The LCS Sweep and its Ensuing Misery

This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on October 20, 2014.

Last night, the Kansas City Royals swept the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS to advance to their first World Series appearance in nearly 30 years. It has been quite an impressive run, as they have yet to drop a single playoff game this year (8-0). The Royals have joined the 2007 Colorado Rockies as they only teams in the Wild Card era to have reached the Fall Classic without having dropped a single postseason game. Of course, the Rockies failed to win a single game against the Boston Red Sox in the World Series that year. And unfortunately for the Royals, history shows the Rockies were part of a trend, rather than an exception.

On the surface, it would seem to be a big advantage to get some time off prior to the start of the World Series. Players with nagging injuries can heal. Starting pitchers are able to rest, enabling managers to set up their pitching rotations optimally. Reality, however, has proven to be harsh to such teams. Since Major League Baseball expanded its LCS format to a best-of-seven series, there have been only six teams to sweep the penultimate round. Those six clubs combined to post a dismal 6-22 record during baseball’s Fall Classic.

From early April through late September, baseball players are used to playing six or seven games each week. There are only two times all year when teams get more than a day off between games. The first is during the All-Star break. The second is when division winners sit around while the Wild Card teams play a winner-take-all game to open each postseason. Athletes are used to very specific routines and perhaps any significant break in those patterns can disrupt their ability to succeed.

Each of the six teams to have swept a best-of-seven LCS wound up facing a team in the World Series that had needed a minimum of six games to advance (four of the six needed to go the full seven games). And yet, the team that had sat around waiting and was well rested with its rotation all lined up typically has been the one to struggle. Similarly, though not as drastically, since MLB added the one-game Wild Card round, wild card teams have won three of the six LDS series against division winners who had to wait a few days to play their first playoff game. While 50% may not seem high, particularly with such a small sample size, consider that their opponents were both the #1 seed and had home field advantage.

As the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals battle each other in the NLCS, the Royals are forced to wait and hope that they will be able to buck the trend of prior dominant LCS performances.

Teams That Have Swept Best-of-Seven LCS

Year Team World Series Record
1988 Oakland 1-4
1990 Oakland 0-4
1995 Atlanta 4-2
2006 Detroit 1-4
2007 Colorado 0-4
2012 Detroit 0-4
2014 Kansas City ???
TOTAL   6-22

(photo by Keith Allison)

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