Friday, June 16, 2006

A Different Ballgame

Over the past few days on this blog (and others) I have made it very clear that I felt there was absolutely no way the Twins would win last night's ballgame to complete a sweep of the Boston Red Sox. My feeling was that the pitching matchup of Tim Wakefield vs. Carlos Silva simply tilted way too far in Boston's favor. Well, I am pleased to admit that I was dead wrong. Silva came out of nowhere with his best outing of the year, pitching into the seventh inning without allowing a run before leaving the game with a sore hammy. The Twins' offense manufactured runs against Wakefield. Jason Kubel homered for a third straight game. Joe Nathan battled admirably through two innings to pick up perhaps the toughest save of his career. When all was said and done, the Twins had come out on top 5-3 and completed a sweep of the Red Sox, who had entered the series atop the AL East.

I was surprised that the Twins played so well and took all three games in this series. And yet, maybe I shouldn't have been. After all, the series was played in the Metrodome.

The Twins have been a very good team at home this year and an absolutely horrible team on the road. It is not uncommon for a baseball team to perform better at home than on the road, but the Twins' splits are drastic. They are an excellent 21-10 at home and an abysmal 10-24 on the road. To put that in perspective, only one team in baseball has a better record at home: the Chicago White Sox. Conversely, only Kansas City and Pittsburgh have worse road records. The White Sox are the defending World Series champs, and the Royals and Pirates are pretty much unanimously the two worst teams in baseball. The Twins have been swept four times on the road; at home they have lost only one series.

If the Twins were playing .500 ball on the road, they would be 38-27, just a few games behind the White Sox in the AL Central and very much in contention for a playoff spot. There's no question that their inability to win on the road is pretty much the sole reason they find themselves essentially out of the playoff race in mid-June. So why have the Twins been so incredibly bad away from home? Is it because they have played a tougher road schedule? No, that can't be it. Look at their performances against the same teams at and away from the Metrodome. At home, the Twins swept the Athletics. In Oakland, they lost three of four. At home, the Twins split a two-game series against the Mariners and later swept a three-game series. In Seattle, they lost two of three. The Twins took two of three from the Tigers at the Metrodome, but in Detroit they are 0-6.

There are a number of factors that might contribute to this success at home. The Dome does have its advantages as the Twins are more accustomed to the way the turf plays and to the hitting backdrop. Also, you have classic Dome moments, such as the instance such in last night's game when David Ortiz had a sure upper-deck home run hit off a speaker and fall in center field for the most well-struck single you will ever see. The players also seem to feed off the crowd to a great degree, especially in late and close situations, as evidenced by the large number of walk-off hits and home runs.

Still, neither of these factors really explain the gaping disparity between the Twins' level of play at home and on the road. So I'll open the floor to any theories that people might have as to what is causing their miserable play away from home. Feel free to comment below with any thoughts you might have.

Incidentally, the Twins open a series tonight on the road against the worst team in the National League. How will they fare? It should be interesting. At least they will be without Juan Castro, who was traded to the Reds yesterday in return for Single-A outfielder Brandon Roberts. More on that move tomorrow.

13 comments:

TheBentKangaroo said...

Could it be our crappy defense was serviceable on the Metrodome turf, with more true bounces?

It will be interesting to see now that we've improved our defense how we play on the road. Of course, we've improved our offense too, which helps

Anonymous said...

I think you will see the Twins road record improve as they continue to shed dead wood and put more young blood in the line up. these younger guys look like they want to play rather than just standing around filling a rooster spot (white) (castro) (hunter?)

Anonymous said...

Do I recall someone saying they were going to eat their laptop if Silva and the Twins won last night??? Anyway, the Juan Castro trade had me very surprised!! I was definately not expecting it, but I will definately take it!!! When the Twins went on their West Coast roadtrip, they should have won far more games than they did. If they had, we would be ahead of Cleveland right now, and not far behind the others in what is the best division is baseball!!! Good luck in Pittsburg!!!

Todd said...

I didn't think we had a chance last night either. I am still not convinced Silva has what it takes to be a quality pitcher. He had a lot of luck last year and I don't think a player that strikes out as few batters as he does can keep it up.

Jeff A said...

How's that laptop tasting?

My theory on why the Twins play better at home is that they hit an awful lot of ground balls. On the home turf, some of those ground balls get through for hits, but on the road, more of them are turned into outs, often double plays. I doubt that's the whole answer, but I'll believe it until I hear a better theory.

Nick N. said...

Very good thoughts. The ground ball thing is definitely a possibility.

By the way, the laptop tastes pretty good, kind of fruity. Good thing it's an Apple! (Oh man, that was lame)

Nick M. said...

I'd say that you can't ignore the mental game and just the dome itself. Teams come in the dome and are just plain uncomfortable. They've heard all about the wierd stuff and they aren't used to it. Just look at the Red Sox. I mean, did you see Ortiz's face after his "single?" Some ridiculous things happen here and I think that gets into the minds of opponents.

Drew said...

I think that it's more about being home and being comfortable. Teams generally play better at home than on the road. I think that the Twins horrible road record has more to do with their poor pitching at the beginning of the season coupled with their many road games at the end of April and throughout May.

SBG said...

"How's that laptop tasting?"

I didn't know a laptop could taste, but I suppose it bytes so it can taste.

Nick N. said...

Wow SBG, you actually managed to out-lame me on that one.

Nick M. said...

Drew, you make a good point, yet the Twins still struggled on the road in May, especially on their West coast trip. So, despite the early struggles, I'm not sure if its that simple. The pitching is bad on the road, but the hitting is just as bad. Some of our hitters, especially Joe Mauer (.413 on the road, .337 at home), are fine on the road, but some have extreme splits. Luis Castillo, for example, is a .372 hitter at home and a .207 on the road. Thats putrid. Morneau also has a significant split, hitting .309 with a .970 OPS at the dome, but only .227 with a .722 OPS on the road. Cuddyer is another prime example, hitting .319/1.021 at home and .216/.781 on the road. White, Castro, and Batista all had/have awful road/home splits as well. The point is, for the most part, the offense is just inept on the road. Someone suggest the bounces as the dome and that may be it, but I think its probably largely mental and that the lack of pitching got to hitters and that combined with having giant holes in the lineup didn't help.

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