By Sam McPherson
Home-field advantage has held up for both the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals in the League Championship Series, as each team heads home for Game Six — and Game Seven, if necessary, to determine the 2013 World Series participants.
The Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Dodgers will need to sweep two games on enemy turf if they want to make it to the Fall Classic this October.
On Friday, in St. Louis, it’s the Cards rookie Michael Wacha versus the Dodgers All-Star Clayton Kershaw, and on Saturday in Boston, it will be the Tigers’ Max Scherzer against the Red Sox Clay Buchholz — excellent pitching matchups with the World Series on the line.
History can tell us everything and nothing about the probabilities here, but common sense tells us it is very difficult to win the last two games of a seven-game series on the road to advance:
- Thirty-nine times in Major League Baseball postseason history has a team come home with a 3-2 edge in a playoff series, including 17 times in an LCS;
- In those 39 matchups, the home team in Game Six has won only 20 times. However, they’ve gone on to win the series itself 29 times.
In essence, using past precedence to predict the future, there’s a near-50/50 chance that the Tigers and the Dodgers each will win their Game Six matchups, but in the end, there’s a 75%+ chance that the Red Sox and the Cardinals each will advance to the World Series.
But the pitching matchups themselves impact such “data”, and the Cards don’t like hitting against lefties like Kershaw — despite the fact they beat him in Game Two already this series, also at home, scoring only one unearned run off him. The only time, incidentally, the Dodgers All-Star lost two consecutive starts was back on April 12 and April 17, against the Arizona Diamondbacks on the road and the San Diego Padres at home, respectively.
For what it’s worth, Kershaw also has a 0.47 ERA this postseason in three starts, totaling 19 innings.
However, Wacha has been just as good: his 0.64 ERA in 14 innings nearly matches the Los Angeles Cy Young winner this October.
It might as well be a toss-up.
The ALCS Game Six on Saturday features Scherzer (21-3) and Buchholz (12-1), the two best pitchers in the AL this year in terms of winning percentage. The Tigers righty has been very good in the playoffs, posting a 2.25 ERA over three appearances (two starts) covering 16 innings. And in Game Two, Scherzer struck out 13 Boston hitters in just seven innings. So the Red Sox will have to adjust to better that effort.
Buchholz posted a sterling 1.74 ERA in the regular season (in 108 1/3 innings), but his postseason mark of 6.17 is rather unsightly. Also, Detroit roughed him up in Game Two, scoring five times off Boston’s young gun.
If not for the Detroit bullpen’s collapse in Game Two, this series might be very different — so the Tigers will look to replicate Game Two’s early success, and the Red Sox will try to avoid going hitless for half the game again.
One of the more obvious realities here is that the two home teams for the rest of the LCS contests have both won two World Series titles apiece in the last ten years — Boston in 2004 and 2007, St. Louis in 2006 and 2011. Meanwhile, the other two teams — Detroit and Los Angeles — haven’t won the championship since the 1980s.
The Tigers lost the World Series to the Cardinals in 2006 and to the Giants in 2012, so it’s been 29 seasons since Detroit beat the San Diego Padres for their last title in 1984. And it’s been 25 years since the Dodgers shocked the Oakland Athletics in the 1988 Series, behind Kirk Gibson’s Game One home run off Dennis Eckersley.
Maybe it’s time for some new blood in the World Series, but if that’s going to happen, Detroit and Los Angeles truly are going to have to earn it the hard way this weekend: on the road again.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.