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Cardinals NLDS optimism and pessimism

Not knowing if the reader might be a glass half-full person or a glass half-empty type, I am presenting several League Division Series factoids in such a manner there is something for everyone.

First, a backdrop. Since having been instituted in 1995, there have been 56 LDS series across MLB, four per year. In 62.5 percent of the cases, one club had taken a commanding 2-0 lead through the initial two contests.

Specifically, only 21 times after game two, was a series split at one victory apiece. In a vast majority of the past LDS’s, 35, one of the teams had built a two-games-to-none lead.

The remainder of this article will focus on those 35 past series with the conditions matching the current Cardinals-Dodgers LDS.

For those that see the St. Louis-Los Angeles series as essentially being over with the Dodgers the winner, data from past series shows that a club in that position does come out of top a vast majority of the time.

For those Cardinals fans believing there is a chance, if past results are any indication, their team can still take the series if they can somehow make it as far as game five.

The following points are offered in “Pessimist” and “Optimist” format with short conclusions oriented toward the optimists after each.

Pessimist: No National League team has ever come back to win an LDS series after being down two games to none. Over the last 14 years, 17 NL clubs have tried and failed.

Conclusion: The Cardinals would have to be the first.

Optimist: Four of 18 American League teams have come back to win an LDS series after being down two games to none. The four comeback clubs were the 1995 Mariners, 1999 Red Sox, 2001 Yankees and 2003 Red Sox.

Conclusion: It not only can be done, it has been done.

Pessimist: Of the 35 MLB teams to be up 2-0 in an LDS, 89 percent of them won the series. 63 percent (22 teams) won game three to sweep and another 26 percent (9) lost game three but ended it in game four.

Conclusion: Sweeps are prevalent, yet if the team with the advantage can’t wrap it up…

Optimist: Of the 35 teams that were up 2-0 in an LDS, none of the four that lost games three and four was able to bounce back and win game five. In other words, once momentum was taken away from the early leader, they didn’t get it back.

The four stumblers were the 1995 Yankees, 1999 Indians, 2001 A’s and 2003 A’s.

Conclusion: If the Cards can somehow find a way to take games three and four, if past results are any indication, they may be able to hold serve and take game five as well.

Pessimist: If the current situation sounds familiar, it should. However, the shoe has always been on the other foot. Until now, Tony La Russa’s Cardinals clubs have never been down 2-0 in an LDS, but they have been up by that mark six times.

That’s right. In all six Cardinals LDS wins under La Russa, his club assumed a 2-0 lead. Four times, they swept and the other two series were won in four games.

(With La Russa’s 6-1 career LDS record with the Cardinals, only once did his club fail to advance to the League Championship Series. The 2001 Cardinals took LDS games two and four before falling in game five to Arizona.)

Conclusion: La Russa’s challenge is to lead his club to another first, coming back from an unfamiliar 2-0 LDS deficit.

Clearly, having been defeated in games one and two behind co-aces Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright mean the 2009 Cardinals are at a tremendous disadvantage, as the 89 percent success rate for opponents in a similar past situation indicates. The manner in which game two ended can’t help, either.

The benefit from the Cardinals returning home to Busch Stadium is real, yet the uncertainty of what to expect from game three starting pitcher Joel Pineiro and the mystery surrounding the identity of St. Louis’ game four starter does little to foster confidence.

The questions are simple: “Can the Cardinals win game three? And if they do, can they do it again? And again?

We will know the answers soon enough…

Following is the supporting detail behind the points made above. Table supplied by Tom Orf.

Teams with 2-0 LDS lead, MLB, 1995-2008 (team with 2-0 lead listed first)

Won in 3 # Won in 4 # Won in 5 # Lost in 5 #
2004 BOS-ANA 1 STL-LAD 1
2003 OAK-BOS 1
2002 STL-ARZ 1
2001 ATL-HOU 1 OAK-NYY 1
1999 NYY-TEX 1 CLE-BOS 1
total 22 9 0 4
percent of total 62.9% 25.7% 0.0% 11.4%
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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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