October 12, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Visitors dominate MLB playoffs

The 2010 baseball postseason has seen an unusually high proportion of games being won by the visiting team, even higher than in most recent years. (2009 was an exception to the trends of the past decade or so.) On Sunday, the visitors won all three games, and last night, the visiting San Francisco Giants eliminated the Braves in Atlanta, sending manager Bobb Cox into a bittersweet retirement. In St. Petersburg, Florida, tonight, the Texas Rangers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-1, thereby earning their first-ever trip to the American League Championship Series. That means that all five games in this divisional series have been won by the visiting teams. For all four divisional series this year, the home teams won four games, and the visitors won eleven! The home field advantage just doesn't seem to matter much any more.

In checking my records on the Postseason scores page, which displays the records I have compiled since this Web site was launched in 2002, I found that the most number of consecutive MLB playoff games won by the visiting team since 2002 was three. So, I felt compelled to find out when was the last time that such a five-game streak had happened. I couldn't find an adequate online source to answer that question, however, and as a last resort, I scoured through my reference books. (For historical data on players and teams, it's hard to beat The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball; I have the 23rd edition, published in 2003, edited by David S. Neft, Richard M. Cohen, and Michael L. Neft.) I quickly determined that there was a four-game visiting-team winning streak in the 2001 ALDS, only one year earlier than my records began; the A's won the first two games in New York, then the Yankees won the next two games in Oakland, and then they won Game 5 -- and the series -- at home.

So when was the last time that five consecutive playoff games were won by the visiting team? That took me a while longer to figure out. Finally, after squinting at line scores for a couple hours (or so it seemed), I learned that it did indeed happen before, in the 1996 World Series. (I should have known that!) In the first two games, at Yankee Stadium, the Braves trounced the Yankees, who then returned the favor by beating the Braves three games straight at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, soon to be demolished. When the series returned to New York, the Yankees prevailed, 3-2, earning their first world championship since 1978. So, you might say that this year's ALDS is unique in that all of the games were won by the visiting team, compared to five out of six in the 1995 World Series. Having gathered all this information, I will probably add the postseason scores for the years 1995-2001 in the near future.

Rangers sting the Rays

Tonight's deciding game in the ALDS was a showdown between two top-ranked pitchers, David Price of Tampa Bay and Cliff Lee of Texas. In the end, Cliff Lee of Texas came out ahead, going a full nine innings and only allowing one run. The Rays had a big opportunity for a rally in the third inning, with three consecutive hits, but the next two batters, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria (until recently on the DL), failed to get any more runs in, falling short of their stellar reputations. The Rangers used small-ball tactics to get single runs in the first, fourth, and sixth innings, after which Price left the game, with his team down by two runs. A home run by Ian Kinsler in the ninth inning provided plenty of insurance for the visitors, who won, 5-1. Congratulations to the Texas Rangers for making it to the ALCS for the very first time.

Giants vanquish the Braves

Poor Brooks Conrad! He gets a chance to shine in the national spotlight thanks to the injury suffered by Chipper Jones last summer, and he commits three errors in the Braves' most crucial game of the season. The Braves had positioned themselves for a big triumph as underdogs in Game 2 of the NLDS, beating the Giants 5-4 in extra innings. In Game 3 they were behind 1-0 going into the bottom of the eighth, at which point Eric Hinske turned things around, putting the Braves on top 2-1 with a home run to the right field corner. For a few minutes he was poised to be the hero of the day. But then in the top of the ninth inning, the Giants clawed their way back, tying the game with two outs. (The Braves actually came within one strike of winning the game.) It was at that point that second baseman Brooks Conrad committed his third error of the game, allowing a ground ball hit by Buster Posey to pass through his legs, and the Giants scored the go-ahead run. The Braves' bats were silent in the bottom of the inning, and the visitors won once again, 3-2. In an instant, the Braves lost a precious chance to control their destiny. In Game 4, Derek Lowe had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning, but then Cody Ross hit a home run. The Giants won by the same score, 3-2, earning a berth in the NLCS, where they will face the Philadelphia Phillies.

As ESPN's Rob Neyer writes, Conrad should not have put in that position at second base. Being the proverbial goat "is both ultimately fair, and terribly unfair." Much like life in general, I guess. Actually, I don't think Conrad should have been charged for the first error, when he had to run way out in to right field to chase a pop fly. Neyer says that Bobby Cox should bear some of the blame for putting Conrad at second base. I think it's really the fault of the organization for not fielding a team with more depth. The Braves were "overachievers" this year, and it would be hard to expect them to have accomplished more than they actually did with the players at the manager's disposal.

And so, congratulations also go out to the San Francisco Giants, who are especially hungry for a World Series title. It would be the first for the franchise since 1954, which was before they moved to California.

NOTE: This blog post was delayed while I took time to watch TV as the miners from Chile were being rescued. That took place just as the Rangers-Rays game was entering the ninth inning!