MLB Baseball Betting–Avoiding The Sweep


We’ve been looking at best of seven playoff series ‘sweeps’ in the three North American sports that employ this postseason format and now we’ll turn our attention to Major League Baseball. Here’s the question we’ve been asking—in a best of seven series when one team gets off to a 3-0 lead what is the livelihood that they win Game Four and complete the sweep?

From a handicapping standpoint, this is an important question. If we can identify teams that *haven’t* quit on a series despite a substantial disadvantage we can find some good value underdogs for betting on sports. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Even more difficult is coming back to win a series after going down 3-0. It’s happened four times—three times in the NHL, once in Major League Baseball: the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders, the 2004 Boston Red Sox and the 2011 Philadelphia Flyers.

While it’s interesting to see the rarity of a comeback to win a series after a 3-0 start that’s not really the question we’re asking. We’re asking for teams to do something much more realistic—just to win Game Four and prevent the opponent from a sweep. That’s a much easier task—we just want to know how often a team up 3-0 in Major League Baseball wins Game 4 to complete the sweep and/or how often their opponent pulls out at least one win to ‘save face’. It’s already happened once in the NHL this season as the Philadelphia Flyers fought back against the Washington Capitals to prevent a sweep. At this writing, there are two 3-0 situations in the NBA and it remains to be seen if the trailing team has the wherewithal to fight back. What we want to know—what percentage of the time do both scenarios happen?

Once again, we’re looking only at the three North American sports that use seven game series—MLB baseball, NHL hockey and NBA basketball. We first looked at the overall dynamic of 3-0 series across all of these sports. It wasn’t surprising that the team up 3-0 in a series is a very strong play in Game Four. In fact, the team leading a series 3-0 wins Game Four to complete the sweep 63.3% of the time. More interestingly, it doesn’t appear to matter whether it’s at home or on the road. At home, the 3-0 team wins Game Four 61.6% of the time. Away from home, they win Game Four 68.8% of the time. One thing that is very interesting—when a 3-0 series happens in the final round of the playoffs the leading team in Game Four is an even stronger play as they win 77.8% of the time.


Let’s turn our attention specifically to Major League Baseball and see how 3-0 teams fare in this sport. One thing that immediately jumps out when you examine the statistics is how seldom a potential sweep has occurred in Major League Baseball. There have only been 35 3-0 situations in the history of the sport. The leading team has won Game Four and completed the sweep a whopping 82.9% of the time. At home, they’ve done this 78.9% of the time and on the road they’ve been dominant, winning Game Four 87.5% of the time.

It’s also worth noting that it matters little whether the 3-0 situation occurs in the World Series or the League Championship rounds. There have been 24 3-0 situations in the World Series and the leading team is 21-3 in Game Four which translates to a winning percentage of 87.5%. In this situation the overall performance, home performance and road performance are exactly the same—the leading team wins Game Four and completes the sweep 87.5% of the time. At the league championship stage there have only been 11 3-0 situations. Overall, the leading team wins Game Four 72.7% of the time. At home, it’s only happened three times and the leading team has lost the game twice for a 33.3% winning percentage. On the road, the percentage is more in line with the rest of the data at 87.5%.

It’s hard to identify the characteristics of a baseball team poised to ‘make it a series’ after going down 3-0. For one thing, we’ve got a sparse amount of data to figure anything out with. More significantly, baseball is truly a ‘team game’. A dominating starting pitcher can control a game but he needs his teammates to put runs on the board and make plays in the field. Basketball is also a ‘team game’ but in NHL hockey a ‘hot goalie’ can win a series almost single handedly.