Two games into the World Series, and even the mainstream media (Andy McCullough at The Athletic) is tumbling to the possibility that this year's clash between the Braves and the Astros might not produce any "stellar games" even as it appears that the two teams might fight it out all the way to Game Seven.
"Stellar games" is a proxy for games that are decided by one run. Of course, there can be memorable games that don't wind up in that category: walk-off homers with men on base are still exciting, even if the winning team's margin is greater than a single tally. But we still use the one-run game as the benchmark for a particular type of ambient, lingering tension that keeps the outcome in doubt until the last pitch.
It seems paradoxical that a post-season series that goes to its limit (five or seven games) might not be all that riveting despite a "win-or-go-home" finale, but it does occasionally happen. Of course, it could all turn around for the Braves and Astros over the weekend, and nailbiting games could come into play; but we have two rather lackluster games in the book thus far, which creates the possibility for a peculiar form of boredom.
So here they are, and they've been sorted in a way that creates an admittedly crude quantification of "an excitement index" for each of the forty 7-game series. (Some may wish to call it "the boredom index": we salute you by raising our half-empty wine glass.)
As noted, it's simplistic. We capture the number of games where the contest is decided by one run, and the number of games where the contest is decided by four or more runs. We record that info, we place it side-by-side, and we subtract the number of 4+ run differential games from the 1-run differential games.
That gives us a value (in the column at the far right of the table called "DDIF") that suggests (as opposed to insisting) a range of excitement based on the relative abundance of one-run games.
When we sort by DDIF, we make our suggestion into a crude assertion--and we now assert that the 1972 World Series between the Oakland A's and the Cincinnati Reds, which featured six games decided by one run and one blowout (Game 6, decided by seven runs) is the "most exciting" World Series of all.
Now, of course, you don't really remember that series, do you? You may remember the 1991 World Series between the Twins and the Braves, which featured five one-run games, including two such games in Games 6 and 7 (which is a nuance that might need to be incorporated into a method such as this).
Or you are perhaps even more likely to remember the 1975 World Series, which had two blowouts but five one-run games, including that epic 12-inning Game 6, followed by a nail-biting Game 7.
So we can posit that World Series that go seven games seem more exciting if the final games are close (read: one-run games). Thus the 1971 World Series, with its closing one-run contests in Game 6 and 7, is another one that's memorable for this dynamic. It joins 1924, 1975 and 1991 as the only seven-game series to end with two one-run games.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Fall Classic where there are no one-run games. In a nice touch of symmetry, there are four such World Series: 1931, 1965, 1968, and 1987. Of these series, it's 1965 that has the most blowout games: six. (Only the low-scoring Game 7, a 2-0 final where Sandy Koufax pitched a shutout on two days' rest, escaped the peculiar lack of tension within the games as they played out in a see-saw pattern; 2 wins for the Twins, 3 for the Dodgers, 1 for the Twins, 1 for the Dodgers. So the outcomes of the games can produce some tension as to who will win, but that doesn't ensure that the individual games will be particularly exciting.)
Examining some of the patterns here, particularly in terms of the 7-game series that started with two blowouts (which the 2021 WS has joined, with its 4 and 5 run differentials), shows us that the only hope that we have for a result that winds up high on the DDIF sort would be for the next five games to be one-run games. Of course, that has never happened--no one has closed out a 7-game WS in that way. Only one Series--that unheralded one held in 1972--has ever had five consecutive one-run games (the A's and Reds did that in Games 1-5 of that series).
No one else has had four in a row. But there are a number of three one-run games in a row incidences: though you can pick them out on the chart (we bolded the one-run games), we'll give you the full list: 1991 (G 2-4); 1975 (G 2-4); 2001 (G 3-5); 1947 (G 3-5). We've never had a G 5-7 sequence in which the games were all one-run outcomes. (The closest: the 1952 WS, where the Dodgers and Yankees had one-run games in G 5 & 6 and a two-run outcome in G 7.)
Now that would be a nice way to relieve the boredom, right? Let's suggest that our teams get busy and give us something new under the sun to close out this topsy-turvy year.