World Series: Just six teams in MLB history have done what the Cubs hope to do
Coming back from down 3-1 with the final two games on the road? It hasn't happened often
Before their Game 5 win at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs were down 3-1 to the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
In order to claim the title for the first time since 1908, the Cubs needed not just to win three straight, but also win the final two games of the series on the road. They've notched that first win and now comes the task of beating Cleveland in back-to-back games at Progressive Field.
Throughout MLB history, 44 teams in best-of-seven postseason series have gone down 3-1 with the last two games on the road. Of those, just six won the series in question. In other words, history gives the Cubs just a 13.6 percent chance of pulling this off. The odds are long, you see. As noted, though, it's been done before. Here's a quick rundown of the teams that pulled it off ...
- 1958 New York Yankees (defeated Atlanta Braves in World Series)
- 1968 Detroit Tigers (defeated St. Louis Cardinals in World Series)
- 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates (defeated Baltimore Orioles in World Series)
- 1985 Kansas City Royals (defeated Toronto Blue Jays in ALCS)
- 2003 Miami Marlins (defeated Cubs in NLCS)
- 2004 Boston Red Sox (defeated Yankees in ALCS)
We have a tantalizing coincidence above, as the Cubs number among the "victims" of this rare flavor of comeback. There's no real recipe for pulling this off. "Be a very good team and win the last three games of the series," is about as specific as such a minute data sample allows us to be.
But what about that first point, the one regarding the general quality of the team making the comeback? Let's compare these six teams to the 2016 Cubs in terms of regular-season winning percentage and then runs-based winning percentage, which is what their run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) suggests their record should have been. To the numbers ...
|Team||Winning percentage||Runs-based winning percentage|
|2004 Red Sox||.605||.593|
Consider this to be good news for the Cubs. Compared to the teams who have done what Chicago is trying to do, the Cubs are the best in terms of winning percentage and runs-based winning percentage. As well, the Cubs are as healthy as a team can be this time of year (and Kyle Schwarber will be in the lineup for Games 6 and, if necessary, 7). On the other side, the fact that the Indians will be starting Josh Tomlin and Corey Kluber on short rest reflects the fact that their rotation has been significantly compromised by injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco . There's utterly no predicting what can happen in a sport like baseball over the short run of two games, but the Cubs are a great team that's mostly at full strength.
In terms of comparisons, the 1958 Yankees may be the best fit. Like the Cubs, they had a balanced excellence (the Cubs this season were second in the NL in runs scored and first in ERA, and the Yankees in '58 led the AL in each category). Also like the Cubs, they boasted three impact starters in the rotation (Whitey Ford, Bob Turley and Don Larsen), a young superstar (Mickey Mantle, age 26), and a hard-throwing lockdown reliever (Ryne Duren). In that '58 World Series against Hank Aaron's Braves, the Yankees stormed back, first from a 2-0 deficit and then, of course, the 3-1 margin. The hero was Turley. He pitched a shutout in Game 5 and notched a one-out save in Game 6. In Game 7, Turley somehow conjured up 6 2/3 of one-run relief after Larsen struggled. Needless to say, "Bullet Bob" was named World Series MVP.
To be sure, we'll not see that kind of pitcher usage in the modern era, but it's worth noting this about the Cubs starter who, like Turley in '58, pitched his team to victory in a must-win Game 5 at home ...
Joe Maddon mentions possibility of Jon Lester coming out of the bullpen for #Cubs as World Series reaches final stages— Scott Miller (@ScottMillerBbl) October 31, 2016
Now let's make time for the obvious: The Cubs are no longer down 3-1 in the World Series with the final two games on the road. Thanks to Sunday's baseball outcomes, the Cubs are down 3-2 in the World Series with the final two games on the road. Throughout postseason history, teams down 3-2 and tasked with playing the final two games away from home have pulled off the series victory 21.3 percent of the time. So those are better odds, while still not being great odds.
So, no, the Cubs probably aren't going to beat the Indians, who went 53-28 at home during the regular season, on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, it's been done before, and the 2016 Cubs are a better than any of those teams who pulled off the unlikely feat.