2-0, 2-0, 2-0, 2-0! Baseball’s Best-of Five’s Continue to Lack Drama
For nearly half an inning, it looked like the Angels were going to make it interesting and even up their series 1-1 with the Red Sox late Friday night (well, Saturday morning).Â Then K-Rod killed the Rally Monkey when he served up a two-run homer to
Kirk GibsonJ.D. Drew and the rest was history.Â For the second consecutive season, all four Division Series match-ups started out 2-0.Â No wonder TBS — Frank Calliendo saysÂ TBS isÂ “very funny” — is the network for the Division Series and not TNT.Â But fear not Chicago, Milwaukee and Los Angeles Anaheim, there’s still hope for some Division Series drama.
For the record, the Best-of-Five Series isn’t unique to the implementation of the Wild Card and third division change which came about in 1995 no matter what ESPN, Fox, TBS or anyone else discussing the possibility of recovering from an 0-2 deficit.Â Actually, the Championship Series from 1969 to 1984 was a best-of-five series and there was the four Best-of-Five Division Series from the strike affected 1981 season.Â In all, there were 88 Best-of-Five sets before this year.Â
Since baseball added the Best-of-Five format, 53 of the 88 have started out 2-0 including 21 of 40 (53%)Â since baseball went to the current 2-2-1 format in 1998 and 32 of 48 (67%) in the older 2-3 format.Â And 34 of those 53 teams continued their dominance and swept those teams right out of the playoffs, nearly two out of three of every team.Â Just 19 teams have avoided the sweep and the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels and Chicago White Sox look to join that group on Saturday and Sunday to extend their series one more day.
Whether the team that lost the first two games was the home team or the road team in Games One and Two has littleÂ difference on who wins Game Three but the road team taking the first two has led to a sweep 68% of the time on their return home.Â On the other side, the home team taking the first two has led to a sweep a slightly lower 61% of the time on the road.Â The numbers are heavily in favor of at least one and possibly two of the four teams lined up to get swept to win Game Three but unlikely that three teams will stay alive and improbable that all four teams down 0-2 can escape a sweep.
Winning Game Three is a big step in getting back in the series.Â 19 times the team down 0-2 was able to pick up a win in Game Three and Game Four is basically a coin flip with ten of those 19 teams pushing it to a fifth and final game.Â The last time it happened was in 2003 when the Red Sox won Game Three and Four after the Athletics took Game One and Two.Â Since then, 11 series started 2-0 and ended in three or four games.Â
But what about the ten that went to a fifth and final game?Â Based on previous results, the four teams looking to pull off the unlikely have a little higher than one-in-five shot of playing in Game Five.Â At that point, the odds shift in their favor.Â In those ten series that started 2-0 and were evened up 2-2, seven of the 10 teams involved — ’81 Dodgers, ’82 Brewers, ’84 Padres, ’95 Mariners, ’99 Red Sox, ’01 Yankees and ’03 Red Sox — completed the comeback with a third consecutive win and only three teams — ’73 Tigers, ’81 Brewers andÂ ’81 Phillies –Â failed to pull off the comeback.Â
Although the sample size is small, the Dodgers and Red Sox are the most likely to complete the sweep and only two of the ten teams that lost Game One and Two and then came back to win Game Three and Four were the home team in the first two games.Â If the Cubs or Angels were to pull of the comeback, they would join the ’01 Yankees as the only team to lose Game One and Two at home and then win three in a row to avoid elimination.Â
The Phillies and Rays face a more daunting task if they drop Game Three based on past results.Â Of the 12 teams that won Game One and Two at home and then travelled and failed to complete the sweep, eight of those teams were forced to play a fifth and deciding game.Â Six of those eight teams finished their collapse with a third consecutive loss and were sent home shaking their head wondering what happened.
But what about these eight teams?Â How did they fare in ’08 following a two-game winning streak in the case of the Phillies, Dodgers, Red Sox and Rays and a two-game losing streak in the case of the Brewers, Cubs, Angels and White Sox?Â Let’s take a look:
Won 3rd – 15x (50%)
Lost 1 & Won 3rd – 7x (23%)
Lost 2 & Won 3rd – 5x (17%)
Lost 3 – 3x (10%)
Lost 3rd – 9x (39%)
Won 1 & Lost 3rd – 6x (23%)
Won 2 & Lost 3rd – 4x (17%)
Won 3 – 4x (17%)
Phillies/Brewers Analysis — The Phillies (50%), Rays (53%) and Red Sox (57%) were the most likely during the regular season to extend a two-game winning streak to three games but they were also the most likely to follow a two-game winning streak with a losing streak of at least three games.Â The Brewers might not be the team to make it happen because of the four teams down 0-2, the Brew Crew followed losing streaks of two games with three wins only 17% of the time, the lowest of the four.Â
Even though theÂ Phillies are vulnerable to the three-game slide, they have the best road recordÂ in the National League and best record amongst teams in the NL EastÂ and West vs. the NL Central.Â They also have the best of theÂ pitching match-ups in Game Three and Game Four with Jamie Moyer againstÂ Dave Bush followed by Cole Hamels against Jeff Suppan.Â Â Even if theÂ series heads back toÂ Game Five at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies areÂ only one of two teams to have a 1.000 winning percentage against CC Sabathia.Â The only other?Â The Milwaukee Brewers.Â Â
Los Angeles Dodgers
Won 3rd – 10x (37%)
Lost 1 & Won 3rd – 9x (33%)
Lost 2 & Won 3rd – 6x (22%)
Lost 3 – 2x (7%)
Lost 3rd – 5x (28%)
Won 1 & Lost 3rd – 7x (39%)
Won 2 & Lost 3rd – 1x (6%)
Won 3 – 5x (28%)
Dodgers/Cubs Analysis — Of the four teams up 2-0, the Dodgers had the least success at extending their winning streaks to three games.Â The Cubs only lost a third consecutive game one out of four times but only won three consecutive following two losses slightly better than one out of four times.Â The Dodgers are extra stingy and only lost three in a row twice following 27 two-game winning streaks.Â
The Cubs are only four games above .500 on the road but it probably takes some pressure off of them to travel away from Wrigley and play at Dodger Stadium.Â Rich Harden takes the hill for Game Three against Hiroki Kuroda but it’s tough to see these Cubs winning three in a row after the way they played in the first two games.Â However, the numbers are on their side to at least win one.
Boston Red Sox
Won 3rd – 17x (57%)
Lost 1 & Won 3rd – 8x (27%)
Lost 2 & Won 3rd -Â 3x (10%)
Lost 3 -Â 2x (7%)
Los Angeles Angels
Lost 3rd -Â 3x (19%)
Won 1 & Lost 3rd – 5x (31%)
Won 2 & Lost 3rd – 3x (19%)
Won 3 – 5x (31%)
Boston/LA Angels Analysis — 11 postseason losses in a row to the Red Sox haunt the Angels as they head across the country to continue their series with the Red Sox and it doesn’t help that the Red Sox won a third in a row 57% of the time and only lost three in a row after winning two in a row 7% of the time.Â However, if there is one team likely to win three in a row, it is the Angels who did it five times in ’08.Â They also only lost three in a row three times during the year.
Then again, this is the same Red Sox team that swept the Angels right out of the playoffs in the LDS in ’07 and the same Josh Beckett that is 6-2 with three shutouts in postseason action.Â Beckett has never experienced a postseason series loss in his Major League career and even though the Mark Teixeira-Vladimir Guerrero-Torii Hunter section of the lineup is 14-for-23 (.609) with four RBI and three runs scored, the rest of the lineup is 6-for-50 with two RBI and three runs scored and neither Teixeira, Guerrero or Hunter have an extra-base hit.
Tampa Bay Rays
WonÂ 3rd – 17x (53%)
Lost 1 & Won 3rd -Â 9x (28%)
Lost 2 & Won 3rd -Â 4x (13%)Â
Lost 3 – 2x (6%)
Chicago White Sox
Lost 3rd – 11x (50%)
Won 1 & Lost 3rd – 2x (9%)
Won 2 & Lost 3rd – 3x (14%)
Won 3 – 6x (27%)
Rays/White Sox Analysis — The Rays and White Sox numbers compute to the most likely of the four to be a sweep and the least likely for a comeback but isn’t it possible that the clock strikes midnight for Cinderella and the Prince doesn’t get the glass slipper to her in time?Â
The White Sox lost a third consecutive game 11 of 22 times following two consecutive losses more than the number of times the Cubs and Angels did so combined.Â They only won three in a row following two losses six times but one of those was to stay alive and make it to the postseason so it is not without precedent.Â
If you were looking for excitement in the postseason in a Best-of-Five series, it’s not something we’ve seen lately.Â The last Best-of-Five series to go five games happened three years ago and it has only happened 25 times in the history of the Best-of-Five series.Â OnceÂ allÂ four seriesÂ went toÂ 2-0, it seemed unlikely for it to happen at all again in ’08 but the possibility is still there.Â If your team is down 0-2, winning the next two games makes your team the favorite in Game Five if history is an indication so the news isn’t all bad.Â Hang in there Cubs’ fans, don’t put away the rally monkeys yet Angels’ fans, keep the beer on tap Brew Crew and get ready for the blackout White Sox fans.Â The more numbers thrown into the mix, the more it looks like one of these series is destined for a fifth game especially since the last 11 series to start 2-0 only went three or four games.Â It ain’t over ’til it’s over!