Home field is not always a playoff advantage
Twenty-six days remain in baseball's regular season. And already eight of the 10 postseason spots would seem pretty well set, specially in the National League.
However, there still remains something to play for -- home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game, the NL Division Series and the NL Championship Series.
The Mets rallied from a 7-1 deficit to pull out an 8-7 victory at Washington on Tuesday night, extending their NL East lead over the Nationals to six games with 24 games to play, including a season-ending three-game series in New York.
The Cardinals are 4 1/2 games up on the Pirates in the NL Central -- the smallest divisional lead in the Senior Circuit. The Cubs are in third place in the NL Central, but they do have a nine-game edge on the Giants for the final NL Wild Card spot, pretty well assuring the top three NL Central teams of postseason berths.
With the Giants having lost eight of their past 11 games, they are not only nine games out of the second NL Wild Card spot, but also 8 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. In the American League, the Royals' biggest challenge is maintaining their focus heading into the postseason, after having opened up a 12-game lead over the Twins in the AL Central.
While the Blue Jays are only 1 1/2 games up on the Yankees in the AL East, and the two teams open a four-game series at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, Toronto is eight games up on Minnesota in the battle for the second AL Wild Card spot -- a critical advantage considering 15 of the Blue Jays' final 24 games will be on the road.
Only the Cardinals have a heavier road schedule remaining -- 16 of 24 games -- and St. Louis has an MLB-best 38-27 road record.
The most closely contested race in the Junior Circuit is the AL West, where the Rangers have surged and the Astros have slumped, leaving Houston just one game up on Texas going into Wednesday. The Rangers, meanwhile, are 2 1/2 games in front of the Twins for the second AL Wild Card spot.
Texas does have 17 of its 25 remaining games at home. But how big of an edge is that? The Rangers are only 32-32 at Globe Life Ballpark, and they had to win 16 of their past 20 home games to get to .500.
The home-field advantage for the World Series is set. It will go to the AL after its 6-3 win over the NL in the Midsummer Classic.
And in the World Series, the idea that the home team has the advantage -- which includes hosting the first two games of the best-of-seven series -- has been significant. In the 20 years since a Wild Card was added to the postseason mix, the team with the home-field advantage has won 15 World Series, even though only five of the 20 World Series have gone the full seven games and six have been four-game sweeps.
In the earlier rounds of the postseason, however, the home field has not been much of an advantage.
Since 1995, the home-field advantage has won 76 of the 146 postseason series played, but that is weighted heavily by the World Series success.
• In the best-of-seven LCS, the home team has won only 19 of 40 series. The ALCS has gone to the team with the home field in 12 of the past 20 seasons, but in the NLCS, the team with the home-field advantage has advanced to the World Series only seven times, and only three times in the past 10 postseasons.
• In the best-of-five Division Series, the team with the home-field advantage has advanced to the LCS in 40 of 80 series -- 21 of 40 in the AL, and only 19 of 40 in the NL.
• In the single-game Wild Card showdown that was created when a second Wild Card was added to each league in 2012, the home team has won only two of the six games -- one of three in both the NL and AL.
The home field has been an advantage in the AL, where the home team has won 35 of the 63 series played prior to the World Series in the past 20 years, but not in the NL, where the home team has gone 27-36.
And in terms of recent history?
Well, last year the Giants did not have a home-field advantage in any round of the postseason, but won 12 of 17 postseason games, claiming the World Series with a Game 7 victory at Kansas City.