Corey Kluber was masterful as the Cleveland Indians took Game 1 of the World Series. Recent history shows this is very bad news for the Chicago Cubs.
Over the past three decades, almost every team that lost Game 1 of the World Series found it had just dug itself a canyon it couldn’t climb out of. It’s tough to comprehend, but Game 1 losers have lost the past six World Series. And 12 of the past 13. And 17 of the past 19. Not to mention 19 of the past 22 and 24 of the past 28. Going all the way back to 1997, the only two teams to lose Game 1 and survive were the 2009 Yankees and the 2002 Angels. Hard to believe in a best-of-seven series, but 100 percent true.
On the surface, those numbers paint a bleak picture for fans lusting after their first World Series since the Teddy Roosevelt administration. But if one digs a little deeper, there’s reason for hope.
Assuming both teams are equal, the team winning Game 1 would win the World Series 66 percent of the time. It’s important to set that baseline. If the loser of Game 1 was coming back to win the series more than a third of the time, that would be noteworthy as well, and perhaps reflective of a statistical oddity.
Yes, the fact that 86 percent of teams are converting after taking the series opener over the past 28 years is eye-opening. But if the trend is extended two years into the past, it now includes the 1986 Mets and 1985 Royals, both of whom came back to win it all after dropping Game 1. This moves the figure to 80 percent over the past 30 years, which is much closer to the 66 percent one you’d expect.
Here is the full list of World Series winners to drop Game 1 during the last three decades:
- 2009 New York Yankees
- 2002 Anaheim Angels
- 1996 New York Yankees
- 1992 Toronto Blue Jays
- 1986 New York Mets
- 1985 Kansas City Royals
What’s interesting is the amount of teams that have rebounded to force a Game 7 before falling short:
- 2014 Kansas City Royals
- 2011 Texas Rangers
- 2001 New York Yankees
- 1997 Cleveland Indians
- 1991 Atlanta Braves
- 1987 St. Louis Cardinals
Teams fighting back from a 0-1 hole are 3-6 in winner-take-all games during this span. Some of this could be due to facing a true ace in Games 1, 4 and 7. Some of it could be that these squads have had to fire all their best bullets and don’t have all their weapons in the biggest fight. Some could be pure coincidence.
One could look at the data and say the Cubs are facing long odds to win the World Series. Or one could massage it a bit before putting it through the spin zone and coming up with this:
Teams down 0-1 in the Fall Classic have either come back to win or, at the very least, force seven games 40 percent of the time since 1985. That paints a much sunnier picture, especially considering Jon Lester vs. Corey Kluber was a toss-up, odds-wise on Tuesday evening.
Of course, none of this will matter if the Cubs bats don’t wake up — and quickly. An 0-2 hole requires significantly more dirt than an 0-1 pit, although it should be noted the ’85 Royals, ’86 Mets and ’96 Yankees all rebounded from that dire circumstance.