The Mets barely finished above .500 one year after winning it all. The Dodgers didn't even finish in the upper half of their division while bidding to repeat. The Reds went from sweeping the A's in the Series to finishing 74-88.
This is not meant to imply that the Giants, who are still basking in the first World Series triumph of their 53 seasons in San Francisco, are doomed to struggle this year. Each champion is different, as is each year. Moreover, the Giants possess the quality of pitching that tends to shield teams from disaster.
But one or two missteps, figuratively or literally, is all it takes to upset a team's balance enough to knock the crown off its head. The aforementioned ballclubs offer proof.
Like the 2010 Giants, the Mets (100-62) had outstanding pitching. Tom Seaver finished 25-7 and won the Cy Young Award to lead a staff that posted a 2.99 ERA, second in the National League.
The Mets ranked only ninth in the league in scoring but benefited from depth. Art Shamsky batted .300 in a part-time role and Donn Clendenon homered 12 times in 226 at-bats. As the Giants did, the Mets rallied down the stretch, winning the East by eight games despite trailing the Cubs by 10 games on Aug. 13.
Not all that much changed a year later, except the Mets plummeted to 83-79. Seaver remained an elite pitcher, helping New York rank first in the NL with a 3.45 ERA. But relievers Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw, who posted a combined 18-7 record with a 2.45 ERA in 1969, sagged to 9-10, 3.55 in '70.
Perhaps most importantly, Pittsburgh was simply better. The Mets were tied for first place in the East on Sept. 14 before losing six of seven games down the stretch to the Pirates, who won the division.
Kirk Gibson won NL Most Valuable Player honors in '88 despite amassing only 25 homers and 76 RBIs, reflecting the magnitude of his intangible contributions. The Dodgers didn't score much, but they didn't have to, because Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser (23-8) paced a staff that finished second in the league in ERA.
Little went right for the Dodgers in 1989, however. Second baseman Steve Sax departed through free agency. An oft-injured Gibson played only 71 games. Opening Day center fielder John Shelby hit .183, prompting a demotion to Triple-A. Los Angeles ranked last in the NL in scoring, wasting pitching that recorded a league-best 2.95 ERA.
Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda indicated that the nuggets of baseball luck that the Dodgers prospected so efficiently in '88 never materialized a year later.
"When you win, everything goes right," Lasorda said. "It's a bang-bang play at first base and he's out. The next year it's a bang-bang play and he's safe. That's the difference. The things that you accomplish when you won, you don't accomplish when you don't win."
Cincinnati's last World Series champions were dynamic. Shortstop Barry Larkin was emerging as one of the game's finest all-around performers. Third baseman Chris Sabo mashed 25 homers after totaling 18 in his first two big league seasons. Eric Davis (24 homers, 21 steals) continued to mesh power and speed. Reserves Hal Morris, Glenn Braggs and Ron Oester each hit .299 or better.
And, of course, the capable starting rotation led by Tom Browning, Jose Rijo and Jack Armstrong was backed by the formidable "Nasty Boys" relief trio of Randy Myers, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble.
The pendulum didn't just swing the other way for the Reds in '91. It bashed them in the forehead. Armstrong, the NL's starter in the All-Star Game in '90, finished 7-13. Mariano Duncan slumped from .306 to .258. Injuries and ineffectiveness in the rotation forced Myers and Charlton to start 12 and 11 games, respectively.
"When you don't have all your guys out there, then sometimes there's not a lot you can do," said Morris, who finished second in the NL batting race with a .318 average, one point behind Atlanta's Terry Pendleton.