Sox' Chances Better Than You May Think
At press time, the Sox were headed for a wild-card berth, with
the worst regular-season record of the four AL contenders. Does
this foretell a quick exit from the playoffs?
No. Over the 172 postseason series played in the 20th century,
the team with the better record has won only 58% of the time. In
other words, underdogs win three out of every seven series.
Best-of-five series have proved toughest for the underdogs, as
teams with better records have gone 32-20 (.615). This is
entirely due to their superior record in blowout series:
they’ve swept 18 times, the underdogs, only four. In four-
and five-game series, the underdogs actually enjoy a 16-14
In seven-game postseason series, teams with the better record
have only a .564 winning percentage. They’re 15-10 in
seven-game LCS, but only 51-41 in the World Series. Again, the
longer the series, the better the underdog’s chances: in
six-and seven-game series, they’re 37-36 against their
But what about the Red Sox? Aren’t they cursed? No.
Believe it or not, in their checkered postseason history the Red
Sox have only lost two series to teams with worse regular-season
records – the 1946 World Series against the Cardinals and
last year’s divisional series with the Indians –
while winning three series from better clubs. Let’s take
these series in chronological order.
As the elderly, historians, and masochists will recall, the Red
Sox won their first five World Series. In 1903, 1912 and 1915,
they defeated teams with inferior regular-season records, but
1916 and 1918 saw the Sox upset superior opponents: the 94-60
Dodgers and the 84-45 Cubs. (Call it the Luck of the
Boston’s one true hard-luck loss came in the 1946 Series,
where the 104-50 Sox lost to the 98-58 Cardinals. In 1967, 1975
and 1986, the Sox pushed each Series to its seven-game limit
before falling to superior opponents. These adversaries, the 1967
Cardinals,1975 Reds and 1986 Mets, each posted the NL’s
highest winning percentage for their respective decades.
The Sox deserve major credit for simply reaching the 1975 and
1986 Series. In 1975 they swept the Oakland A’s in the
ALCS, even though Oakland had a better regular-season record and
was shooting for its fourth consecutive Series win. In 1986 the
Sox rallied from the worst odds ever overcome by a playoff
winner: down 3-1 in games, down 5-2 entering the ninth inning of
Game 5, and down 5-4 with two outs and two strikes on Dave
Henderson. One more strike on Henderson, or one loss in the next
two must-win games, and Bill Buckner would still be cheered at
The Error launched Boston’s record 13-game playoff losing
streak, which ended when Pedro Martinez stopped Cleveland in last
year’s Game 1. But every one of those losses came at the
hands of a better team. In 1988 and 1990 the Sox were swept in
the ALCS by superior Oakland teams – in both years, the
Sox’ record would have finished no higher than third in the
AL West, at least 10 games behind the A’s.
Since then Boston has suffered from Indian trouble. The 1995 Sox
were swept by Cleveland’s 100-44 juggernaut, then in 1998
the Tribe clinched its division around Memorial Day, took the
summer off, then awoke, rested and refreshed, just in time to
scalp the Sox in four.
This year...who knows? That’s why they play the games. Sit
back and enjoy.
Copyright © 1999 Doug Pappas. All rights
Originally published in the October 1999 issue of Boston
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