Baseball's Road Warriors


By Jim Hurley:

Here's something that you might not have been aware of: Heading into this weekend's Major-League Baseball action- all Interleague goodies save for that Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers three-game set on the left coast- there were a grand total of 14 teams that were playing within a five-game spread of .500 ball and so parity really has become the buzz word in the bigs.

So, what could possibly separate the 2011 playoff teams from the have-nots when it all shakes out in the end?

Here's a quickie answer for you ... Road success (or lack thereof).

In other words, the determining factor for some teams' potential playoff dreams comes in the form of how they play on the road and in this Jim Sez column we'll break down three MLB teams- that's the Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates- and discuss their road successes thus far in the 2011 season.

We'll get to that in a moment but first this key reminder:

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Now, let's check in the Red Sox, Braves and Pirates and their road stories so far. Note the road records in parentheses below:

BOSTON (22-14) - The American League East front-runners actually are playing better on the road than they are at the confines of Fenway Park (see 19-13 while heading into Friday's game versus Milwaukee) and some folks attribute that to the fact that RHPs Josh Beckett (6-2, 1.86 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (6-3, 3.48 ERA) don't have to be as"careful" using their repertoire on the road as they do at Fenway where that Green Monster looms in leftfield. Throw into the mix the fact that there are a slew of players in Boston's everyday lineup quite adept at"using the whole field" as batters (see the likes of LF Carl Crawford and 2B Dustin Pedroia) and that works better in road parks than it does at the less-spacious Fenway Park.

Heck, all we know is that last week the Bosox swept a three-game series against the New York Yankees in The Bronx and this past week the Sox copped two-of-three in Tampa Bay while holding the Rays to a grand total of six runs in the span of three games.

If Boston holds on- and, yes, there's a long, long way to go till September 28th (the end of the regular season)- than it's likely that one major reason is because the Sox knew how better to win on the road than the rival Yanks and/or Rays.

ATLANTA (21-16) - Here's another big-league team playing better ball on the road than at home where the Braves have a winning percentage of just .545 as compared with the ,567 winning road rate.

One reason why Freddi Gonzalez's squad likely plays better away from Turner Field is because some of the younger players in the everyday lineup simply don't put as much pressure on themselves when not playing in front of family/friends. Another reason could well be the Braves simply have some teams recently when they were down- Atlanta won three-of-four games last week at Houston against a bad Astros team (the worst in the bigs) and that was preceded by a three-game sweep in Florida against a Marlins team in the midst of a major crash-and-burn.

Folks, sometimes timing is everything and- don't look now- but the Braves play six West Coast games beginning June 24th with three games in San Diego and then three more in Seattle and if the Bravos can avoid Mariners ace RHP Felix Hernandez than you might be looking at one of those 4-2 or even 5-1 road swings.

Note that if the National League wild card race includes Atlanta than you can be sure that the team's road prowess will have been a key factor ... got it?

PITTSBURGH (20-15)- You're eyes were not deceiving you when checking the NL Central standings while heading into this Father's Day weekend: The born-again Buccos were only 3 full games back of front-running Milwaukee as Year One of the Clint Hurdle Era has been a blast for the Steel City gang but dig deeper and you'll see the Pirates are playing .571 ball away and keep in mind there's a slew of remaining road divisional games this year against both the Chicago Cubs and the aforementioned 'Stros.

Could a .500 year on the road- or even better- dictate that the Pirates are in the playoff hunt come September?

Hey, stranger things have happened and the Pirates have the electric everyday players that can thrive in any atmosphere- see star CF Andrew McCutchen (.290 batting average with 10 HRs and 36 RBI and already with 72 hits)- and that means tracking down balls in more spacious road outfields and turning singles into doubles, etc. when at the plate.

Maybe you don't think the Pirates will be still standing come Labor Day in terms of a playoff push but as long as Hurdle's gang keeps rollin' on the road than you can count on 'em staying right there in the proverbial thick of things.

NOTE: Get more MLB News & Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.


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