History shows Dodgers and Tigers face long odds for LCS comebacks
The Dodgers enter Wednesday’s Game 4 in a 3-games-to-1 hole in the National League Championship Series. Their odds of coming back are long; since the LCS expanded from five games to seven in 1985, only seven teams have rallied to advance to the World Series, including last year’s Giants. Only two others were even able to force a Game 7.
Last year, I summarized each of those series leading up to the Giants’ comeback. I won’t repeat the details here, since they haven’t changed; Dave Henderson is still a hero and Steve Bartman a goat (however undeservedly). Here’s the list of successful comebacks in chronological order:
1985: Royals over Blue Jays
1986: Red Sox over Angels
1996: Braves over Cardinals
2003: Marlins over Cubs
2004: Red Sox over Yankees
2007: Red Sox over Indians
2012: Giants over Cardinals
The two unsuccessful ones, in which a team won Games 5 and 6 but lost Game 7 were the 1992 Pirates, who ultimately bowed to the Braves, and the 2008 Red Sox, who couldn’t replicate their 2004 and 2007 magic and fell to the Rays.
It may provide some small amount of comfort for the Dodgers that the Cardinals are the only team to fail to close out such an LCS more than once, including last year, but the more one digs into the numbers, the worse it gets for Los Angeles. Only three of the seven teams that have come back from down 3-1 to advance to the World Series did so by winning the last two games of the series on the road, as the Dodgers must do: the 1985 Royals, the 2003 Marlins and the 2004 Red Sox. According to WhoWins.com, which breaks down every best-of-seven series in baseball, basketball and hockey, that’s three out of 20 LCS teams that found themselves in the 3-1 hole needing to win the final two games on the road, for a yield of 15 percent.
None of those teams could claim to have Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu — a trio that allowed just three runs (two earned) in 21 innings the first time through — lined up to start as L.A. does, but St. Louis can counter with three pretty good options of its own. Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright have allowed just four runs in 19 2/3 innings against the Dodgers in the NLCS.
The Dodgers can at least take solace in the fact that teams down 3-1 in the LCS win Game 5 more often than not; they’ve done so 20 out of 34 times overall (a .588 winning percentage) and 12 out of 20 times when playing Game 5 at home. Win today and it will set up Kershaw, quite possibly the best pitcher on the planet, to go in Game 6.
In fact, if Los Angeles can get the series back to Busch Stadium, its chances of winning the series improve considerably based upon the historical record. Teams down 3-2 in the LCS have come back to win the series 10 out of 34 times overall (29.4 percent of the time) — roughly twice as often as teams down 3-1 — though just four out of 17 times (23.5 percent) as the road team. In addition to the aforementioned trio (the 1985 Royals, 2003 Marlins and 2004 Red Sox), the 1991 Braves beat the Pirates in Games 6 and 7 in Pittsburgh; in fact, they shut them out in both games.
In terms of all LCS that went the distance, the visiting team has won five out of 15 times (33.3 percent), with the 2006 Cardinals joining that quartet above. Here’s the breakdown of how often the home team has won each individual game of the seven-game LCS, including this year:
Obviously, the Tigers need to beat the Red Sox on Wednesday night in Detroit in order to avoid falling into the same deep pit as the Dodgers currently find themselves. But even with the homefield advantage, LCS history shows that just 26 out of 55 home teams have won Game 4 at home, a .473 winning percentage. That’s not too surprising when you consider that the team with the better regular season record plays Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home, and 3-4-5 on the road. Teams trailing 2-1 heading into Game 4 of the LCS have won just 14 out of 45 such games (.311 winning percentage) overall, and for some reason — a statistical fluke, or maybe the dropoff to the fourth starter among the lesser of two teams — they’ve fared even worse at home, winning five out of 23 games (.217 winning percentage). Such teams have won just 11 out of 45 series (24.4 percent), although those playing Game 4 at home have done so seven out of 22 times (31.8 percent).
All of which is to say that the Tigers, while not in quite as desperate straits as the Dodgers, are still facing a significant uphill climb. Undertaking that climb with Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander lined up the rest of the way is better than not, but it’s still a rough road ahead.