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Behind the Numbers: When the ALDS goes to 5 Games

After the Astros mounted an amazing comeback (3.5% winning odds entering the eighth!), and the Blue Jays flexed their muscles en route to a commanding 8-4 win, both ALDS matchups will head to a climactic Game 5 to set up the American League Championship Series. As baseball fans, it doesn´t get much better than this, as we will be able to watch a couple of early elimination games, which is probably what Bud Selig hoped for when MLB changed its playoff format for the 1995 season.

The best-of-5 division series was originally adopted for a single stint in 1981 (due to the strike-shortened season), only to then become a fixture under the expanded playoff system. While the Championship Series still requires 4 wins to advance, the short slate of the Division Series allows for tons of drama and exciting games, as well as the possibility of more elimination games. This year marks the 41st and 42nd American League Division Series we have seen since 1995, with now 16 of them going the full distance.

So as we prepare for an epic Wednesday as the Royals host the Astros, and the Blue Jays try to complete an improbable comeback against the Rangers, here are some of the most relevant and interesting facts and numbers from the previous ALDS that went to 5 games. While some of them may not seem pertaining to our current matchups, it is always important to look at past trends to have an idea what to expect.

- 2015 marks only the third time in which both ALDS go to five games. The previous two were in 2001 (Yankees-A´s and Mariners-Indians), and in 2012 (Tigers-A´s and Yankees-Orioles). Home teams went 3-1 in these matchups, as the 2012 Athletics were the only ones who lost despite home-field advantage.

- The first ALDS that went 5 games came in the first year under the current format, as the Mariners completed a shocking turn-around against the Yankees with “The Double”. The last one we had seen came in 2013, when the Tigers again broke Oakland´s heart.

- Speaking of those Mariners, they are only one of 4 American League teams that were able to advance to the ALCS after losing the first two games in the ALDS. The other three were the 1999 Red Sox (vs. Indians), 2001 Yankees (vs. A´s), and 2003 Red Sox (vs. A´s).

- The 2001 Yankees were the only one of them who was able to advance despite losing their first two games at home. The Blue Jays will now try to achieve the same feat.

- The only team that came down from 0-2 only to lose in Game 5 were the 2010 Rays, who lost the first two at Tropicana Field, then won two in Arlington, and ultimately fell to Texas. The Rangers will try to repeat this rare sequence.

- Out of the previous 14 Game 5´s in the ALDS, home teams went a combined 6-8. However, 5 of those losses belong to the Oakland Athletics, who infamously have only advanced once past the ALDS (2006 vs. Minnesota).

- The only other three home teams that lost a Game 5 at home were the aforementioned 2010 Rays, the 1999 Indians (vs. Red Sox) and the 2011 Yankees (vs. Detroit).

- In fact, road teams have outscored home teams in Game 5´s by a combined 61-49. The only teams that have been shut out in a Game 5 were the 2012 and 2013 A´s, who twice were blanked by Detroit pitching.

- In terms of exciting contests, the ALDS Game 5´s have been a bit lackluster. The only walk-off, which also double as the only extra-innings game, came all the way back in 1995, when Edgar Martinez won the series for the Mariners with a walk-off, two-run double. Outside of that 6-5 win, there have been four other games decided by one run, though none of them saw a lead change after the seventh inning.

- The 2015 ALDS matchups will be the first Game 5 for three of the four franchises, as only the Rangers have experience in this kind of instance. Here is how each AL franchise has done in the previous 14 ALDS that went the distance:

  • Yankees – 7 (3-4)
  • Athletics – 6 (0-6)
  • Tigers – 3 (3-0)
  • Indians – 3 (1-2)
  • Mariners – 2 (2-0)
  • Red Sox – 2 (2-0)
  • Angels -1 (1-0)
  • Rangers – 1 (1-0)
  • Twins – 1 (1-0)
  • Orioles – 1 (0-1)
  • Rays – 1 (0-1)

- This means that the only current AL franchise that hasn´t played an ALDS Game 5 is the Chicago White Sox, who have made the playoffs only 3 times since 1995, but were part of sweeps twice, and played only 4 games on their other try.

For a final tidbit, here is each of the involved teams´ record in do-or-die playoff games:

Blue Jays: 0-1
Lost 1985 ALCS Game 7 in Kansas City

Rangers: 1-2
Won 2010 ALDS Game 5 at Tampa Bay
Lost 2011 World Series Game 7 at St. Louis
Lost 2012 AL Wild Card game versus Orioles

Royals: 3-3
Lost 1976 ALCS Game 5 at New York
Lost 1977 ALCS Game 5 versus Yankees
Won 1985 ALCS Game 7 versus Blue Jays
Won 1985 World Series Game 7 versus Cardinals
Won 2014 AL Wild Card game versus Athletics
Lost 2014 World Series Game 7 versus Giants

Astros: 2-3
Lost 1980 NLCS Game 5 versus Phillies
Lost 1981 NLDS Game 5 at Dodgers
Won 2004 NLDS Game 5 at Braves
Lost 2004 NLCS Game 7 at Cardinals
Won 2014 AL Wild Card Game at Yankees

As we can see, there are no clear trends from the previous 14 that could play into what we will see this Wednesday. In the end, every pitch and every play will have a role in the outcome, and we can only hope that the ensuing ALCS and the rest of the playoffs can replicate this kind of drama.

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