Despite the fact that a lot of us fans either lost some hair or developed gray hairs over this past week due to bullpen-related issues, the road trip from Minnesota to Miami was an okay one. While you’d like to do better than just 4-3 when the Marlins make up four of the seven games on a road trip, you’ll always take a road trip where you won more games than you lost. As far as this season goes, they’ve been doing that a lot and it’s part of the reason why they’re on top of the NL East.
Now that they have another productive stint away from home under their belt, they’ll be setting up shop at SunTrust Park for the next nine games and hopefully they’ll be able to keep on winning and push their record even further than 20 wins above .500. Everybody loves playing at home and in front of their own fans and you’d think that the Braves would be using that cooked-in advantage to their benefit and making things very difficult for other teams to come here and win.
Here’s the thing, though: The Braves haven’t been great at home this season. While being 32-25 at home is nowhere near being bad, let’s put that in comparison to the rest of the NL East. The Mets are 34-21 in New York, the Phillies are 34-26 in Philadelphia and the Nationals are 31-25 in D.C. Then when you compare Atlanta’s record in Cobb County to that of the rest of the divisional leaders across baseball, it’s clear that they’re lagging a bit behind the best teams in baseball when it comes to winning at home.
The Astros are 43-15, the Yankees are 43-18, the Cubs are 41-19 and the Dodgers are 48-16. The only divisional leader that the Braves are even in the same orbit as when it comes to their record at home is your choice of Cleveland or Minnesota and both of those teams are currently deadlocked in battle for that division where — surprise — the road team split the four-game series between the two teams over this past weekend. So when it comes to their performance at home, the Braves are playing at SunTrust Park like a team that’s locked in a divisional battle when in reality, they’re actually somewhat comfortable with six games separating them and the trio pack that’s formed in the NL East.
Naturally, if all of thee other teams are doing that well at what they’ve turned into a home fortress, that means that the Braves are indisputably the road warriors of the National League. While they’ve had their fair share of fun moments at SunTrust Park this season, they’ve been doing a big chunk of their damage by going into other ballparks and ruining the night for the other team’s fans. So what gives? If the Braves are playing this well on the road, then they should be doing better at home right? What’s the problem?
Looking at their offense, they appear to be doing great at home. As a team, their home OPS is at .832, and they have an Isolated Power number of .211 as a team. Both of those are top-5 numbers across both leagues and their team wRC+ at SunTrust Park is sitting pretty at 111 — good for a three-way tie for fifth place across all of baseball. So you’d think that if their numbers are that good at home, then they should be crazy when it comes to the road since they currently have a 38-25 record away from home.
As it turns out, Atlanta’s offense is actually worse on the road. The team’s road OPS going into Sunday’s game in Miami was at .770, their ISO was at .186 and their team wRC+ was 98. That’s just above average-to-average in the hitting department when it comes to road offenses in baseball, though it is somewhat impressive that they’ve scored more runs and hit more home runs away from SunTrust Park (95 dingers and 334 trips across the plate going into Sunday) than they have in Cobb County (93, 308). That’s cool and all, but that clearly doesn’t explain the deficit between their road success and their only-decent home record.
So then it’s got to be the pitching, right? I’m sighing as I type this because yes, it is the pitching. Looking at their home stats, as a team the Braves’ pitching staff is sitting on an ERA of 4.27 and a FIP of 4.47. They’ve given up 72 dingers at home and have given up 277 runs total. While those numbers are just average, that’s just it: They’re average. Again, when you compare those numbers to what the other teams across baseball are doing at home when it comes to their pitching, you now start to understand part of the reason why Atlanta’s home record is what it is.
The peripherals are actually even worse. As a team, their home K/9 is 8.4, their BB/9 is 3.6, and their K-BB% is sitting at 12.3 percent. All of those numbers are in line with pitching staffs for teams that are currently struggling in the standings and it’s a compete outlier when compared to the contenders. Amazingly, this mirrors what their numbers look like on the road (going into Sunday) — a K/9 of 8.7, a BB/9 of 3.7, leading to their K-BB% being 12.7 percent. It simultaneously makes their home record make sense and their road record a tad bit perplexing.
Plus, you’ve all seen it. The Braves dropped a two-game mini-series against the Royals. They endured a frustrating split of a four-game series against the Reds. They’ve dropped a two-game series against the Nationals. They lost a regular series to the Rockies. They got swept here against the Diamondbacks. While nobody’s saying that you should go undefeated at home against these teams, you shouldn’t be letting teams of this caliber come into your ballpark and beat you more than expected.
The main point is that the Braves are still probably going to end up being okay as far as the regular season goes. Winning on the road has been a huge boon for them and as long a s they can keep on doing that without hitting a nasty patch on the road, they will be fine and this shouldn’t be a concern. Where that will turn into a concern is the postseason.
Imagine there’s a situation where the Braves go on the road in those incredibly hostile postseason environments and they treat it like it’s just another road game in July and pick up an emphatic victory. Yeah we’d all be thrilled, but what good will come from stealing a game on the road if they come home and they end up dropping a game there? The playoffs have been known to be unpredictable, but as of right now the numbers suggest that the Braves wouldn’t really have a huge benefit from any sort of home field advantage.
The main thing is that not only do the Braves have room for improvement when it comes to their pitching, they need to pick things up at home. While their upcoming home stand with the Mets, Dodgers and Marlins could be an opportunity to put some more space between their rivals in the division and also send a bit of a message to the boys in blue from the West Coast, there’s also the danger that this could be another disappointing home stand where the Braves have to go on a road trip (and their next road trip will be a somewhat weird one) in order to really get their work done.
The Braves have got 24 home games left, compared to 18 (including the final five games of the season) on the road. They will have more opportunities to get things rolling and earn some confidence at home than they will on the road. They don’t have too much time left in the season to turn SunTrust Park into the fortress that other divisional leaders have done with their respective home ballparks, but there is still time. This team has given us plenty of surprises since the 2018 season began and maybe a surge at home in 2019 will be yet another surprise.