With its youthful, brilliant pitching staff under contractual control, most analysts rubber-stamped the San Francisco Giants as a legitimate threat to defend their 2010 World Series title.
Some World Series winners implode; the 1997 and 2003 Florida Marlins rosters were gutted by management to conserve cash.
Other champions perennially contend; the Phillies are gunning this fall for a third WS appearance in four years.
Friday's loss in Phoenix eliminated the Giants last-gasp hopes of repeating as NL West champs. Their flickering wild-card hopes will die with one more Atlanta win or SF loss.
A host of uncertainties—including the possible effects of organizational leadership turmoil on team operations—will linger into 2012.
Beyond the obvious—devastating injuries, a chronic run shortage and gaping holes at several positions (leadoff, shortstop, center field)—several simmering issues plagued this team.
Here are five (one of which, the Beltran Factor, is updated).