The Baseball Notebook

October 30, 2010 7:24 AM

The Math Of A Texas Comeback

TexasSF.jpgWhenever a team digs a hole in a short series, the refrain is always the same--Just win tonight. One game at a time. True, there is no other way to do it, but as the World Series resumes tonight with San Francisco holding a 2-0 series lead, it bears wondering--just how big is tonight's game. Are the Giants sitting on a nice cushion? Or are the Rangers just one step from making momentum swing back the other direction?

I went through the World Series matchups from 1976 to the present. The date was chosen because time constraints made some sort of cutoff point necessary, and '76 is a benchmark year because it's the first year of free agency. It's also a benchmark year, because at six years old, it's the first Series I can really remember watching (you will find that fact noted in the archives at Cooperstown). My focal point was finding the years where the trailing team won Game 3 and seeing how much it increased their odds of ultimately winning the Series.

The first part won't make Texas fans very happy. There are 12 instances of teams trailing 2-0 and winning Game 3, but in only five of those instances did they go on to win the Series. Where it gets interesting is that the trailing team took both Games 3 & 4, it increased their odds of winning it all back up to 55 percent (5 of 9). Now saying a series knotted at 2-2 has a roughly even chance of going either direction might seem like an unremarkable statement, but when you consider that what it really means is that the trailing team has to win 4 of 5, the fact there is no evidence of the pendulum swinging back does work in Texas' favor.

Furthermore, this study is somewhat clouded by the presence of two "odd" Series and that's Minnesota's championships in 1987 & 1991. Few teams had as big a homefield advantage as the Twins did in the Metrodome, a difficult place to play for a visiting club and for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, was even more so during the first 10-15 years of its existence, a period which covers these two World Series. In both cases, the Twins had homefield and won all four of their home games. These were clearly Series more about where you were playing that who was up or down at any given point. That would mean that teams that just win Game 3 pull their chances of winning the Series up to five out of nine. And teams that take both Games 3 & 4, win five of six.

What's the final gist of all these numbers? That this Series is far from over. Momentum is a funny thing in baseball, and Texas can take heart that just a single win drastically changes the negative math against them. And San Francisco? Keep in mind this study doesn't include seven other instances--and that's the leading team winning Game 3 and going on to close it out. Take the opportunity while it's front of you

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily MLB playoff coverage and game analysis in college football and the NFL. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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