the 2012 team’s 94 wins are the most in the trio of champions.
As impressive as 100 wins is (again: they’ve won 100 games as infrequently as they’ve won a World Series), they stumbled upon that number a little bit here. A seven-game improvement over the expected win total is pretty substantial.
Still, this is a 100-win team sporting a player who was so far ahead of everyone else in the race for best player that he couldn’t even see the competition.
Third place: 1993
Record: 103-59 (2nd in NL west, 2nd in NL)
Pythag record: 98-64
Season result: Missed postseason
Top five players (by rWAR): Barry Bonds (9.9), Robby Thompson (6.3), Matt Williams (5.8), Bill Swift (5.4), Kirt Manwaring (2.6)
I’m guessing most people will quibble with this ranking. There’s a pretty strong case to be made for this team finishing second or first on this list, instead of third. And I’ll always be mad that MLB’s silly rules kept a 103-win team out of the postseason (while letting two 97-win teams and a 95-win team in), even if I was only three years old when it happened.
This was a spectacular team that deserved every chance to win a World Series.
Second place: 2002
Record: 95-66 (2nd in NL West, 4th in NL)
Pythag record: 98-63
Season result: 4-3 World Series loss to Anaheim Angels
Top five players (by rWAR): Barry Bonds (11.7), Jeff Kent (7.1), Russ Ortiz (3.9), Reggie Sanders (3.6), David Bell (3.2)
I flip-flopped between 2002 and 1993 about 10 times. I’m doing so as we speak. I understand the importance of expected wins, but what actually happens is darn important, and that eight-game difference (even if the 1993 Giants played one extra game) sure is huge, even if the pythag wins are exactly the same.
It came down to one thing for me: Barry Bonds. I realize that baseball is a game where star talent doesn’t take you that far, and the 1993 had better depth than the 2002 squad. But 2002 Bonds was the essence of Barry Bonds. The same Barry Bonds who is the greatest hitter who has ever lived.
We associate Bonds with his record-setting 2001 season, but he was even better in 2002 (his second of four straight MVP awards, and fifth of seven total).
2002 was Bonds’ best season by OPS+ (268) and wRC+ (244), and his second-best season by OPS (1.381). It was his best season by fWAR (12.7), and second-best by rWAR (11.7).
It was, by many, many accounts, the greatest season of baseballing ever witnessed.
When left to choose between two teams with the same expected records, I chose the one with the most feared player a pitcher has ever seen, even if I fully understand that means the rest of the team was worse.
First place: 1962
Record: 103-62 (1st in NL)
Pythag record: 100-65
Season result: 4-3 World Series loss to New York Yankees
Top five players (by rWAR): Willie Mays (10.5), Felipe Alou (5.3), Jim Davenport (4.9), Juan Marichal (4.3), Tom Haller (3.6)
And here we have it. The best San Francisco Giants team to never win a championship: The 103-62 1962 Giants (sidenote: three of these four teams only played 161 games. Weird.).
This team had it all: They had the record and the expected record. They had perhaps the greatest player in baseball history operating near the peak of his powers (this was Mays’ fourth-best season by rWAR, but only 0.7 WAR behind his best year. It was tied for his second-best season by fWAR).
They had the pitching, they had the hitting. They had everything but the trophy.
It only took 48 more years to get one.
What is the best San Francisco Giants team to never win a championship?
This poll is closed