Thursday, October 06, 2005
Two Games to None - Why Game Three Is Critical
I'm thrilled as anyone that the White Sox are up 2 games to none in the series against the Red Sox. But I also think that this series is far from a done deal, and that the White Sox absolutely need to win Game 3 of the series.
Teams who win the first two games of a five-game series are overwhelming favorites to win the series. Since 1969, in the 45 playoff series in which a team has won the first two games of the series, the team that went 2-0 won 84% of the time (38 series wins, 7 series losses) - about 5 times out of 6.
However, the vast majority of the time they have won - 28 out of those 38 series wins - they've won by sweeping the other team.
If the team up 2-0 loses Game 3, they are 7-10 in Game 4's. In other words, they win Game 4's less than half the time. The actual winning percentage is .411.
Things get much worse if a team that is up 2-0 loses games 3 and 4. In the 10 times that has happened, the team that was up 2-0 is 3-7 in Game 5's (a feeble .300 winning percentage). They become overwhelming underdogs in the last game of the series, having lost the momentum. Indeed, since the Wild Card was adopted in 1995 (thereby reintroducing the 5-game series), no team that has been forced to play a Game 5 after starting the series 2-0 has won Game 5. Those teams are 0-4 (The 1995 Yankees vs. Mariners, the 1999 Jndjans vs. the Red Sox, the 2002 A's versus the Yankees and the 2003 A's vs. the Red Sox).
Altogether, teams up 2-0 who lose Game 3 dramatically reduce their odds of winning the series - they fall from 84% winners to a coin-flip-esque 58% winners (one would expect that they would still win 75% of the time or so with evenly matched teams).
That's why I am so concerned about Game 3. If the White Sox lose Game 3, they would have to face a gamer in Curt Schilling in Game 4. Everyone says that he's not the same Curt Schilling as last year, but the guy is still a gamer. He shut down the Yankees in the last game of the season - a game the Yankees wanted to win to secure home field advantage (although, granted, they did start Jaret Wright instead of Mike Mussina). And I wouldn't take Jon Garland against him in Game 4 at Fenway. Not the Jon Garland that finished the season 2-5 after a 16-5 start.
If the White Sox lose Games 3 and 4, there will be a ton of pressure on them in Game 5. I'd bet the Red Sox would either come back with Wells - who pitched pretty well yesterday - or Arroyo and get a fresh start of it. And I would not look forward to that Red Sox lineup to get a second chance at Contreras in less than 7 days. They are too good of hitters to only score 2 runs against him. The thought of a Game 5 scares the ever living crap out of me.
That said, the White Sox have their best pitching matchup in Game 3. Garcia is 6-2 against the Red Sox in his career, and 3-1 at Fenway Park. He's been very good on the road this year (10 of his 14 wins) and has been stellar in day games (it's a 4 p.m. quasi-day game) for the last few years. On the other side, the White Sox have killed Wakefield over the years - he's 5-10 lifetime against the White Sox, and just 2-5 against them since 2002. Aaron Rowand, among others, absolutely murders Wakefield. The White Sox have momentum, and Game 3 is their best opportunity to win a game. In fact, I'd almost think the Red Sox would be the favorites to win the series if they can win Game 3.
Game 3 has now become the MUST game of this series.