Friday, October 30, 2009

The Middle Three at Home


Major League Baseball decides the World Series and both League Championship Series with best-of-7 game series that utilize a 2-3-2 home game format. This means that one team is at home for two games, then the other has the middle three at home, and finally the first team hosts the final two games.

Often, and the results of this decade prove it out, any team which opens with two games on the road, manages to win at least one of those road games, and then comes home for the next three has a serious advantage. That is the position that the Phillies now find themslves in after splitting two games at the Yankees home ballpark.

Since the year 2000, counting all World Series, NLCS, and ALCS matchups, there have been 30 different series played. In 16 of those series a team opened by either gaining a split or actually getting a sweep of the first two games on the road, returning home for the next three games at least tied. Of the 16 teams doing so, 11 went on to win their series.

Most of the instances where a team split on the road only to eventually lose the series happened in the American League, where it happened four times. The '00Mariners split but lost to the Yankees in 6 games. Each of the '03 Red Sox,'07 Indians, and '08 Red Sox gained road splits only to eventually lose in 7 games.

Three times a team opened on the road and won both games: the '00 Mets in the NLCS, '01 Yankees in the ALCS, and '02 Giants in the NLCS. As you might imagine, all went on to win their series. Only twice has a team managed a split, gone home for three, and been swept out at home: the '01 Braves in the NLCS by Arizona, and the '05 Angels in the ALCS by the White Sox.

In the World Series played over the past decade, no team has been able to gain a sweep on the road in the first two games, as the Phillies tried to accomplish last night. But there have been four series that featured a team gaining a split to open on the road, including last year when the Phils split the first two games in Tampa.

Only the 2002 San Francisco Giants, who gained a split with the Angels, went on to lose the series. In fact, those Giants even came home and won 2 of 3 to go up by three games to two. The Angels rallied to win that epic California series in 7 games, including a dramatic late-game rally in Game Six, dashing Barry Bonds only hope of winning a World Series.

In 2003, the Florida Marlins split against the Yanks in New York and went on to win the series in 6 games. In 2006 it was the Saint Louis Cardinals gaining a split in Detroit, going on to win the series in 5 by sweeping at home. The Phillies then did their part, splitting in Tampa in 2008 before coming home to win in 5 games by also sweeping at home.

What you have done by managing to at least gain a split of the first two games on the road in a series is that you have stolen away the 'home field advantage' from your host. The Yankees were scheduled originally to host 4 games of a 7 game series. With those first two split, the series effectively starts over again in Philly, and the Phillies will be home at Citizens Bank park for 3 of the 5 games left.

All the Yankees need to do is win one game here in Philadelphia, and they regain their home field advantage. They also would ensure that even in a worse-case scenario where the Phils win the other two, they will get to return to Yankee Stadium for at least one more game. But the Yankees will find that win difficult to come by, with the home crowd and field conditions helping the Phils to an 11-1 record in their last 12 home playoff games.

The Phillies on the other hand did what they had to do, they got that split in New York. The now return home with the knowledge that, if they win their home games, they will not have to go back to New York at all. At the very least, the odds of them getting knocked out at home are very long. Again, only 2 of the 16 teams to gain a road split have been subsequently swept at home. In fact, 10 of the 16 teams went on to win at least 2 of their 3 home games.

The odds are in the Phillies favor to take 2 of 3 and move within a game of a repeat title. By actually winning all three of the middle three games at home, the Phillies will repeat as World Series champions in front of a delirious home crowd. It is that very home crowd that they are hoping helps provide the difference in these games.

No comments: