Since so much of the 2020 season has been unexampled throughout the sprawl of baseball history, why wouldn't the postseason wind up giving us more of the same? Why not indeed.
An unprecedented 60-game regular season fed into the largest playoff field ever, and as a function of the latter we had losing teams in the postseason for the first time. Those unparalleled phenomena are calculated, or at least slowly wrought through the regular season. What's been more improvisational and quick-twitch are the playoff achievements of the Astros and Dodgers.
With Saturday's win in Game 6 over the Braves, the Dodgers have come back from down 3-1 to force a Game 7. Coming into 2020, 87 teams had fallen behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven MLB postseason series. Of those 87 teams, just 17, or 19.5 percent, were able to force a Game 7.
The Astros, of course, put themselves under the weight of even longer odds by dropping the first three games of the ALCS to the Rays. Coming into the 2020 season, 38 teams had been in a 3-0 hole in a best-of-seven MLB postseason series. Only one of those 38 teams, the 2004 Red Sox in the ALCS, extended the series to seven games. Stated another way, just 2.6 percent of those teams down 0-3 went on to force a Game 7.
Now here we are with both of those things happening in the same postseason. We've seen both an NLCS and ALCS Game 7 in the same year just twice before, in 2003 and 2004. The 2003 postseason featured one comeback from 3-1 in the LCS round, and the 2004 postseason -- as you may have already expertly surmised -- occasioned the only comeback from 3-0 in MLB history (the only one for the moment). Not until now, though, have those two things happened in the same LCS round.
So what are the odds of such a thing? If we use One Weird Trick from middle-school mathematics we can find out the chances that such a happy union of events should come to pass. Above we noted that coming into 2020 just 19.5 percent of teams down 3-1 eventually forced a Game 7 and that just 2.6 percent of teams down 0-3 were able to wring a Game 7 out of the Sopping Washcloth of the Near-Vanquished. To get the historical chances of those things happening in tandem we just multiply 19.5 percent by 2.6 percent. That gives us a 0.507 percent chance of getting Game 7s out of 3-1 and 3-0 series deficits in the same year. For those morally opposed to percentages, that's roughly a 1 in 200 chance. In matters related, coming into Astros-Rays Game 7, LCS teams facing elimination this postseason were 5-0.
But wait: there's more! The Astros were one of those aforementioned losing teams to make the playoffs this season. The Rays, meantime, were the AL's top team played at what scales to a 108-win pace across the usual 162 games. That brings us to this compounding unlikelihood:
Feels like a good time for a reminder on this:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) October 17, 2020
If Astros win the series, it'd be the largest upset by regular-season winning percentage diff in postseason history, at .184
(it's the 2nd-largest win pct diff in a postseason series, behind LAD-MIL's .234 diff in this year NLWCS) https://t.co/B3GVMqPy3y
It'd be one thing for any team to force a Game 7 after going down 3-0 to any other team. It's something else entirely for a losing team to author such a comeback against a team that won at a .667 clip during the regular season.
To be sure, Rays and Braves rooters are not especially fond of seeing this hydra-headed miracle come to pass, but the remainder of us are honor-bound to appreciate the improbability of all. So get to appreciatin', the lot of you.