History shows importance of LCS Game 1

History shows importance of LCS Game 1

The stats don't lie: Win Game 1 in a best-of-seven postseason series, and chances are nearly 2-to-1 that the series is yours. Just how good those chances are depends on a lot of other factors, from National League to American League, road to home team.

The Game 1 winner in a League Championship Series or World Series has gone on to win the series 117 times out of 185 total series, including a 95-58 record in best-of-seven series. The trend is stronger in the LCS, where opening-game winners have a 52-28 record in the series, and 30-18 since the LCS went to best of seven.

Yet for some reason, most of that advantage for Game 1 winners has come from the NL, where teams that win the opening game have gone on to win the series 28 out of 40 times. It's a trend that has grown stronger over time.

Since the NLCS went to best of seven in 1985, Game 1 winners are 17-7 in the series. They've taken the NLCS three years running, eight out of the last 10 years, and 16 of the last 19 series.

The Phillies, in particular, have been skilled at carrying the momentum once they've won the opener, at least in the NLCS, which they've done in each of the last two years. They've won their last four NLCS dating back to 1980, and they took the opener in every one of them. By contrast, when they lost out in three straight NLCS from 1976-78, they lost the opener in two of them.

The Phillies have also won the World Series opener each of the last two years, but couldn't carry it over in last year's Fall Classic.

If the Giants can ride the gifted right arm of Tim Lincecum and beat the Phillies to open this year's LCS, however, they have two decades of history on their side. Teams that have won Game 1 on the road haven't lost an NLCS since the 1990 Pittsburgh Pirates, going 8-0 in that span.

In the AL, the trend is much weaker, and seemingly takes a back seat to home-field advantage and stronger teams. Though Game 1 winners are 24-16 in the ALCS, they're just 13-11 since the series went to best of seven, and 4-6 over the last 10 years. It's as if the comeback from 2-0 and 3-1 series deficits by Dick Howser's 1985 Kansas City Royals set the trend that the ALCS is a crapshoot regardless of who strikes first.

The road team has won six of the last 10 ALCS openers, but is 2-4 in the series after doing so. The Red Sox fell victim to that scenario in 2008 to the Rays and in 2003 to the Yankees, as did the Angels in 2005 to the White Sox.

The Yankees have won 11 of their last 13 trips to the ALCS, a history that has defied wins or losses in Game 1. They're 9-4 in ALCS openers, but they've gone to win the series three times after losing the first game. The last time they lost an ALCS, of course, they not only won the opener, they won the first three games against the Red Sox in 2004. A year earlier, they lost the opener to Boston and won the series anyway.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre used to say that Game 3, not Game 1, was the most important of a series. His successor, Joe Girardi, isn't committed to any one particular game as the most critical.

"You know, when you're in a short series, every game is important," Girardi said in his pregame news conference Friday, "because you're either one step closer to where you want to be or you're one step closer to where you don't want to be. But Game 3 can be really pivotal."

For what it's worth, the lone Yankees postseason game loss to the Rangers came in a Game 1, starting off the 1996 AL Division Series. New York has won nine straight postseason games over Texas since.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.