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World Series: Do days off matter?

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer
Justin Verlander and the Tigers have had plenty of time to stretch and relax heading into the World Series. (Getty Images)

You can frame it any way you like. If you're the AL-champion Tigers and are coming into Game 1 of the World Series after five days off, it's either a much-needed respite or a spell of momentum-killing idleness. If you're the NL-champion Giants and have scarcely had time to polish off your hangover omelets (a mere one day off between Game 7 of the NLCS and Game 1 of the Fall Classic), then it's either a remorseless limp to the finish or a briskly flowing chance to seize the momentum that the Tigers have necessarily abandoned. Your choice.

The real question, though, is this: Do days off (or the lack thereof) matter in terms of how the World Series plays out? To be sure, we can't answer this with absolute certainty. After all, teams succeed or fail in this best-of-seven affair primarily because of their skills and blind luck native to the game. Days off or on are at best tertiary considerations.

Still, does history have anything to teach us about which narrative is true? That is, is it better to be fully rested or is it better to keep the flow, er, flowing? Or does it even matter?

To arrive at something resembling an answer, we've looked back at every World Series since the onset of divisional play (i.e., from 1969 onward) and noted how many days off each team enjoyed/endured heading into the World Series. In fact, we ran the numbers twice -- first on an abacus and then via tallies crudely scribbled on the cell wall. Here's some of what we learned:

  • Teams winning the World Series have had on average, um, 2.90476 days of rest prior to Game 1. Teams losing the World Series have had on average, um, 2.90476 days of rest prior to Game 1. Once the Tigers and Giants are done, they'll throw these numbers off, but for now let us admire the symmetry and excess of significant digits.
  • Teams with the most days of rest have won the World Series 18 times and lost it 14 times. On 10 occasions, each team in a given World Series had the same number of rest days.
  • As noted, the Tigers will enter this showdown with the Giants on five days of rest. Given what happened in 2006, when the Tigers fell in five games to the objectively inferior Cardinals after a six-day layoff, Detroit partisans are worried. But they shouldn't be. In all, 13 teams have entered Series play on five or more days of rest (including those '06 Tigers), and they've won eight World Series and lost five.
  • Worth noting: The most rested World Series team in our study was the 2007 Rockies, who entered their match-up with the Red Sox (an eventual Boston sweep) on a whopping eight days of rest.
  • The Giants will have only one day off -- Tuesday is a workout day at AT&T Park -- between their Game 7 ritual flogging of the Cardinals and their Game 1 dose of Justin Verlander. In all, 11 teams have played the World Series after only one day off. Those teams have won five series and lost four. In one World Series -- the 1982 encounter between the Cardinals and Brewers -- each team was coming off one day of rest.
  • Retroactively, pity the 1981 Dodgers: they wrapped up their NLCS triumph over the Expos in Montreal on Oct. 19, and then on Oct. 20 they dropped Game 1 of the World Series to the Yankees in the Bronx. No fair! (On the other hand, the Dodgers rallied to win the series in six games.)
  • What about the difference in rest? We'll do the heavy lifting and point out that the Tigers will enter play on Wednesday with four more days of rest than the Giants. Since '69, seven World Series have been played under such conditions -- i.e., when one team's days-of-rest tally exceeds their opponent's by four or more. Four times the team with less rest has gone on to win, and three times the team with more rest has gone on to win. In other words, those data don't really tell us anything.
It's this scribe's suspicion that, after 170-plus games (not counting spring exertions) and thousands upon thousands of miles of charter travel, a little extra down time isn't a bad thing. While the numbers above don't definitively point in one direction, the idea that the Tigers (or Giants, for that matter) will be materially harmed by the way schedule has played out seems a stretch.
Believe it or not, it might come down to which team plays better.
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