Winning the World Series two years ago spoiled San Francisco Giants fans to some extent. If nothing else, it created higher expectations for the franchise.
If the Giants don't win the World Series this year, that will qualify as something of a disappointment in the minds of many. However, regardless of what happens in the smaller sample size of the postseason, the Giants regular season is something the franchise has reason to be proud of.
Over the long, brutal grind of the 162-game season, the Giants survived the losses of closer Brian Wilson, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, two injuries to Pablo Sandoval and the suspension of Melky Cabrera for the stretch run.
The team received 160 starts from its five starters, which is only the fourth time that's happened in Major League Baseball since the advent of the five-man rotation. The durability and consistency of the rotation, plus the MVP performance of Buster Posey, carried the Giants to a run-away division title.
They finished with 94 wins, the most the franchise has had since 2003 when they won 100 games. Those 94 wins tied the Atlanta Braves for the third best record in the National League and fourth best overall along with the cross-bay rival Oakland A's.
Let's take a look at how the Giants put together such a remarkable regular season with a few days left before the postseason kicks into gear.
All stats used in this article are taken from ESPN.com and FanGraphs.com.
Matt Cain became the ace of the staff in 2012 by delivering a perfect game on June 13 against the Houston Astros, which helped earn him the nod as the All-Star Game starter. Manager Bruce Bochy has named Cain as his Game 1 starter in the NLDS.
On the year, Cain delivered a career-best 16 wins and a 2.79 ERA; the third time in the last four seasons that he's finished with a sub-3.00 ERA. He also had 21 quality starts in 32 tries while leading the rotation in wins above replacement (3.8 WAR) and fielding independent pitching (3.40 FIP). He was second on the staff with a 3.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB).
Madison Bumgarner emerged as the No.2 starter on the staff, despite a late-season fade. He delivered 19 quality starts in 32 tries, a 3.37 ERA and 16 wins to tie Cain for the team lead. His 3.90 K/BB ratio bested Cain for the team lead, and he finished second to Cain in WAR (3.4) and FIP (3.51).
Ryan Vogelsong got snubbed from the All-Star team, then faded in the second half before delivering three straight quality starts to finish the season. His postseason role remains in question, but he's been the team's third best starter this season by ERA (3.37), FIP (3.70), WAR (2.4) and K/BB ratio (2.54). He led the team with 22 quality starts in 31 turns through the rotation.
Barry Zito came back from the worst season of his career to deliver 15 wins, 17 quality starts and a 4.15 ERA. He saved his best work for the stretch run when he went 5-0 with an ERA around 3.00 over his final six starts, which may have earned him a spot in the postseason rotation, though a final decision has yet to be announced.
Tim Lincecum had a miserable first half in which he went 3-10 with a 6.42 ERA. His second half was much better, however, as Lincecum went 7-5 with a 3.83 ERA over his final 15 starts.
He backed into the postseason by getting roughed up in his final two turns through the rotation, but his postseason spot remains secure. On the whole, Lincecum led the rotation by striking out 9.19 hitters per nine innings pitched (K/9), but finished last in ERA (5.18) and quality starts (13).
Even with the decline of Lincecum, the Giants rotation remained formidable, finishing sixth in all of baseball in ERA and quality starts.
Buster Posey led the National League in batting average and he's the leading candidate to take home the MVP Award as well.
He hit .336/.408/.549 with 24 home runs from the most demanding position on the diamond. He also delivered for the Giants when it mattered most, hitting .343 with runners in scoring position. After the All-Star break, he hit a Bonds-like .388/.459/.651 to carry the Giants to the NL West crown.
Melky Cabrera was suspended for the remainder of the season in August for PED use, but he still finished tied for second on the team with 4.5 WAR. His .346/.390/.516 batting line was tainted by drug use, but the value he provided the Giants for four and a half months helped keep the team in contention through the summer.
Angel Pagan tied Cabrera with 4.5 WAR by hitting .288/.338/.440 with 29 steals and a league-leading 15 triples.
Marco Scutaro helped make up for the loss of Cabrera by hitting .362/.385/.473 in 61 games with the Giants after a mid-season trade.
Hunter Pence only hit .219/.287/.384 with the Giants after being acquired at the deadline from the Phillies, but he made those hits count by hitting .276 with runners in scoring position to drive in 45 runs for the Giants.
Pablo Sandoval went to the disabled list twice and only played in 108 games while also continuing to battle weight problems. It wasn't his best year, but he was solid enough, hitting .283/.342/.447 with 12 home runs, second best on the team.
Brandon Belt also had an up-and-down year, but he finished with a respectable .275/.360/.421 batting line and a team-leading 11.3 percent walk rate.
Gregor Blanco was miscast as an everyday player, but as a fourth outfielder, he's as good as they come. He hit .244/.333/.344 with 26 stolen bases while also providing exceptional defense in the outfield.
Like Blanco, Brandon Crawford's value came mostly from his glove. He only hit .248/.304/.349, but he led the team with 12 defensive runs saved.
Joaquin Arias was a minor league free agent who propelled himself into a key role as an injury replacement to for Sandoval, then as a platoon mate with Crawford. He hit .270/.304/.389 overall, but he hit a robust .309/.340/.443 against lefties.
Hector Sanchez hit .280/.295/.390 as Posey's backup behind the plate. His 52-to-5 K/BB ratio shows that he has a long way to go. However, there aren't many backup catchers as talented as Sanchez around the game.
This was the best offensive team the Giants have had since 2004. They finished 12th in runs scored, fifth in batting average, seventh in on-base percentage, 18th in slugging, 14th in OPS, 10th in steals and fourth in avoiding strikeouts.
The Giants finished in the middle of the pack with a 3.50 bullpen ERA this season. However, despite losing closer Brian Wilson for the season after only two appearances, the pen managed to finish third in baseball by converting 80 percent of save opportunities.
Santiago Casilla received the first crack at the closer role, but he eventually faltered after saving 25 games. He still remained a key cog in the late innings and finished the season with a 2.84 ERA.
Sergio Romo has become the primary option as the closer against right-handed batters. He led the bullpen in K/9 (10.25), ERA (1.79), WHIP (0.85) and WAR (1.9).
Javier Lopez is now pitching in the ninth inning against lefties, who he held to a .191 batting average this season.
Jeremy Affeldt had another solid year out of the bullpen, delivering a 2.70 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 63.1 innings, which tied Casilla for the bullpen lead.
Jose Mijares has been outstanding since being acquired off of waivers from the Kansas City Royals. He held lefties to a .211 batting average this season and put up a 2.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 10.19 K/9 in 17.2 innings with the Giants.
George Kontos may have secured a spot on the postseason roster by striking out Matt Kemp in a key at-bat on Tuesday night. Acquired for Chris Stewart at the end of spring training, Kontos put up a 2.47 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 9.07 K/9 in 43.2 innings with the Giants.
Guillermo Mota (5.23 ERA), Clay Hensley (4.62 ERA), Brad Penny (6.11 ERA) and Shane Loux (4.97) are likely going to be left off the postseason roster in favor of Kontos and Vogelsong or Zito from the rotation.
Bochy deftly handled the loss of Wilson by mixing and matching with his bullpen crew. With the loss of Wilson at the end of the game, and Ramon Ramirez (who struggled badly with the Mets this season after two great years with the Giants) in the middle, this bullpen isn't quite as deep as it was two years ago. However, Bochy's ability to play matchups has kept the pen an overall asset for the Giants.
Bochy also gets credit for keeping the team on the right track after the devastating loss of Cabrera, and for sticking with Lincecum through his first half struggles despite calls for him to be removed from the rotation (including from me).
Posey has already been credited with a batting title, and an MVP should be soon to follow. Cain has somehow been left out of the Cy Young discussion once again this season, but he's become an elite ace, even if the national media mostly ignores his accomplishments.
General manager Brian Sabean also has to get a ton of credit for acquiring Cabrera, Pagan, Scutaro, Pence, Arias and Blanco this winter and at the trading deadline.
Like Cain, Sabean doesn't get much credit for the work he does. However, his outstanding 16-year track record, which includes five NL West crowns, six postseason appearances, two pennants and a World Series title, speaks for itself at this point.
No matter what happens during the rest of October, this has truly been an outstanding Giants team. For the second time in three season, the Giants are champions of the NL West.
Is another pennant in the cards? Another World Series? Based on their regular-season performance, more postseason success is a distinct possibility this fall.