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Baseball's Home/Road Oddballs

   by Al McMordie - 06/28/2009

A 162 game marathon, such as the baseball regular season, is going to have streaks. Even the top teams will go on frustrating losing skids and bad teams will look great – for a week. The Washington Nationals shocked the world two weeks ago when they won 4 in a row. That included winning 2 of 3 against the Yankees and Blue Jays.

Oddsmakers were not that impressed, though. Knowing it is a long season (and that the numbers say Washington is terrible), oddsmakers had the Nationals an underdog in the next 6 games. They lost 5 of them. They have lost two out of every three home games on average and three of every four road games. The Nationals' bullpen this season has a 7-24 record with a 5.59 ERA and 17 blown saves.

The defending champion Phillies have been the most bizarre team, with a losing record at home but a sparkling road mark, the best in baseball. They have also been a streaky team. After the Phillies lost their 11th of 13 games Friday night, a frustrated manager Charlie Manuel addressed his team for the first time since spring training.

"When you know you have to say something or do something, that's what a meeting is for," Manuel said. "You don't want it to slide any further, and actually I don't want it to get there. Did it help? I don't know." The Phillies have been in a big-time slump, but they are too talented for this to continue, it would seem. It is unlikely they will continue to be this erratic both home and away, as well.

The team the Phillies beat in the World Series, Tampa Bay, has been just the opposite – great at home, poor on the road. But they are a team getting it together, on a 12-4 run. A big reason for the run is the starting rotation.

Adding hard throwing David Price has helped, plus 25-year old Scott Kazmir made his first start in over a month Friday night, working five innings in a 3-2 victory over the Florida Marlins. Kazmir was an All-Star last season, and allowed two runs and four hits in five innings. He threw 61 of his 92 pitches for strikes, walked one and struck out five. The Rays should continue to play well because of that starting rotation.

Why such a big edge at home for Tampa Bay? Tropicana Field is the only park in the majors where a home run has been hit in every game this season. It is a hitter’s park, so you need good pitching depth to survive there. Even when they were real bad back in 2005, Tampa Bay had a respectable 40-41 home record but 27-54 on the road.

Minnesota is another team that plays indoors on artificial turf. Like the Rays, the Twins are also very good at home, but have a losing road mark. One reason for the success of the Twins is that their pitchers do not walk anyone. Once again they have the top WHIP in baseball, with a staff loaded with pitchers who will give up hits, but refuse to allow free passes. More teams should copy this, as Minnesota is only four games out of first in the division.

Many teams are far more comfortable at home for a variety of reasons. One is that organizations can build their team around the configurations of the park. The Mariners, Athletics, and Padres play in large parks with expansive outfields, so when they've had good teams, speedy outfielders who can cover ground are staples of the line-up.

The Angels under Mike Scioscia have played NL-style ball for years, being aggressive on the base paths combined with a deep pitching staff and solid defense. That formula has helped the Angels be a very competitive team on the road for several years, and the same is true this season, with winning marks both home and away (which is not easy to accomplish).

The Angels have come back from a rash of pitching injuries in April to take over first place. They will probably be disappointed to see interleague play end: The Angels are a major league-best 13-4 in interleague action. Great news for the Angels is how well John Lackey pitched the other night, 7 innings against Arizona with no earned runs allowed and 9 Ks. Getting a healthy Lackey back, teamed with Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver and possibly Ervin Santana, would make the Angels the team to beat in the AL West.

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