Does the Tigers' vacation make them World Series favorites?

Ezra Shaw

The Detroit Tigers punched their World Series ticket four days before the San Francisco Giants punched theirs, which gave the Tigers plenty of time to set their pitching rotation exactly as they like. But historically speaking, what has this presumed advantage meant?

Without even looking, I'm going to guess that the Detroit Tigers are going to be listed as favorite in the World Series, for one simple reason: Justin Verlander is starting Game 1 for them, and he's a lot better than whomever is starting for the other team. Which is true.

But you know, most of the starting pitchers in the World Series are going to be pretty good. More to the point, most World Series teams have at least one truly outstanding pitcher, and so would seem to be advantaged by getting to use their big ace in the World Series opener.

Or as Jon Paul Morosi writes:

Let’s set aside many of the factors we examine at the outset of each World Series — home-field advantage, weather, layoff, no designated hitters in the National League park — to consider the one that tends to trump them all.

Pitching.

Starting pitching, more specifically.

By the time the World Series opens Wednesday, the Detroit Tigers will have had nearly a week to line up their rotation: Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. The same quartet swept the New York Yankees in the ALCS, while combining for a 5-1 record and 1.02 ERA this postseason. At a time of year when additional rest can be valuable for pitchers, the Tigers’ starters are getting plenty of it.

Their National League opponent won’t have the same luxury.

--snip--

But if there ever was a year for the AL team to seize momentum early in the Fall Classic, it’s this one -- because of Verlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer and the draining NLCS that isn’t over yet.

Pitching's no doubt important. Of course, there are "some" who think it's also important to be playing baseball, as opposed to spending time with your family and maybe playing some fake innings against a bunch of minor leaguers.

We do have some history on this thing. Not a lot. But some. Major League Baseball adopted the best-of-seven League Championship Series format in 1985 (just in time for the Royals, who lost three of their first four games against the Blue Jays that fall, only to win the next three for the American League pennant).

From 1985 through this year, 54 League Championship Series have been played. Only five were four-game sweeps. That sounds like not a lot, but it's actually slightly more than we might guess; going strictly by probability, but assuming that one of the teams in the LCS was actually better than the other team, we would expect four sweeps rather than five.

But we shouldn't be surprised by five. Or six or seven, or two or three. Math.

Anyway, here's a quick look at what those five teams did in the World Series; the first team is the one that swept its ALCS, the second its World Series competition, along with how many games that club played in its LCS:

1988: Athletics vs. Dodgers (7)
The A's won 104 games during the regular season. They outscored their opponents by 180 runs. The Dodgers won 94 games, and outscored their opponents by 84 runs. The A's swept the Red Sox in the ALCS. The Dodgers needed seven games to get past the Mets in the NLCS. But of course, thanks largely to Kirk Gibson's walkoff homer in Game 1 and Orel Hershiser's complete-game victories in Games 2 and 5, the Dodgers beat the A's in five games. It was one of the larger upsets in World Series history.

1990: Athletics vs. Reds (6)
Stop me if you've heard this one before ... The A's won 103 games during the regular season. They outscored their opponents by 163 runs. The Reds won 91 games, and outscored their opponents by 96 runs. The A's swept the Red Sox in the ALCS. The Reds needed six games to get past the Pirates in the NLCS.

And the Reds swept the Athletics in the World Series, four straight. It might not have been as big an upset as the Dodgers in '88, but then again the Dodgers didn't (quite) sweep the A's in that one.

1995: Braves vs. Indians (6)
The Braves swept the Reds in the NLCS, while the Indians needed six games to be beat the Mariners. The Braves, of course, were famous for their pitching; Greg Maddux went 19-2 that season, and he was (ahem) ably backed by Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. But while the Braves went 90-54, the Indians went 100-54 and scored four thousand runs.

It didn't matter. Atlanta's well-rested pitchers put the clamps on the Indians' hitters. In the Braves' four wins, they held the Indians to only seven runs, including Glavine's decisive 1-0 victory (with some help from closer Mark Wohlers) in Game 6.

2006: Tigers vs. Cardinals (7)
The Tigers had a pretty easy time of it, acing the Yankees in a four-game Division Series, then sweeping the Athletics in the ALCS. The Cardinals also won their Division Series in four games, but then played an incredibly tight NLCS against the Mets; you probably remember how that one ended (video).

So what happened in the World Series? You probably remember, that, too: the Tigers' pitchers made a bizarre number of errors, and the Cardinals needed only five games to win the Serious.

2007: Rockies vs. Red Sox (7)
Entering the World Series, the Rockies were hotter than hot, having swept the Diamondbacks in the NLCS and the Phillies in their Division Series ... and that was after beating the Padres in a one-game playoff for the National League's single Wild Card postseason berth. Oh, and before that they'd won 13 of 14.

So entering the Series, the Rockies seemed to have almost everything going for them. They'd won 21 of their last 22 games and they were completely rested, their pitching rotation set up perfectly.

And then they got swept. The Red Sox beat them 13-1 in Game 1 and 10-5 in Game 3, and won Games 2 and 4 by one run apiece. So much for momentum. And rest.

So we've got five teams that five teams that swept their LCS opponents; in each case, their World Series opponents had played at least six LCS games. And yet only one of the LCS sweepers managed to win the World Series. The LCS sweepers have won six World Series games ... and lost 19.

Does any of this prove anything? Of course not. It does suggest that having all that extra time off doesn't confer a significant advantage. And considering that 6-19 record, we might even guess that it's a disadvantage.

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