The stage is set for the 2010 World Series as the San Francisco Giants will host the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night. This will mark the first time that the National League Champions possess home-field advantage since the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. For the Giants, this is not that big of an advantage.
After the 2002 All-Star game ended in a 7-7 tie in Milwaukee, Major League Baseball decided that the following year's Midsummer Classic winner will be awarded home-field advantage in the World Series. Before this decision, home-field was alternated between the two leagues each year.
Since the All-Star game began the determinant for home-field advantage in the World Series in 2003, the American League has won all of them up until this year. In those seven Fall Classics, the home-field American League has a slight 4-3 edge over the National League. Being at a disadvantage for seven straight years, the NL Champs did pretty good for themselves.
This brings up the question if home-field advantage is any real advantage at all in the World Series.
The current home-field advantage format of 2-3-2 began to be used regularly in the 1924 World Series. Since then, this format was followed in every year but three. The 1943 and 1945 World Series followed a 3-4 format due to World War II travel restrictions and there was no World Series in a strike-shortened 1994 season.
In those 82 World Series, the team with home-field advantage has won 47 of them, which is slightly better than 57 percent. When something results in success just over half of the time, it is not very advantageous.
For Major League Baseball to grant home-field as a reward to the winning league in the All-Star game, they must believe that it gives a team some sort of edge. It is very likely that they were analyzing a highly unbalanced recent trend.
In the 28 World Series since 1981, the team with home-field advantage has won 21 times, which is a monstrous 75 percent. This trend is just that, as the previous 30 World Series from 1951 to 1980 saw the team without home-field advantage win the championship 20 times, or two-thirds of the Fall Classics.
Historical outcomes with fluctuating trends aside, it is important to explore the extra pressure that comes with home-field advantage. When a team starts the World Series at home, they are practically put in a must-win situation right off the bat.
While every game is crucial in a short series, it is particularly devastating for a home team to fall behind 0-2 and then go on the road for three games. In fact, there are only three teams in major league history to win the World Series after losing the first two games at home- The 1985 Kansas City Royals, 1986 New York Mets and 1996 New York Yankees.
For a road team in the first two games of the series, there is significantly less pressure. Winning both games puts them in the driver's seat to a world championship. Winning just one of the first two games actually gives the road team a sort of home-field advantage for the remainder of the series. They now can look at the rest of the Fall Classic as a five-game series with three home games.
Even if the road team loses the first two games, they still have a better chance to win the World Series than if they dropped the first two at home.
Since the 2-3-2 format in 1924, seven teams have won the World Series after losing the first two on the road (as opposed to three who lost the first two at home)—the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1956 New York Yankees, 1958 New York Yankees, 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers, 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1978 New York Yankees and the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers.
The notion that the ever so important Game 7 is the whole point to home-field advantage is not very accurate. Historically, even game sevens of the World Series have been split very evenly amongst the home and road teams.
Since 1924, the home teams have a slight 17-16 edge over the away teams in the 33 game sevens played. In addition to this, there has not been a Game 7 in the Fall Classic since the All-Star game's increased importance in 2003.
Although it is a welcome change to start the World Series in a National League park, home-field advantage will not be much of an advantage at all for San Francisco. While the fact that they are hosting the first two games is not that important, winning at least one if not both certainly is.
While today is a celebration for the National League Champion San Francisco Giants, come Wednesday, the pressure will most certainly be on.