Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Nervewrackingly Critical Game 5

There's no two ways about it; the Sox need to go for the kill tonight. A 3 games to 1 series lead means only one thing - that one more win is needed to go to the World Series. That win is neither guaranteed nor easy over the next three games.

Like I did with Game 3 of the ALDS, I looked back at playoff teams with a 3-1 series lead. There have been 62 best-of-seven playoff series in the history of MLB in which a team has had a 3-1 series lead. One would expect that, with only needing a single victory out of the last three games, the team with the 3-1 series lead would win about 87.5% of the time (i.e., 1-50%*50%*50%), or 54 of the 62 series. In reality, they've won 84% of the time, which is pretty close.

However, that 84% chance is essentially the same as the chance you have in Russian Roulette of not getting killed. That's the kind of way I feel about the rest of the series; sure, the Sox have a great chance of winning, but if they don't, it is going to kill me.

As with 2-0 leads in 5-game series, it's best for a team with a 3-1 lead to get a quick kill. You would expect teams with 3-1 leads to win the series by game 6 75% of the time (1-50%*50%). In reality, they've done it 77% of the time, winning the series in Game 5 thirty-two times and in Game 6 sixteen times. Overall, teams with 3-1 leads are 32-30 in Game 5's, and 16-14 in Game 6's.

You do not want to take the series to a Game 7, however. In the 14 times a team has come back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7, that team has won Game 7 an Aaron-Rowand-versus-Tim-Wakefield-esque 10 of 14 times (71.4%). Since the inception of the 7-game LCS in 1985, teams who were forced to Game 7's after a 3-1 lead are 1-6. Let me repeat that; teams forced to a Game 7 after a 3-1 series lead are ONE and SIX in those Game 7's. These teams include the '85 Blue Jays, the '85 Cardinals, the '86 Angels, the '96 Cardinals, the '03 Cubs, and the '04 Yankees (after Game 4, they did have a 3-1 lead). The only team to survive losing a 3-1 lead since '85 was the '92 Braves (who needed a miracle comeback in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 to do it).

For those reasons, the Sox need to finish the job tonight in Anaheim. Jose Contreras takes the hill again, and while he pitched very well in Game 1, he pitched only well enough to lose 3-2. Mind you, he did not have many balls hit hard off of him - there was Garret Anderson's crowd-quieting bomb in the 2nd, for sure - but he also made a mental mistake on defense to allow the third and winning Angel run to score. It was the second time that Contreras pitched just well enough to lose to the Angels. He'll need to keep the ball in the park and keep attacking the Angels hitters with early-count strikes.

On the other side, the Sox face Paul Byrd again, who is very rested, having thrown only 73 pitches in his 6 Game 1 innings. That pitch count tells you a lot of what you need to know about why the Sox failed to generate offense against Byrd - they were over-anxious and getting themselves out early in the count. Byrd is now 6-2 against the White Sox in his career and seems to be a real tough nut to crack. I've looked over his past game logs against the Sox, and he does not appear to be the kind of guy you automatically have more success against the second time around.

Just as a reminder, here are the key matchups vs. Contreras in the game:

Kennedy.400 (4-10, incl. 1-3 in G1)
Finley.363 (4-11, incl. 1-3 in G1)
Anderson.455 (5-11 1 HR, incl. 1-4 in G1)

On the other hand, it is once again slim pickens against Byrd:

Podsednik.600 (3-5, incl. 1-2 in G1)
Konerko.250 (5-20, 1 HR incl. 0-3 in G1)
Crede.273 (3-11) 3 HR, incl. 1-2 in G1)

Unlike Games 3 and 4, the Sox are +120 favorites in Game 5, meaning that the oddsmakers have estimated that the Sox have a 56.5% chance of winning this game. Once again, I'd disagree. The Sox were stymied by Byrd in Game 1, and he's thrown well against the Sox his entire career. Put that together with a veteran Angel team having its back to the wall, and a Sox team that may be easing up after taking two in Anaheim, and I think the Angels are favorites to win this game (I'd probably make them +130 favorites myself).

Like Games 3 and 4, the Sox need to score first again. They are now 6-2 against the Angels this year in games they've scored first, while they are 1-5 in games where the Angels have scored first. I do not think that Konerko will get much to hit with bases open tonight, so I think it's important for Jermaine Dye and Carl Everett to produce. I'd love to see the Sox get Podsednik on for Dye to drive in - hopefully with Jermaine's first postseason home run - in the first inning. Guys like Aaron Rowand and Juan Uribe also need to produce tonight. Rowand has only two hits in the series and has killed a couple of Sox rallies. Crede seems to be all-or-nothing against Byrd - we should hope for all (but prepare for nothing).

As with the prior 4 games, this one scares the ever living crap out of me. Byrd, who seems to have very little on the mound, seems to sap the Sox offense with ease. The last thing the Sox need is to lose momentum going back to Chicago, especially with their best pitcher on the mound tonight. We do not need the visions of the 2003 Cubs in our minds in Chicago.

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