The three-team race for home-field advantage in the NL playoffs may take all of the season’s final six weeks to decide. The Philadelphia Phillies have played like the favorites to win it of late - even though they may be better off without it.
The top road club in the major leagues has won eight of 10 away from home to cement its hold on the NL East lead, and it will look to stay hot Tuesday night at PNC Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Philadelphia (72-50) had an NL-best 44-37 road record last season en route to capturing its first championship since 1980, and the Phillies have been even more dominant away from Citizens Bank Park in 2009.
At 40-21 away from home, the Phillies are on pace to finish with the third-most road victories in the majors since the 162-game schedule was adopted in 1962.
Philadelphia has been especially good on the road since the All-Star break, winning 14 of 20 since July 16. They outscored opponents 53-30 in going 8-2 in their last 10 away from home, and have opened a seven-game lead on Atlanta in the East.
Howard has eight homers and 22 RBIs in his last 11 games.
“I told him one of these days if he ever gets strong, he’s going to be a pretty good hitter,” manager Charlie Manuel said jokingly.
The Phillies are 1 1/2 games behind Los Angeles for the best record in the league, though they’re just two games up on St. Louis. They had home-field advantage in both of their NL playoff series last year.
Despite that dominance away from home, the Phillies hit better at Citizens Bank Park (.265) than on the road (.252). Philadelphia is baseball’s best road club because of its pitching, as it has an ERA nearly three-quarters of a run lower on the road (3.80) than at home (4.52).
Joe Blanton(notes) (8-6, 3.86 ERA) takes the mound Tuesday, and he has been outstanding since the beginning of June regardless of where he’s pitched. The right-hander has gone at least 6 2-3 innings and allowed three runs or fewer in eight straight outings.
Blanton gave up three runs and 10 hits over eight innings in a 12-3 win over Arizona on Thursday.
“He’s a bulldog who comes right after you,” Manuel said. “Tonight, he was very good.”
The Pirates have won five of six to kick off a nine-game homestand, a surprising hot stretch considering they came in losers of 12 of 13. They averaged 6.8 runs during their five-game winning streak before being shut down in Sunday’s 4-1 defeat to Cincinnati.
“We can’t dwell on today too much,” manager John Russell told the team’s official Web site. “We’ve been playing well and I think that’s our emphasis.”
Russell will give the ball to Ross Ohlendorf(notes) (11-8, 4.15), who has been the Pirates’ best pitcher lately. He won his last three decisions, limiting Milwaukee to a run and five hits over seven innings of a 5-2 victory last Tuesday.
Ohlendorf gave up three runs over 5 2-3 innings at Philadelphia on July 11, leaving without a decision in an 8-7 loss.