As both League Championship Series in Major League Baseball continue, to many their outcomes have become an afterthought. In the ALCS, the Royals lead the best-of-seven series over the Blue Jays, 3-1, while the Mets lead the NLCS over the Cubs, 3-0. Both series continue tonight, with both the Royals and Mets trying to clinch berths in the World Series, and the Mets trying to complete a series sweep. However, history shows the outcomes of these series may not be as much of a sure thing as many people think.
The Cubs are trying to become just the second team in history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win any best-of-seven series in MLB history, but they are eerily similar to the first team to do it, the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Those Red Sox were led by general manager Theo Epstein, were trying to break a long-standing curse, were down 3-0 to a team from New York, and came back to win four straight over the Yankees to win the series, before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. These Cubs are led by Epstein, who is now their president of baseball operations, are trying to break a long-standing curse, and are down 3-0 to a team from New York.
Before Game Four in the 2004 ALCS, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar made a famous proclamation, caught on camera, and shown in the film Four Days in October, “Don’t let the Sox win this game. Because then they (the Yankees) get Petey (Pedro Martinez), then they get Schil (Curt Schilling) in Game Six, and then Game Seven anything happens.” The Cubs match the 2004 Red Sox in this regard as well. Should the Cubs win tonight, the Mets would face Jon Lester in Game Five, then Jake Arrieta in Game Six. And like Millar said, should Lester and Arrieta take the series to Game Seven, anything can happen.
The Cubs opponent is the New York Mets, which could also play into a potential comeback. The Mets are stereotypically known, even by some of their own fans, as a team that is always going to give a game or a series away. While the team does have two World Series titles, the most recent was in 1986, and they have never swept an opponent in any best-of-seven playoff series.
On the American League side, the Blue Jays aren’t in quite as big of a hole, but they need a big comeback nonetheless, as they trail the series, 3-1. However, the Blue Jays trailed the Texas Rangers, 2-0, in the best-of-five ALDS, and won three straight games to advance, something they need to do to win this series. Like the ALDS, out of the three potentially remaining games in the series, one is home in Toronto while two are on the road (although they are in a different order than in the ALDS). Marco Estrada pitched the first game of the comeback against Texas, and pitches Game Five against the Royals tonight.
The Royals have scored 33 runs in the first four games of the series, which is the tied for the second most in LCS history. However, the team they are tied with, the 2003 Cubs, and the team with the record, the 2004 Yankees (36 runs), both had 3-1 leads after the first four games of the series–and both blew their 3-1 lead and lost the series in seven games (the Yankees were, in fact, up 3-0, in the aforementioned 2004 series against Boston).
Royals fans are also aware that a 3-1 series lead isn’t necessarily safe, although their experience came from the position the Blue Jays are currently in. The 1985 Royals were down 3-1 in the World Series to the Cardinals, but came back and won the series in seven games. They reached that World Series after coming back from another 3-1 deficit in the ALCS, ironically enough against the Blue Jays.
You might think that, in general, the defending league champion leading the League Championship Series by a 3-1 gap means the series is over, but history shows that is not the case. The most recent such case of a defending league champion leading the LCS 3-1 was in 2012, when the Cardinals blew such a lead against the eventual world champion Giants. The 2004 Yankees, falling victim to the Red Sox famous comeback, also fit the bill. Overall, in the last 11 postseasons, there are four such cases of the defending league champion leading the LCS 3-1, and only two won the series (although this is certainly a small sample size).
There are also similarities between the Cubs and Blue Jays in their attempts to make comebacks. Both have shown earlier in these playoffs that they have very explosive offenses, which can put a lot of runs on the board in a hurry. Both have strong pitching staffs to supplement those offenses. Both are at home for the immediate future (Game Five for the Blue Jays, Games 4-5 for the Cubs), in games that can change the momentum of the series. While many look to Games 6-7 (on the road for both) as games that can extinguish any momentum the Cubs or Blue Jays gain at home, the ultimate example of a comeback, the 2004 Red Sox, were in the same position, playing at home in the middle games of the series, before playing the final two games at Yankee Stadium.
Let me provide the disclaimer that I am not explicitly picking the Cubs or Blue Jays to come all the way back to win their series and advance to the World Series. However, I did want to point out how possible these comebacks are, based on some interesting historical trends and similarities relevant to both of these series. As J.P. in Angels in the Outfield would be quick to point out to Cubs and Blue Jays fans, “It could happen!”
National League Championship Series
Game 1: New York 4, Chicago 2
W: Harvey, L: Lester, S: Familia
New York leads 1-0
Game 2: New York 4, Chicago 1
W: Syndergaard, L: Arrieta, S: Familia
New York leads 2-0
Game 3: New York 5, Chicago 2
W: deGrom, L: Cahill, S: Familia
New York leads 3-0
Game 4: Wednesday, Oct. 21 at Chicago
Game 5 (if nec): Thursday, Oct. 22 at Chicago
Game 6 (if nec): Saturday, Oct. 24 at New York
Game 7 (if nec): Sunday, Oct. 25 at New York
American League Championship Series
Game 1: Kansas City 5, Toronto 0
W: Volquez, L: Estrada
Kansas City leads 1-0
Game 2: Kansas City 6, Toronto 3
W: Duffy, L: Price, S: Davis
Kansas City leads 2-0
Game 3: Toronto 11, Kansas City 8
W: Stroman, L: Cueto
Kansas City leads 2-1
Game 4: Kansas City 14, Toronto 2
W: Hochevar, L: Dickey
Kansas City leads 3-1
Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 21 at Toronto
Game 6 (if nec): Friday, Oct. 23 at Kansas City
Game 7 (if nec): Saturday, Oct. 24 at Kansas City