First, I'll say this: The San Francisco Giants are not dead. Not dead officially, and not even unofficially, even though they're now sitting in last place with a 40-49 record. According to Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds, the Giants still have a measurable, far-from-impossible chance of winning a spot in baseball's championship tournament.
But it's just a 1-in-20 chance. The Giants' postseason chances are on life support, which isn't what anybody expected from a club that won the whole silly shebang just last October.
Of course we all know about The Plexiglas Principle and Regression to the Mean and all that depressing stuff, and we all can remember really good teams that suddenly didn't seem so very good at all. But the Giants are heading straight toward a 73-89 season, which seems like an awful lot of regression, and much worse than their relatively small correction after winning the World Series in 2010. Which got me to wondering about other World Series teams, so I looked at all of them since the last strike. A few "facts" for your consideration:
There's regression, but it's not as bad as I expected.
American League World Series teams have averaged 97 wins in their championship seasons, and 93 wins the next year. National League World Series teams have averaged 93.4 wins in their championship seasons, and just 86.5 the next year.
But that National League figure is misleading, as a big chunk of the decline is due to just one club: the 1998 Marlins, who lost 108 games immediately after winning the 1997 World Series. Thanks, Wayne Huizenga. Thanks a lot.
Leaving aside those Marlins, who weren't even trying to win, here are the other four World Series teams that posted losing records the next season ...
1999 Padres: 74-88
Umm, I didn't really want to bring this up, but ... Bruce Bochy managed this team, too. And the Padres didn't exactly bounce back from this disappointing season; 1999 was just the first of five straight losing campaigns, all with Bochy at the helm.
2003 Angels: 77-85
As I've mentioned a few hundred times, the Angels came back in 2003 with exactly the same team that won the 2002 World Series. Well, almost exactly; the Cardinals somehow lured fourth outfielder Orlando Palmeiro away from the fold. But otherwise the Angels were the same, and it just didn't work nearly so well the second time around. But I shouldn't be too rough on management, because the Halos bounced right back in 2004 with a division title, and they won again in '05. In fact, the Angels have just one losing season since 2003, and that was close (80-82).
2007 Cardinals: 78-84
They had a decent excuse, as they'd somehow reached the World Series in 2006 despite winning just 83 games during the regular season, with five starting pitchers sporting ERAs starting with a 5 (highlighted by Mark Mulder's 7.14 mark in 17 starts). In 2007, they jettisoned most of the worst offenders ... but most of the new guys -- Adam Wainwright was the only notable exception -- were just as bad. It wasn't until 2008, with Yadier Molina becoming Yadier Molina and Kyle Lohse sharpening his sinker and Ryan Ludwick playing out of his mind, that the Cards got back on the beam they've trod ever since.
2008 Rockies: 74-88
In retrospect, the 2007 Rockies simply look like one of the all-time flukes, as their wins over the six seasons beginning in 2003 looked like this: 74-68-67-76-90-74. Oh, and their 90th win in 2007 was a one-game playoff for the N.L. West championship. And then, bizarrely enough, they swept the Phillies and the Diamondbacks before getting swept by the Red Sox. In fairness to the Rockies, they did bounce back in 2009 with 92 wins (most of them coming after Jim Tracy took over for Clint Hurdle in the dugout).
The Giants are probably better than their 40-49 record, at least if you believe this. But to avoid becoming just the sixth defending league champion since 1994 to finish with a losing record, they'll have to go 41-32 the rest of the way. And they just don't seem to have the pitching or the hitting to do that well.