Game 4 changed NLCS for the Cubs and Dodgers, maybe more than you think
They're alive in the NLCS after their Game 4 win over the Dodgers
CHICAGO -- Down 3-0 in the best-of-7 NLCS and on the brink, the Cubs powered their way to a tense 3-2 victory against the Dodgers in Game 4 on Wednesday, thus handing Los Angeles its first loss of the postseason. That means the Cubs will play at least one more game in 2017, and that means the Dodgers must wait at least one more day to clinch their first pennant since 1988.
What else it means for the Cubs
For the Cubs, this is step one toward becoming only the second team in MLB history to comeback from down 3-0 to win a best-of-7 series -- the 2004 Red Sox are of course the first and only. In a real sense, though, this is no longer a "down 3-0" story. As of 11:17 p.m. CST at Wrigley, it's a "down 3-1" story, and that's a very different thing. That's what matters for the Cubs moving forward, and it's certainly what matters for the Dodgers. Now consider ...
- Of the 36 teams to go down 0-3 in a best-of-7, only one has come back to win the series (that, as mentioned, would be the '04 Red Sox). That means teams down 0-3 go on to lose the series 97.2 percent of the time.
- Eighty-three teams have been down 3-1 in a best-of-7, and 13 of those have come back to win the series in question. That means 15.7 percent of teams down 3-1 come back to win the series. No, those aren't great odds, but they're much better odds than what you see above. Let's frame it another way ... Before Game 4, history said the Cubs had a 2.8 percent chance of winning the NLCS. That's now up to 15.7 percent. Their Game 4 victory moved the needle in a big way.
- Here's more: The team that's down 3-1 but plays Game 5 at home, which the Cubs do, has a .500 record in Game 5. That's certainly encouraging for the Cubs. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but teams down 3-2 and headed on the road for Game 6 and if necessary 7 (this describes the Cubs, should they survive Game 5) win the series 22.4 percent of the time. So there's another opportunity for the Cubs to move the needle in the right direction.
Look, it's not likely to happen. The Cubs are down 3-1 to the team with the best record in baseball (even if they're without Corey Seager), and at most the Cubs will play one more home game. They have to win three in a row, and the Dodgers need to win only one. The Cubs are probably going to lose this series, but by extending it to at least five games they moved from "longest of longshots" to "heavy underdogs." Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but when you're one game from seeing your season end, it feels like a lot. And, at least according to the numbers, it is.
Oh, the last team to come back from down 3-1? That would be the 2016 Cubs in the World Series.
What else it means for the Dodgers
Obviously, the Dodgers are still quite likely to prevail in the NLCS and advance to the World Series. However, the loss in Game 4 is unwelcome for the Dodgers beyond the usual reasons.
Coming out of Game 3, the Dodgers were in a good spot relative to the other three teams left standing when it comes to pitcher workloads. Because the Dodgers had yet to lose -- and thus had played the minimum number of games -- and because their pitchers had worked so efficiently, they had thrown the fewest pitches in the postseason by a huge margin. They're still probably going to have the freshest staff if they get past Chicago, but that advantage is going to be whittled down some, particularly if this series goes back to L.A.
Also, had the Dodgers completed the sweep, they would've entered the World Series have played seven games since the end of the regular season versus 15 off days. Count spring training, and the four playoff teams remaining have been playing games for almost eight months. Extra rest is more than welcome this time of year.
Speaking of which, an L.A. sweep of the Cubs would mean that the Dodgers would have five days off before the start of the World Series. Now, if they win on Thursday, it's four days. That would still put Clayton Kershaw in line to start Game 1 of the World Series on regular rest (he's slated to start Thursday against the Cubs). Let the Cubs push this series back to L.A. for a Game 6 and perhaps a Game 7, then you're going to see the Dodgers' preferred World Series rotation get mangled. Start Rich Hill against the Cubs in a Game 6, and he won't be able to start in the World Series on regular rest until Game 3. Same goes for Yu Darvish, should he start a Game 7 against the Cubs. That means one of Hill or Darvish would be able to make only one World Series start on full rest.
Ideally, the Dodgers would be able to lineup against the Yankees or Astros with a World Series rotation of Kershaw, Hill, Darvish, Alex Wood, Kershaw, Hill, Darvish. They can still do that if they close the series out on Thursday, but they have to close it out on Thursday.
Of course, the more pressing concern is the Cubs and the shallow grave they punched their way out of in Game 4. From the Dodgers' standpoint, things got less than ideal on Wednesday night. If they don't polish off the reigning champs on Thursday, then things get downright scary.
"I wouldn't say that the pressure is on us," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after Game 4. "I think that we're in a pretty good spot. We've got our number one pitcher going tomorrow, and we've got two of the guys at the back end rested."
He's right about that, of course, but if they don't win Game 5 then all of those things he cited as reasons not to feel pressure go away.
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