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Teams that have come back from an 0-2 playoff deficit, and the specter of Adam Wainwright

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

If Dodger fans are looking for a little hope before Game 3 of the NLCS, there are a handful of teams that won after starting a seven-game series with two losses. The 1955 Dodgers did it to the Yankees, then the Yankees did it to the Dodgers the next year. The 1978 Yankees did it to the Dodgers. The 1981 Dodgers did it to the Yankees. Basically, the team that wins the first two games of a Yankees/Dodgers World Series is hosed.

There's another team that did it. And if you're a Dodgers fan looking for a little hope and you believe in an orderly, symmetrical world, well, this one's for you. In 1985, the Dodgers took a 2-0 NLCS lead against the Cardinals, then played three in St. Louis. They never won again, and the series became famous for the Game 5 "Go crazy" home run from Ozzie Smith. I think the proper parallel to that would be Yasiel Puig making a diving play at shortstop to win a game, which is certainly possible if he gets the right jump from the outfield.

Most of the teams that came back had three straight home games after falling behind 0-2, just like the '13 Dodgers. There's hope for the Dodgers, alright. They didn't exactly help themselves by losing the first two games, but there's hope.

There's also Adam Wainwright. That's kind of a problem. He's the Cardinals' best pitcher and one of baseball's best pitchers, and he'll pitch twice in this series if he needs to. The Cardinals banked two games without their best pitcher. So let's take a look at the other 0-2 deficits and see if any of the comeback teams had to face anyone as good as Wainwright twice.

I'll use ERA+ because it adjusts for era and ballpark. And because it sets a pretty low bar, as Wainwright's 123 ERA+ is hardly historic.

1955 World Series - Dodgers over Yankees
Whitey Ford was the Yankees' best pitcher, and he was the winner in Game 1. Bob Turley had the same 123 ERA+ as Wainwright this year, and the Dodgers had to beat him twice … except Turley never made another start after Game 3, instead coming in as a reliever twice.

1956 World Series - Yankees over Dodgers
The Dodgers' two best starters were Sal Maglie and Don Newcombe, who both pitched in Brooklyn's first two wins in the Series (though Newcombe was shelled).

1958 World Series - Yankees over Braves
Warren Spahn was the best Braves pitcher, and even though he started Game 1, the Yankees had to face him twice more because it was 1958 and men were men. It wasn't the most dominant of Spahn seasons. The 37-year-old's ERA+ was 116 that year, although he led the league in innings, wins, and complete games.

Still, to do that against a future Hall of Famer is pretty impressive, and the '58 Yankees go on the top of the list.

1965 World Series - Dodgers over Twins
The same caveat applies in 1965 -- The Twins used their best pitchers in the first two games of the Series, alright, but because times were different, that meant they got to use them twice more each. Mudcat Grant and Jim Kaat pitched a combined four games after the Twins were up 2-0, and the Dodgers still won.

1971 World Series - Pirates over Orioles
This would be the famous '71 Orioles rotation with four 20-game winners. But the best ERA+ of the bunch was Jim Palmer's at 126, just barely better than Wainwright's mark, and he was responsible for one of the Orioles' first two wins.

The comeback was probably more impressive because it came against a lineup that could help make four 20-game winners, actually.

1978 World Series - Yankees over Dodgers
If you're wondering why these are all World Series so far, the LCS didn't start until 1969, and it was a best-of-five until 1985. That last part is insane, but probably a column for another time.

And, oh, look, another Yankees/Dodgers World Series. My mom tells me once a year that when she was growing up, she thought the term "World Series" referred to when the Yankees and Dodgers played. In the '78 World Series, the Yankees beat Don Sutton twice after falling behind 0-2. But while Sutton would eventually squeak into the Hall of Fame, he wasn't so hot that season. The Dodgers' best pitcher that year was Burt Hooton, and the Yankees faced him only once after the deficit.

1981 World Series - Dodgers over Yankees
The Dodgers took four straight after losing the first two, beating Dave Righetti, Rick Reuschel, Ron Guidry, and Tommy John. Righetti probably would have started the Game 7, and the rookie had a better ERA+ (174) than Wainwright in 15 starts that year. The Dodgers didn't let it get to him.

1985 NLCS - Cardinals over Dodgers
The Dodgers' first two wins were with their two best pitchers, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser. So while it's true the Cardinals didn't have to face either of them twice, the two of them combined was fairly comparable to two Wainwrights. It was a daunting task, but the Cardinals still persevered.

1985 ALCS - Royals over Blue Jays
The Blue Jays had Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, and Doyle Alexander, and all three had equal-or-better marks than Wainwright. The Royals had to face Stieb and Alexander twice more after banking the first two wins. If you're wondering what the Blue Jays fans ever did to deserve Joe Carter, there you go. Sitting through that series must have been dreadful.

1985 World Series - Royals over Cardinals
So 1985 was bananas, apparently. I blame these comebacks on synth-pop and fluorescent shirts. And cocaine.

John Tudor had a 1.93 ERA and 185 ERA+ that year -- possibly the best Cy Young runner-up in history, thanks to Dwight Gooden -- and the Royals still had to face him twice more. This was much, much worse than the Dodgers possibly facing Wainwright twice.

And I think there was something about a blown call with this World Series, but maybe I'm just remembering something from a Baseball Mogul season I played, once.

1986 World Series - Mets over Red Sox
This is never not worth sharing, sorry:

But the Mets didn't have to face Clemens twice after falling behind. They had to face Bruce Hurst twice, though, and his 140 ERA+ was somewhere between Wainwright's 2013 and his Cy Young-worthy seasons.

1996 World Series - Yankees over Braves
ERAs and ERA+ marks for the Braves top three:

Greg Maddux: 2.72, 162
John Smoltz, 2.94, 149
Tom Glavine, 2.98, 147

Just absurd. No idea how the Yankees came back. It was Glavine the Yankees would have had to face twice, but it never got to a seventh game. The Braves had a 2.33 ERA that World Series, and the Yankees a 3.93 mark. Baseball!

2004 ALCS - Red Sox over Yankees
Still the only 0-3 comeback in the seven-game format. Of the top five Yankees in starts that year, not one had an ERA under 4.00. Kevin Brown was the best of the bunch, with a 4.09 ERA (110 ERA+). Orlando Hernandez was better in 15 starts that year, but he started against the Red Sox only once in the ALCS.

There you have it, Dodgers fans. A list of all the 0-2 comebacks in seven-game series, with a quick look at if any of those teams faced anything as daunting as Adam Wainwright in two starts. Several of them did. The '98 Yankees and the '85 Royals, for sure. Probably the '58 Yankees, too. All is not lost.

But there's another list out there, and it's of the teams that went up 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series and didn't lose. That's a, uh, longer list. But we're still in baseball-can-happen territory, in case you were wondering.

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