A Harder Comeback?

Last week, I advised Angel fans not to give up on their team just because Anaheim had lost the first two games of its best-of-five series to Boston. My reason for doing so was that, since the Wild Card was introduced, 20 teams have taken a 2-0 lead in their division series and 20 percent of them have not won the series.

Of course, 20 percent (even if that’s the appropriate odds of such a comeback) isn’t a good chance and Anaheim did indeed fail to win the series, losing Game 3 on a David Ortiz home run in the 10th inning. Boston advanced to the ALCS against the New York Yankees, and promptly lost the first two games of that series.

Take a quick guess what percentage of teams that have fallen behind 2-0 in a best-of-seven series in the Wild Card era has rallied to win the series.

If you guessed 20 percent (or higher), you guessed too high. Less than eight percent (one out of 13) would be the correct answer.

What if we expand our time frame to since 1985, the year the Championship Series went to best-of-seven? If we do that, the percentage goes up to just under 18 (five out of 28).

Now, I’m not making the silly suggestion that it’s easier to win a series when you have to win three in a row than when you have to win four out of five. If you assume for simplicity that each team has the same chance of winning each game and you also assume that I haven’t forgotten how to do math, a team should have a 12.5 percent chance of rallying from 2-0 down in a best-of-five and an 18.75 percent chance of rallying from 2-0 down in a best-of-seven. So, I’m sure it’s just some small sample weirdness that a greater percentage of teams have rallied from the more difficult position in recent years.

I’m also not making the suggestion that the Red Sox can’t come back from their current deficit. In fact, if you want to get cute, there’s an interesting parallel sitting in the other dugout.

This year, the Red Sox are trying to do something they haven’t done in 18 years — get to the World Series. They choked (pick another word if you’re as sensitive as Dusty Baker) away what looked like a sure playoff series win last year, fired their manager and hired a new manager of questionable credentials.

When they got the chance to do the thing they hadn’t done in 18 years, they lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series.

In 1996, the Yankees were trying to do something they hadn’t done in 18 years — win the World Series. They choked (pick another word if you’re as sensitive as Dusty Baker) away what looked like a sure playoff series win the year before, fired their manager and hired a new manager of questionable credentials.

When they got the chance to do the thing they hadn’t done in 18 years, they lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series. They then won the next four, making them the only team since the Wild Card was introduced to lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series and still win the series.

The 1985 Kansas City Royals rallied from 2-0 deficits in both the ALCS and the World Series, winning both 4-3. The team they rallied against in the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals, had themselves just rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the NLCS by winning four straight games over the Dodgers.

And of course, the other team since 1985 to lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series and win the series was the 1986 New York Mets. In the World Series. Against the Red Sox.

Of course, none of that means anything. The 2004 Red Sox aren’t going to rally because those five teams did or not rally because all the other teams didn’t. If they rally, it will be because they played well and started getting some luck. If they don’t, it will be because it’s a tough thing to do.

It’s just not impossible. In fact, there are two unlikely but not impossible ways the Red Sox could go about winning this series. They could win all three games at Fenway Park and then win either game at Yankee Stadium next week. Or they could win two games at Fenway Park and then win both games at Yankees Stadium next week.

Why should we think they can win three straight games at Fenway Park against the Yankees?

Well, for one, they’re a much better team at Fenway Park. At Fenway Park, the Red Sox outscored teams 517 to 390, out-homered teams 111 to 77, out-doubled teams 218 to 177, out-walked teams 322 to 224, out-hit teams .304 to .255 and out-slugged teams .504 to .406. And most importantly, they won 68 percent of the games they played there (55-26).

Of course, even if they do win three straight games at Fenway Park, they still need to win a game at Yankee Stadium next week. They should be able to do that, but they weren’t able to this week.

Why should we think they can win both games at Yankee Stadium next week?

Well, if the Red Sox can win two games at Fenway Park, they will head back to Yankee Stadium down 3-2 in the series. That would put them in the same situation they were in last year, when they came within five outs of winning the series. One difference is that last year, the Red Sox had John Burkett going in Game 6 and Pedro Martinez going in Game 7. This year, they’d have Martinez going in Game 6 and Bronson Arroyo in Game 7. That’s much better.

Of course, to have a chance to win both games at Yankee Stadium next week, they still need to win two games at Fenway Park. They should be able to do that, but the questionable health of Curt Schilling for Game 5 places extra importance on the first two games there.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that the Red Sox are in a tough spot, there’s no question about that. But they’re not in as tough a spot as the Angels were in a week ago today, and they’re not in as tough a spot as they were in after two games of last year’s ALDS and they’re not even in as tough a spot as they were in after two games of 1999′s ALCS.

They came very close to winning both of these games in New York, and there’s no reason they can’t win the next two games. If they do, the series goes right back to being a toss-up. So, while I can understand a little concern from Red Sox Nation, there shouldn’t be anybody losing hope.

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