Monday, November 1, 2010

How do you solve a problem like a 3-1 deficit in the World Series?

By The Common Man

So it's not a catchy title.  TCM isn't exactly Rogers and Hammerstein.

The Rangers do, indeed, look royally screwed in this World Series, as friend of the blog, Craig Calcaterra points out this morning. So much so that you could be tempted to turn away from Game 5 tonight (and 6 and 7 later this week). Indeed, Craig points that just five teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series, in 1925, 1958, 1968, 1979, and 1985, and finds not a lot of hope for the Rangers:

The 1925 and 1958 comebacks aren’t all that instructive here, because it really was a different game then. After all, no Rangers pitcher is going to make two starts in the final three games of this one, not even for all the Burma Shave in the world. 1985 was rather freaky as well, as the Cardinals got boned on the Denkinger call.

That leaves the Rangers with the example of the 1968 Tigers and the 1979 Pirates. Can Colby Lewis channel his inner Mickey Lolich? Will Andres Torres badly misplay a ball in center like Curt Flood? Are the Rangers Fam-i-ly like those Willie Stargell Pirates were? I don’t think it would be right to say there was no chance at all, but boy howdy, the odds are certainly against them.
But how steep are those odds exactly, and (as quickly as Craig dismisses them) what if anything do these prior series really have to teach us?

There have been exactly 100 seven-game World Series played prior to 2010 (though there were nine-game World Series in 1903, and 1919-1921. In these series, 42 World Series teams took a 3-1 lead. And of these 42 teams, five couldn’t hold the lead. So, the Rangers might have a roughly one-in-eight shot, right? Well, hold on. There have also been 32 ALCS and NLCS matchups where a team has taken a 3-1 lead. And here 6 teams fought their way out of the hole to advance. This includes the 2004 Red Sox, who lost all of the first three games, and 1985 Royals who came back from down 3-1 in both the ALCS and the World Series. So this would give the Rangers an 11 in 74 shot at coming back, or about 1-in-6.5. Obviously, however, this is a small sample size and not at all definitive. It’s still not good news, but it’s getting better.

So what needs to happen for the Rangers to come back, in this one? For one thing, Texas is going to need some superhuman performances by Cliff Lee (who wouldn’t be available to start a Game 7, but potentially could go all Randy Johnson out of the bullpen), Josh Hamilton, and other assorted Rangers. It could happen.  Over the last three games of 1979, the Pirates bullpen (including a slumming Bert Blyleven) threw twelve consecutive scoreless innings to hold back the Orioles. In 1958, Bob Turley shut out the Braves in Game 5 for the Yankees, then pitched 6.2 innings of 2-hit relief, on two days rest, to hold off the Braves in Game 7. Mickey Lolich pitched two complete games in Games 5 and 7 (again two days rest) to beat the Cardinals. Dane Iorg, who hit .223/.268/.331 for the Royals in ’85 and perhaps the last man on the Kansas City bench (he was the 14th position player to enter the game), delivered a pinch hit single off of uber-closer Todd Worrell to win Game 6 in the 9th.

Likewise, the Rangers need the Giants to stumble. Torres needs to not get to a ball in the gap. Sanchez needs to hesitate while turning a double play. Lincecum needs to struggle again, and Matt Cain can’t be so damn untouchable. It could happen.  The ’25 Pirates scored nine runs off of Walter Johnson in Game 7 to beat the Senators. The ’85 Cardinals managed just five hits in each of the last three games against the Royals. Perennial Gold Glover Curt Flood misplayed a Jim Northrup fly ball into a triple in 1968 that led to three Tiger runs. The sure-handed Orioles committed 5 errors in the final three games in ’79.

And, finally, the Rangers need to get lucky. Rob Neyer detailed last night how the Giants benefitted from all the right bounces and calls in Game 4. Those bounces need to even out.  It could happen.  The Royals lucked out in 1985 when Don Denkinger made a bad call at 1B and the Cardinals lost Game 6. The Pirates won Game 7, as Craig points out, in a driving rain storm that led to several errors and unearned runs. And dozens of other small plays here and there (singles that drop in, bunts that spin back fair, a call that goes sideways, a pitch that catches just a little too much of the plate).

Look, it’s not likely to happen. The Rangers need some combination of all three factors above. The Common Man doesn’t think it’s going to happen. But it could happen. This is a short series, and the Rangers are a good team, and dammit, anything’s possible. Don’t miss it.


tomemos said...

I don't mean to be rude, but this post seems to add nothing at all to what Craig already said, except the completely meaningless (or, as you call it, "not at all definitive") pseudo-statistic about the Rangers having a 1-in-6.5 shot. Not to mention that the things the Rangers have to do are totally out of their control (i.e., "get the Giants to stumble"). The whole post amounts to, "The Rangers could still win if they win three straight games, which is unlikely but possible." So I question what the point was.

Chuck said...

Seriously, can we stop with the Denkinger crap? Any normal team gets the out on the next play and doesn't fall to pieces the way the Cardinals did. The Cards lost, Denkinger notwithstanding. Stop it.

The Common Man said...

Thanks for all your help boiling TCM's argument down to a single sentence. You're terrific and TCM would like to offer you a place on our staff. Think how much time and bandwidth The Platoon Advantage would save. TCM's point was to contextualize and flesh out the series in question, and (indeed) point out that the series isn't over, regardless of what the majority of fans think

You're absolutely right. Denkinger didn't cost the Cardinals the '85 Series any more than Billy Buckner cost the Red Sox Game 7 in 1986. TCM's larger point is that luck (which includes bad calls as long as there is no instant replay), plays a large role in extending or curtailing a team's chance to come back. He was in no way ripping Denkinger for his miscall.

TZig said...

Here is what I boil it down to...if the Rangers win tonight, I will watch Game 6 on Wednesday. If the Giants win tonight, I will not watch Game 6 on Wednesday.

Anonymous said...

World Series teams are roughly even most years; hence a team has a one in two chance to win a game. Two to the third power means it's about a one in eight chance for a team to win three straight against an evenly matched opponent.

History seems to suggest that the math is more or less true.