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.