10/03/08 10:00 AM ET
Best-of-seven series a better test
Five-gamer not always an accurate test of team's true strength
For most managers and players, the urgency of a three-out-of-five can be the postseason's most-dreaded nightmare. For them, it's Russian roulette.
Ever since Major League Baseball added another hurdle before the World Series in 1969, there's been whining and criticism of the short form.
So much so, the original best-of-five League Championship Series was changed to the best-of-seven format in 1985 -- a credible step to the seven-game World Series.
But when the postseason was expanded again in 1995 with the Division Series, the five-game series returned.
To me, after playing 162 games the Division Series should be a best-of-seven. Period. Most managers and players agree.
Take this October as Division Series matchups involving eight teams pick up steam.
During 162 games, the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs were the best teams in the American and National Leagues, respectively. They're matched against the Red Sox and Dodgers, both underdogs.
The Red Sox won their opener in Anaheim on Wednesday, then the Dodgers stunned the Cubs by taking the first two games in Wrigley Field and jetted back to Los Angeles after Thursday night's 10-3 blowout. Only one team, the 2001 Yankees, has come back to win a Division Series after losing the first two games at home.
So, the Dodgers are a victory from the NLCS and who's to say the Red Sox won't continue their domination of the talent-rich Angels?
He won't say it publicly, but I have a hunch Commissioner Bud Selig, in his perfect world, prefers a best-of-seven opening series.
"I like the best-of-seven," he said, referring to the LCS. "Remember, I lived through the 1982 LCS when the Brewers were down 0-2 to the Angels and came back to win three straight in Milwaukee.
"Given the fact you play 162 games for six months over 180 days, a seven-game series to decide the pennant is fair. I know there has been a lot of discussion about expanding the Division Series, but we run into time problems. I do think the Division Series adds a lot of drama to the postseason. But in determining the pennant, seven games is the true test."
Cubs Down, Not Out
|Only once has a club lost the first two games of a Division Series at home and come back to win it. The New York Yankees rallied from an 0-2 deficit against the Oakland Athletics in the 2001 ALDS.|
|1||Oak @ NY||L, 5-2||Mulder||Clemens|
|2||Oak @ NY||L, 2-0||Hudson||Pettitte|
|3||NY @ Oak||W, 1-0||Mussina||Zito|
|4||NY @ Oak||W, 9-2||Hernandez||Lidle|
|5||Oak @ NY||W, 5-3||Clemens||Mulder|
The five-game LCS certainly wasn't a true test, so how can we say it's a true test in the Division Series?
Take 1971: The Oakland A's, under manager Dick Williams, won the AL West title by 16 games with 101 victories.
The A's, an overwhelming favorite, met the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Championship Series. They lost three games before they knew what happened, outdone by Baltimore 20-game winners Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Jim Palmer.
"I thought we had a better club in '71, but they wiped us right out," said Williams. "They did it with better pitching and that can happen in a short series."
Earl Weaver, Orioles manager then, said, "We were fortunate, but I still think a best-of-seven is a much better test."
A best-of-five can turn on one game.
That happened to the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1977 LCS against the Dodgers. The teams split the first two games, but the Dodgers rallied in a bizarre ninth inning of Game 3 to win, 6-5. The Phillies lost the next night and it was over.
"We were lucky," said former Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda. "If it had gone seven games, the Phillies had a good chance of beating us. There's a lot of luck in a best-of-five. I never liked the best-of-five."
Joe Torre, now the Dodgers skipper, has won the LCS more times than any other manager.
"I've always thought that if you're good enough to win your division, or even to reach the playoffs, it's not right to have the chance to get blown out in a three-of-five series," said Torre, who was so successful in his years with the Yankees.
"You've done too much to get there over the course of 162 games. In a best-of-five, a team may have a hot pitcher that you face twice and the chances of a better team getting knocked out are great. Bottom line: Four of seven is much fairer."
Bobby Cox, who took his Atlanta Braves to the playoffs 14 consecutive years and once with the Toronto Blue Jays (1985), has always told me he prefers the best-of-seven, but makes a case for a five-gamer.
"I just hate for a team to get knocked out after three games when you play all year to get to that point," he said. "I don't know if it's absolutely necessary to play seven games, but it just seems better."
Musing, he added: "My argument for the best-of-five is that it's a good thing in a way. With a five-game series, you don't abuse your pitchers as much. The postseason is an extra month of pitching and with the seven-game series they're going on three days' rest sometimes. The smartest thing is to sweep as quickly as you can."
Or as veteran Braves pitcher John Smoltz puts it: "We compete and struggle and work hard from Spring Training through a grueling season. I never felt a short series was an accurate test of the true strength of the teams playing each other. A Wild Card team can come into a series against a team with the best record and have two hot starting pitchers and win it all."
And the music stops before you know what happened.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.