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MLB playoffs: Who should panic after two games?

San Francisco Giants

Kelley L Cox – US Presswire

This year the four American League and National League Division series are being played under the old 2-3 format. For those unfamiliar, what this means is that the team with home-field advantage actually plays the first two games of the series on the road, before coming home to play as many of the last three as are necessary. This was the style of the ALCS and NLCS from their inception to the expansion to the best-of-seven format in 1985 and was the ALDS and NLDS format in 1981 (when they were necessitated by the strike) and from 1995 through 1997 after which it changed to the 2-2-1 format used now. The upshot of this is that the team with the nominal home-field advantage faces the prospect of having to come from behind at the end of a series and the team without cannot clinch at home. Both of these flaws were why the format was originally changed, but they have been brought back for just this year due to the Wild Card Game.

After two games in each, the series stand as thus:
New York Yankees 1-1 Baltimore Orioles
Oakland Athletics 0-2 Detroit Tigers
Washington Nationals 1-1 St Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds 2-0 San Francisco Giants

So all even in two and commanding leads in another two. It’s worth asking just how all this fits into baseball history and luckily the longevity of the 2-3 format means that there is a lot of data with which to work.

There have been 48 total series played under the 2-3 format up to this year. In these, the team with home advantage have lost the first two games 19 times, split the first two only 15 times (perhaps a bit surprisingly) and won the first two 14 times. So the A’s are hardly alone in their current plight, and they are not quite up against history either. In those 19 series where the home team lost the first two games they came back to win the series four times. So it does not look great for the A’s, but nor is it impossible. But their neighbours across the bay have a lot more to do. The Giants go to Cincinnati 0-2 down and will know that every single time the team with home advantage have won the first two games they have gone on to win the series.

So it’s a mountain to climb for the Giants and a steep hill to climb for the A’s. But what of the other four teams? One would expect that home teams have a clear advantage in what is effectively a standard three game series. But in the playoffs at least that is not what we find, in fact it’s almost exactly even In the 15 series that have seen 1-1 splits in the first two games, the home team are only 8-7. The Orioles and Cardinals should be pleased to hear it.

It’s interesting to note that overall in the 2-3 format the team with home-field advantage are only 26-22. What is theoretically an advantage is thus only barely so. It’s also interesting to compare the 2-3 format to the 2-2-1. Overall in 2-2-1 the team with home-field advantage is 29-17, a much clearer benefit.

In summary then: It’s all to play for in the Yankees v Orioles and Nationals v Cardinals series. The A’s are not dead, but they are in the last chance saloon. And for the Giants, it most definitely is panic time as they have 14 series worth of history to try to overturn against a team who won 97 games this season.