World Series: Why the 2019 Fall Classic Has Already Made History and the Stat That May Give Astros Hope

The 115th edition of the World Series is alive and kicking. After losing the first two games of the series at home, the Houston Astros have delivered an impressive response, winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Washington to level the series and ensuring the Fall Classic will return to Texas for at least one game.

Paradoxically, however, returning to Houston may not be beneficial to the Astros, just like leaving Washington behind may instead boost the Nationals' chances.

That is because for the first time since 1996, both teams have lost their respective two games on the road.

Even in a sport where playing at home doesn't carry the same advantage it does in football, basketball or ice hockey, that is a remarkable statistic.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the last team to win a World Series game at home, defeating the Boston Red Sox after 18 gruelling innings in Game 3 last year.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, that was their first and only win of the series, as they were dispatched 4-1 by the Red Sox.

In 1996, the Yankees were outscored by a combined margin of 16-1 in the first two games at Yankee Stadium, but won the next two games in Atlanta to level the series.

A tight 1-0 win in Game 5 was enough to give them a 3-2 lead as the series shifted back to New York, where they clinched a 34th title after winning 3-2.

In baseball's history, only four other World Series have seen the two teams win both of their first two road games, aside from the 1996 Yankees. In 1906 the Chicago White Sox took Game 1 and 3—the format at the time saw home field rotate for each game—and lost Game 2 and 4 to the Chicago Cubs, before winning the series in six games.

In 1923, an all-New York affair saw the Giants take Game 1 and 3, while the Yankees won Game 2 and 4 and ultimately defeated their city rivals 4-2. It took another 63 years for teams to win both of their first two games on the road in the World Series.

Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros is congratulated by his teammates after hitting a grand slam home run against the Washington Nationals during the seventh inning in Game Four of the 2019 World Series at Nationals Park on October 26 in Washington, DC. Will Newton/Getty

In 1986, the Red Sox took a 2-0 lead after winning their opening games in New York, before the Mets rebounded to take both games at Fenway Park.

In Game 6, Boston was famously one out away from winning a third straight game on the road and ending a 68-year wait for a World Series title.

However, as Red Sox veteran first baseman Bill Buckner moved over to the foul line to field a ground ball from Mookie Wilson for what looked a routine stop, the ball took a deceiving hop and squirted off the dirt and past his glove through his legs. The error allowed the Mets to score and win the game 6-5 to tie the series, before winning the decider two nights later.

While the Astros have got themselves back in the series, winning the World Series after losing the first two games historically remains an extremely rare feat.

In the history of the Fall Classic, the last 10 teams to have taken a 2-0 lead—irrespective of where the first two games were played—have then gone on to win the title.

In the history of best-of-seven series, teams that have won the first two games on the road have gone on to win the series 22 out of 25 times.

When series where the team has won the first two games at home are included, clubs who have taken a 2-0 lead have gone on to win the series 71 times out of 84.

At the same time, Houston can take some comfort in the knowledge that since the World Series switched to the current 2-3-2 format, the two teams—the 1986 Mets and 1996 Yankees—who lost their opening two games at home both went on to win the title.

Momentum is definitely back with the Astros. Houston began the series as a 5/11 favorite to win a second World Series title in three years—the biggest favorite since the Red Sox faced the Colorado Rockies in 2007—while the Nationals were a 19/10 underdog.

After Washington took the first two games, the Nationals were as short as 3/10 with some bookmakers, while the Astros' odds drifted out to 12/5.

FiveThirtyEight projections illustrated a similar pattern, with the Astros' chances of winning the World Series going from 60 percent to 19 percent, while Washington's soared from 40 percent to 81 percent.

As Game 5 approaches, the dynamic has shifted again. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Astros now have a 59 percent chance of winning the Fall Classic, to the Nationals' 41.

Bookmakers echo the opinion, with Houston as short as 2/5, while Washington has drifted to 43/20.

World Series: Why the 2019 Fall Classic Has Already Made History and the Stat That May Give Astros Hope | Sports