Indians seek commanding Series lead; Cubs look to tie it up
By Andrew Simon
The Indians' 1-0 shutout of the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night sets up a Game 4 with quite a bit hanging in the balance.
The Cubs know they can rally from a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series, having just done so by winning three straight against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. But much depends on whether the Cubs can reward the Wrigley Field faithful with a win tonight.
As common sense suggests and history has demonstrated, a gulf exists between a 3-1 lead and a 2-2 tie. In Game 4, the Indians will try to ride ace Corey Kluber and a dominant bullpen to the former, while the Cubs will hope their bats reawaken enough to force the latter.
A year ago, the Royals beat the Mets in Game 4 of the World Series at Citi Field to take a 3-1 lead. The next night, they completed their championship run. That's hardly surprising.
Kansas City became the 10th straight team to win the World Series after jumping ahead, 3-1. Since baseball established the 2-3-2 format for the Fall Classic in 1925 -- only deviating for two years during World War II -- 34 teams have grabbed a 3-1 advantage. They have won 29 of those series, including 16 out of 19 when on the road for Games 3-5.
Of course, there are no certainties in the postseason. In 1985, the Cardinals went up 3-1 on the Royals by winning Game 4 at Busch Stadium, but Kansas City roared back to win three straight. That includes a 2-1 victory in Game 6, when the Royals scored twice in the bottom of the ninth, aided by umpire Don Denkinger's infamous safe call at first base.
The most recent example of a club falling short after taking a 3-1 World Series lead on the road is the 1979 Orioles. Baltimore dropped Game 5 at Pittsburgh, then couldn't convert on two chances to win the series back home, with the Pirates' Willie Stargell smacking a go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 7 at Memorial Stadium.
Tied series goes up for grabs
It's important to remember that a 2-2 series isn't actually even when it comes to historical precedent. That's because the team set up to host Games 6 and 7 still has the home-field advantage. Therefore, out of the 36 times a World Series with the 2-3-2 format has been deadlocked after four games, the club with that factor on its side has gone 22-14.
Still, one only has to look back to 2014 to find a counterexample. That year, the Giants beat the Royals in seven despite the final two games taking place in K.C. Still, prior to 2014, 10 of the previous 11 teams in that situation were unable to capture a championship, including the 2013 Cardinals (vs. Boston) and '11 Rangers (vs. St. Louis).
A Cubs victory in Game 4 would lead to a massive Game 5 on Sunday. Out of those 36 series tied 2-2, home teams able to win Game 5 have gone 11-10, including San Francisco's triumph in 2014.
On the other hand, road teams who have taken Game 5 before returning to friendly turf have gone 12-3. The last seven clubs in such a favorable position have gotten the job done, with the lost loss coming when the Brooklyn Dodgers dropped Games 6 and 7 to the Yankees at Ebbets Field way back in 1952.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.