The Chicago Cubs, a team that won 103 games in the regular season, has beaten the Cleveland Indians twice in a row. This has opened the floodgates for discussion about how Terry Francona’s team is “choking” or “blowing” the World Series. I can’t tell how much of this is being done ironically. After what happened in this year’s NBA Finals, it’s difficult to tell what is meme-able content and what is authentic analysis.
Which means it’s difficult for me to know just how angry to get about the preposterous state of sports media that treats two consecutive losses like an unforgivable offense, a collapse to be ridiculed. But some anger has crept in, and here’s why.
First, the Cubs have won Games 5 and 6 thanks to decided pitching advantages. Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, two Cy Young caliber hurlers, outdueled Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, who sport career ERAs of 4.42 and 4.58 respectively. They were heavy favorites in both games.
Both baseball and odds guys alike were bullish on the Cubs’ chances to force Game 7. And yet, to me, it’s being treated like some sort of referendum on the Indians, who are being painted as choke artists and the new Golden State Warriors.
It seems so intellectually dishonest to push this narrative. Baseball teams, even great ones, have been known to drop two consecutive games. Losing streaks, especially during a six-month season, are so commonplace that the Indians’ ability to avoid one longer than three games has been trotted out time and time again as an example of their spectacular year.
Now, look, only a fool thinks all games are created equal. The playoffs are where legacies are made. The only true goal is a World Series and should Cleveland fall short, it will be a crushing loss. The knowledge that they needed to win just once in three chances will haunt the franchise until they eventually break through and win it all.
But please, for the love of God, can we wait 12 hours before branding them as historic losers, as frauds who were exposed? At least wait until this so-called collapse is complete before firing up dipping the torch into Hot Take Lake (which would be a great name for Lake Erie by the way, considering its flammable history)?
The truth of the matter is that baseball teams down 3-1 on best-of-seven playoff series have far outperformed baseline expectations. Prior to this World Series, 81 teams have been in a 3-1 hole. Twelve (14.8 percent) have come back to win. Assuming both teams are equal and have a 50-50 shot at each game, the baseline probability is 12.5 percent.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the team jumping out to a 3-1 lead is a better side and would win 60 percent of the time against the trailing opponent. That puts the baseline probability of the team in a 3-1 hole coming back to win in 7 games at 6 percent, make the actual rate of success far greater than one would expect. Using this data, you could make the argument that 3-1 comebacks happen more often they should.
This, of course, won’t lessen Cleveland’s pain should the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908.
But let’s look at the facts. There’s another game to be played tonight. With Corey Kluber on the mound and a rested Andrew Miller waiting in the bullpen, the Indians control their own destiny. If they win, few will remember it took seven games. More importantly, the prize will be just as sweet.
The 1967 St. Louis Cardinals and 1972 Oakland Athletics are remembered as World Series Champions, not for losing Games 5 and 6, because they got it done in a winner-take-all Game 7. Part of “all” in 2016 includes the choker label.