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Will the mismatch in the Astros’ and Nationals’ records matter?

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Prediction markets seem to think it will, but how have series like this one played out in the past?

MLB: World Series-Workouts Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things I mentioned in my prediction on the Starting Nine was how lopsided the odds of the series were, presumably because of the fourteen-game difference in the Astros’ and Nationals’ records. Granted, that’s not everything (for example, the last time the betting odds were this lopsided were 2007, which was only a 6-game gap, even if the Pythagorean records of the two were bigger), but it still feels like a big split for two World Series teams.

So I decided to check it historically. As it happens, 2019 marks just the tenth time in history that the two pennant winners’ records were separated by 14 game or more. What really surprised me, though, is that it’s only the third time that it’s happened in the Wild Card era; I thought for sure that the Wild Card’s presence would have widened the spread of team records even more.

I had also forgotten that the difference between last year’s Dodgers and Red Sox was so great, probably because of how good this year’s Dodgers were, but there was a 16-game gap between them (108 wins to 92). That series of course went to Boston, 4-1. The other from recent memory was 1998, when the Padres won 98 games, but got crushed 4-0 by the juggernaut that was the 114-win Yankees of that season. Prior to that, you’d have to go all the way back to 1961 to find the next-most recent example, when the 109-win Yankees took four of five from the 93-win Reds.

In all, the teams with the better records have gone 7-2 in these mismatched series. The 1944 Cardinals, 1932 Yankees, 1927 Yankees, and 1907 Cubs represent the other wins. The upsets, meanwhile, belong to the 1954 Giants, a 97-win team that topped the 111-win Indians (if that series rings a bell, it might be because of The Catch), and the 93-win 1906 White Sox, who beat a Cubs team that won a still-record 116 games (the 2001 Mariners won the same total, but in ten more games). That’s a good reminder that, while the Astros are still the easy favorites, anything can still happen. Also interestingly, not even the upsets went the full seven games.

Even if you expand the pool some, things still look good for the Astros. Counting all playoff series with a difference of 14 more games, not just the World Series, the better team has an 18-5 record, with the 1973 NLCS (Mets upset the Reds), 2001 ALCS (the Yankees beat those aforementioned Mariners), and 2006 (the eventual-champion 83-win Cardinals beat the Mets) joining in the upsets.

And even if you drop the cutoff down to just series with a 12-game difference or more, the better team still has a 39-14 history, including a 13-5 record in the World Series. The World Series bunch. There are a bunch of notable teams here, including the 1986 Mets (aka the Bill Buckner series), the 1975 Big Red Machine, Honus Wagner’s 1909 Pirates, and the middle of the A’s three wins from 1972-1974 (although third win in that run represented a 12-game upset).

Also in the Astros’ favor, five of the total series losses (including the most recent) came in a five-game series rather than a seven-game one; granted, the most recent one was the Nationals’ this year against the Dodgers. Again, anything can happen, but history seems to back up the confidence the various prediction systems have in the Astros. And even in the event things fall apart, the Nationals will became one of the biggest October stories in baseball history, which will…painful, but an interesting story to tell years from now.