Monday, October 20, 2008

Did the Rays buck destiny by winning Game 7?

Did the Tampa Bay Rays' victory over the Red Sox last night in Game 7 buck history and destiny? As King Kaufman pointed out in his column today, teams that come back after a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7 usually win the deciding game of the series:

Such teams were 11-3 in seventh games before Sunday and they'd won five straight. The last team that failed to complete the three-game comeback had been the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost the N.L. Championship Series to Atlanta on Sid Bream's dash. Before that you have to go back to Cincinnati in the 1972 World Series to find a team that won Games 5 and 6 only to lose Game 7.

However, if you look at the bigger picture, it's not so clear cut. Here's the bigger picture: Do teams that win Game 6 (to force a Game 7) usually also win Game 7? Another way of putting it is, is there momentum in baseball?

Let's first take a look at the World Series.

Number of seven-game World Series: 36
Number of times the Game 6 winner also won Game 7: 18

Now let's take a look at 7-game League Championship Series (since 1985):

Number of seven-game LCS: 14
Number of times the Game 6 winner also won Game 7: 8

To summarize, out of fifty post-season series that went seven full games, the winner of Game 6 basically split its record in Game 7. (I could also go back and look at the Division Series and the LCS before it expanded to seven games, but I suspect the results will be similar.)

Bottom line: Acknowledging that the small sample size may be an issue, there is NO EVIDENCE of momentum when it comes to post-season baseball. What there is evidence of is this: post-season series that go the distance usually feature evenly matched teams, and when two evenly matched teams split the first six games, then the seventh game usually is decided by luck or home field advantage or some element other than "momentum."

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