A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns… And Comebacks

Well, my Dodgers-in-six prediction isn’t looking so hot these days. Here’s what I’ve been up to since then:

• My rundown of the first two games of the NLCS, with a statistical look at the Phillies’ reliance on the home run ball for their scoring.

• Some notes for Game Four that foreshadowed Derek Lowe’s early exit and showed how Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel went against type by calling upon closer Brad LIdge in the eighth inning.

• A closer examination of Manuel and Torre’s bullpen handling in Game Four.

• With the Red Sox joining the Dodgers in the 3-1 pit of despair, today I’ve got a look at the history of teams that came back from such deficits to win a seven-game series. I expanded what was originally intended to be an Unfiltered post into a full-fledged piece, with details about each comeback. What follows here is a bare-bones version on the times that it’s happened.

• • •

From 1922 to 1984, the World Series was the only seven-game series on the baseball calendar. Prior to that, it had occasionally been a best-of-nine affair instead of a best-of-seven, but since the first 3-1 comeback didn’t happen until 1925, it makes for an acceptable shortcut to begin counting at the point where the Fall Classic reverted to its current form. In 1969, expansion split the two leagues into two divisions apiece, giving rise to the League Championship Series, but those remained best-of-five contests until 1985.

In this span of 63 World Series, only four teams came back from 3-1 to win:

1925 WS: Pirates over Senators
1958 WS: Yankees over Braves
1968 WS: Tigers over Cardinals
1979 WS: Pirates over Orioles

From 1985 to 1993, the postseason consisted of three seven-game series a year, the two newly-expanded League Championship Series and the World Series. Of the 27 series in this era, three teams came back from 3-1 to win, with one team doing so twice in the same year:

1986 ALCS: Red Sox over Angels
1985 ALCS: Royals over Blue Jays
1985 WS: Royals over Cardinals

Since 1995, the postseason has become a three-tiered extravaganza, though the two LCS and the World Series remain the only seven-game series. Of the 39 series from 1995 through 2007, four teams have come back from 3-1 to win:

1996 NLCS: Braves over Cardinals
2003 NLCS: Marlins over Cubs
2004 ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees (was 3-0)
2007 ALCS: Red Sox over Indians

In all, that’s 11 comebacks out of 129 series (8.5 percent). In the seven-game LCS era, that’s seven out of 66 series (10.6 percent). Going just by World Series, that’s five out of 85 (5.9 percent), by LCS it’s six out of 44 (13.6 percent). All told, that’s roughly one in 10 times, with the odds apparently greater if you’re the Red Sox.

The full details on each comeback/meltdown, as well as a look at the historical breakdown of each team winning Game Five and the series, are available in the subscriber version.

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