- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2013

It takes talent to win a World Series, of course, but luck and timing also are huge factors. As the Washington Nationals aspire to a championship in 2013, here’s a look at how the past five World Series winners reached the top.

2012 San Francisco Giants: 94-68, NL West champions

How they were built: 10 free agents, seven players drafted, two amateur international signings, five trades, one waiver claim on the playoff roster.What went right? A mid-season trade for Marco Scutaro gave the Giants a huge infield upgrade offensively and defensively. Scutaro hit .362 with a .385 on-base percentage in 61 games for the Giants and hit an unbelievable .500 with a .533 OBP in the NLCS. They also happened to have the NL MVP in Buster Posey as their catcher.

What went wrong? Melky Cabrera, hitting .346 and slugging .516, was suspended 50 games in mid-August for testing positive for PEDs. A bump in the road that could have crippled the Giants as they scrambled to fill that hole instead helped rally the team. They went 30-14 after Cabrera’s suspension.

How did they wind up hoisting the trophy? The Giants never seem to be the most talented team at the postseason party, and that was again true. This time around, they relied much more on their offense, which consistently came through with big hits and didn’t shrink when faced with Detroit’s menacing pitchers. But they, too, could boast one of the league’s best pitching staffs. The importance of manager Bruce Bochy getting the most of his players, sometimes a rag-tag bunch, cannot be overstated.

2011 St. Louis Cardinals: 90-72, NL wild card

How they were built: 10 drafted players, nine free agents, six players via trades on the playoff roster.

What went right? Just about everything. The Cardinals were 10 games back of NL Central-leading Milwaukee on Aug. 28 — and 9 games behind NL wild card-leading Atlanta. The run they went on to cap the 2011 season was truly one for the ages. In the final month, the Cardinals went 20-8 and they stayed late in the clubhouse in Houston on Sept. 28 to watch as the Braves fell and they could pop the champagne as wild-card winners.

What went wrong? Just about everything. On top of a rash of injuries that started when ace Adam Wainwright underwent Tommy John surgery in spring training, the Cardinals blew 15 saves by the All-Star break. When all was said and done, they lost 22 games that they had led or were tied in after seven innings. Several shrewd midseason trades helped stabilize them all over the field and key their late-season run.

How did they wind up hoisting the trophy? The Cardinals may be the luckiest World Series winners in a long time. Twice down to their last strike in Game 6 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers, the Cardinals rallied from five deficits to win that game in 11 innings, and they took Game 7 one night later. From expected heroes like Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols, to unexpected ones like Allen Craig and hometown kid David Freese, the 2011 Cardinals epitomized the idea that if you go into the playoffs hot, it doesn’t matter what happened to you during the season’s first 162 games.

2010 San Francisco Giants: 92-70, NL West champions

How they were built: 10 free agents, nine drafted players, four via trades, one amateur free agent, one waiver claim on the playoff roster.

What went right? For a good part of the season, not much other than Buster Posey. The Giants were built on a terrific pitching staff but it was their penchant for 1-0 losses that helped broadcaster Duane Kuiper coin a slogan by describing watching the Giants play as “torture.” Posey helped. Called up in May, the rookie catcher reeled off a 21-game hitting streak to help buoy the team. Key midseason pickups, like perhaps the greatest waiver claim in baseball’s history in Cody Ross, were integral. It was a 20-11 run to close the season, coupled with a tremendous collapse by the San Diego Padres, that allowed the Giants to clinch the division on the season’s final day.

What went wrong? The Giants‘ rotation was their strength, but they played 17 more one-run games in 2010 than they did games decided by five runs or more. When the pitching struggled, it got ugly. After the staff posted an ERA above 5.00 in August, they pulled it together and posted a 1.78 mark in September to allow the Giants to go 18-8 and ride that wave into the playoffs.

How did they wind up hoisting the trophy? The World Series against the Texas Rangers, which the Giants won in five games, put everything the Giants could do well on the game’s biggest stage. Their offense showed up big in Games 1, 2 and 4. And while Tim Lincecum dazzled in Game 5, a much-maligned veteran got to play the hero one more time. Edgar Renteria’s three-run homer stood up to give the Giants their first championship since moving west.

2009 New York Yankees: 103-59, AL East champions

How they were built: 10 free agents, seven drafted players, four amateur free agents, four via trades on the playoff roster.

What went right? After they missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, the Yankees made a huge splash in free agency. They signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for a combined $423.5 million and traded for Nick Swisher to add to a core that was perennially one of baseball’s best. They were a juggernaut and they reeled off 103 victories — six more than any other team in the majors.

What went wrong? The Yankees got off to a relatively slow start and were just two games over .500 after 36 games. Their pitching staff wasn’t as dominant as it could have been or, perhaps, was expected to be and they struggled to find a consistent fifth starter. But their offense was led by Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and the team scored 32 more runs than any other team in the major leagues.

How did they wind up hoisting the trophy? The Yankees were never pushed to the brink of elimination during the 2009 playoffs as they disposed of the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies to win the title. After mourning the death of The Boss, George Steinbrenner, earlier that summer, the 2009 championship largely represented the last run for the core of a Yankee dynasty that won five titles in 14 years.

2008 Philadelphia Phillies: 92-70, NL East champions

How they were built: Eight free agents, eight drafted players, six via trades, one amateur free agent, one waiver claim, one Rule 5 draft pick on the playoff roster.

What went right? While the Phillies’ rotation encountered its share of struggles and the offense, normally robust and led by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth, was inconsistent at times, the one thing the Phillies could always count on was Brad Lidge. The Phillies’ closer, acquired the previous offseason, saved 41 of 41 chances in the regular season, and continued the streak with seven more saves in the Phillies’ playoff run.

What went wrong? The Phillies battled with the New York Mets for divisional supremacy all season long. After Philadelphia and shortstop Jimmy Rollins boldly predicted they would win the 2007 NL East crown, the Mets countered with their own bravado in the spring of 2008. The Phillies, who struggled to find starting pitching consistency all season, were a half-game back of the Mets as late as Sept. 19. A 6-2 record in the final eight games, along with the NL’s best road record (44-37) helped them fend off the Mets.

How did they wind up hoisting the trophy? Ultimately the Phillies beat the Milwaukee Brewers and then the Los Angeles Dodgers handily to reach the World Series, with plenty of memorable moments built in. There was Matt Stairs’ pinch-hit home run in Los Angeles as the Phillies mounted a furious comeback in Game 4, and the pounding rains that forced their World Series-clinching Game 5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays to be spread over three days. It was the first of what many expected to be multiple championships for this Phillies’ core, but they lost the World Series the following season and haven’t been back since.