Since the LCS became a best-of-seven in 1985, 13 series have gone the distance. Those 13 pennant winners have gone 8-5 in Game 1, which doesn't look like a very compelling number. That is, until you break it down a little further.
Nine of those teams had two rest days after winning the pennant -- a day to catch their breath after the celebration, then a workout day, and then the start of the World Series. Those nine clubs went 7-2 in their World Series openers, and the last six have been victorious. Here's looking at you, Rays.
But clubs that had only one day off -- due to weather or other scheduling circumstances -- went 1-3 in their openers. The exceptions were the 2006 Cardinals, who continued their stunning and improbable run to a World Series title by dropping the Tigers in Game 1 of the Fall Classic.
Neither team is in such a situation this time around. The Phillies have had six full days off, maybe too many, after securing the National League Championship Series in five games. The Rays weathered a fierce comeback attempt by the Red Sox to finish off the ALCS in the full seven. But they didn't have to travel, winning the pennant at home and starting the World Series at home. It's almost like having a third day of rest, compared to some previous teams' experiences.
"I think this time of year, we definitely don't want to be distracted," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "There's a lot going on. There's a lot of media, there's a lot of fans, there's a lot of family and things, and you can't lose the perspective thing that you're trying to do and that's trying to win a World Series. You have to keep things even keel just like we always have, and we'll be OK."
Witness the 2003 Marlins, who wrapped up the NLCS on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at Wrigley Field, then opened the World Series on Saturday, Oct. 18 at Yankee Stadium. Then again, those guys did pretty well.
One advantage to having two or more days is the ability to set up the starting rotation. Given their druthers, the Rays might choose to go with James Shields or Matt Garza in Game 1 against the Phillies. Instead, their only real choice is Scott Kazmir, not that Kazmir is unworthy. But Philadelphia slots its rotation exactly how it wants, with ace Cole Hamels in Game 1, followed by Brett Myers in Game 2. When every little edge matters, that's an edge worth noting.
"Basically, [the decision is] based on rest," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of his rotation. "Kaz is ready to roll. [It] goes a little bit against what we have been doing. ... I did not want to bring back Shields short."
Even so, remember that this is baseball we're talking about here. Even two days off between series can seem like a good long while to the habit-driven creatures that are ballplayers. Never mind a week or more.
So the notion of going full-speed ahead into the World Series can be a bit misleading. If you told most players during August that they'd have two off-days before their next game, they'd be wondering what to do with all that free time, rather than thinking about what a tight turnaround they were facing.
This is October, though, and the experience is different. More off-days are built in, to start with. And when you win a pennant, it's nice to have at least a little time to get a breather and enjoy the moment.
But not too much.