Playing games 1 and 2 on the road is an advantage

I have a friend that works in New York City, and two days a week he has to deal with this one higher-up who he can’t stand. It makes his day miserable and there’s nothing he can do about it.

Put yourself in this situation – perhaps it’s very easy, would you rather deal with that person on Monday and Tuesday, or Wednesday and Thursday?

Abstractly, that’s the question you can pose to the remaining eight teams in the MLB postseason.

Because MLB adopted an additional wild card game after the 2012 schedule had been released, headquarters was forced to squish an extra day of baseball into a month-long period originally designed for one less game.

To make room, the team with home-field advantage in the division series will play games three, four, and five at home instead of the conventional sandwich setup of games one, two, and five at home. This takes out the second potential off-day of travel.

The first three years of the division series (1995-97) originally featured this “2-3” setup, but switched to “2-2-1” in 1998 to give the team with the better record a better chance to jump ahead in the series, arguing, “Give the best team the best chance to win.”

But I believe starting on the road is more advantageous for the “better” team. Team “Home-Field Advantage,” (referred to as “team HFA” for the rest of this post) can relax knowing one road win is the goal.

And if they lose both, you’re still coming back home for the rest of the series.

This happened in 1995. Don Mattingly and the Yankees faced Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners in the best of five, ’95 ALDS. With that original 2-3 format, the Yankees won games one and two at home before Seattle rallied for three straight wins Northwest. So losses in games one and two is not suicide.

Imagine this scenario:

In the 2-2-1 format, say the Yankees sneak into the playoffs with an 87-75 record and play the 103-59 Texas Rangers in the ALDS. With games one and two on the road, New York’s goal is to win just one of those two games, maybe get lucky, and hope to clinch at home.

On the flip side, Texas, by default, needs to win both home games to maintain home-field advantage. In baseball,  momentum changes with the next day’s starting pitcher – winning two straight can be a daunting task.

Probability coupled with a general guesstimation will tell you the better team will win both games only about 30-35% of the time, meaning the “wrong” team will have home-field advantage by game three 65-70% of the time.

So is it an advantage?

This year’s 2-3 setup takes loads of pressure off team HFA. Take the example a few paragraphs up, but now imagine the 2-3. Texas’ goal is to win just one game in New York, forcing the Yankees to win a best-of-three in the Lone Star State.

Essentially, the 2-2-1 setup puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the team with the best record.

If you disagree, here’s an article that argues why I’m completely wrong.

The argument above is if team HFA loses the first two games on the road, then the “wrong” team has stolen momentum and is in a prime position to advance.

“Well, then you should have won one of those first two games on the road. Maybe you’re not the better team,” is my answer to that.

With the 2-3, you take out one less day of travel. One less day of expensive flights and travel coordination. In a potential New York/Oakland matchup, you have a chance to adjust to the time difference and don’t get thrust back on a plane after a single night in a California hotel.

With today’s substantial emphasis on finance, you can use that money elsewhere.

Every time I’ve had a team with home-field advantage in the playoffs, “I” feel forced to win both those games, but with the HFA-Yankees going to Baltimore for the first two, I was more relaxed knowing one win out of the next two is the goal.

If the fans feel that way, then so does the organization.

Mr. Selig, I like this playoff setup. Tell the guy who wrote the article above he’s wrong, and punish him by returning to the format you originally drew up.