The 2007 League Division Series nearly produced an unprecedented 3-0 sweep by all four divisional winners. In our ALDS preview, we projected the Red Sox and Yankees to advance to the LCS, but we warned that it was critical for both teams to win Game 1. The Red Sox did so behind a Josh Beckett gem and swept the Angels handily. The Yankees, on the other hand, lost the opener in Cleveland and then the series, as the Indians derailed the Bronx Bombers and, in the process, may have brought the tenure of Joe Torre to an end.
We've employed our Diamond Mind simulation software to project the results of the upcoming League Championship Series. Before revealing our projected results for the ALCS, here is a brief recap of our methodology:
• We updated our projections and ratings for each player based on his 2007 regular-season performance.
• Although playoff rosters were not yet finalized, we used our best judgment, before running the simulations, about whom the teams would select, the starting rotations, batting orders, bullpen and bench roles.
• We made judgments about players carrying an injury into the LCS. Beyond deciding, for purposes of setting these roles, whether or not a player would play, we did not attempt to simulate the degree to which such an injury might hamper the player, except to the extent that it already was reflected in his regular-season performance.
• Then we played each series 1,000 times.
As unpredictable as the outcome of the regular season can be, luck and unforeseen events can play an even greater role in a short series. Bearing that caveat in mind, the results of our simulations project the Red Sox with a 58.2-percent likelihood of defeating the Indians and advancing to the World Series, most likely in seven games:
In our AL Division Series simulations, the standout feature of Boston's success was the team's ability to outscore the Angels. While the Cleveland bats may appear to pose a greater challenge to the Red Sox than did the Angels, the Indians actually were outscored by the Angels over the course of the regular season, 822-811. The Indians' pitching, however, allowed 27 fewer runs than the Angels, 704-731.
In our AL Championship Series simulations, the ratio of series won by the Red Sox was very similar to the results of our ALDS simulations (582-418 to 591-409). However, Boston had more difficulty both scoring against and containing the scoring of the Indians than they did against the Angels; the average runs scored and runs allowed per game by the Red Sox were 4.14-4.02 (compared to 4.36-3.94 in our ALDS simulations). Consequently, we expect a much closer battle this time around.
The Red Sox were led by David Ortiz, who averaged .318 (with an on-base percentage of .423) over our 1,000 series simulations. Our simulations also suggest that the key to a Red Sox victory could be their ability to hold the Indians' Travis Hafner in check, as he managed just a .227 average overall.
A short series often will produce standout performances, sometimes from unlikely sources (like David Eckstein in last year's World Series). Imagine if a series actually were replayed 1,000 times, which is more postseason series than have been played throughout the entire history of Major League Baseball. The odds of something extraordinary occurring would increase significantly. Here are some of the more spectacular performances from our 1,000 series simulations:
• No pitcher on either team threw two shutouts in even a single series out of 1,000. Interestingly, though, the pitcher to come closest to the feat was Jake Westbrook, who in one series had two complete-game victories in which he allowed just one run total. Could Westbrook be the surprise of the series?
• Jonathan Papelbon saved all four wins for the Red Sox 21 times. Joe Borowski did almost as well, accomplishing the feat 16 times for the Indians.
• Leading AL Rookie of the Year candidate Dustin Pedroia had one series of 17 hits and another of 16.
• Not surprisingly, the top home run performance was by Manny Ramirez, who clobbered six in one series, possibly indicating that he's ready to continue what he started in the ALDS.
Winning the first game of a short series is such an advantage that it frequently will shift the odds in favor of an underdog -- like the Indians against the Yankees -- to win the series. In our 1,000 series simulations, Boston, behind Josh Beckett, beat C.C. Sabathia and Cleveland in Game1 55.4 percent of the time. If Boston wins Game 1, it could well finish the job in just five or six games:
If Sabathia and the Indians top the Red Sox in Game 1, however, Cleveland becomes the favorite to take the series, and in six games to boot:
The bottom line: Imagine Sports projects a close series, likely to go at least six games and probably seven, and the Red Sox will emerge as the American League champions and face the red-hot Colorado Rockies in the World Series. Unlike our NLDS projections, where we projected the Rockies as likely to win if they had dropped Game 1, the odds swing in favor of the Indians if the Tribe can take the opening game on Friday. The pressure is on!