The Los Angeles Dodgers held a 2½-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies for home-field advantage in the National League playoffs entering play Thursday, but the team that would appear to most profit from opening at home is the one all but guaranteed of not having that option, all the way through the World Series.
That would be the Colorado Rockies, the presumptive wild-card entry, which has won 10 of its last 12 games in Coors Field and is 39-15 at home since Jim Tracy was promoted from bench coach and replaced Clint Hurdle as manager.
Wild-card teams, regardless of whether they have a superior won-loss record than a division winner, can't have the home-field advantage during the league playoffs, and the American League will have home-field advantage in the World Series by virtue of its victory in the All-Star Game.
The Rockies were in the same position in 2007 and swept the Phillies in the division series and Diamondbacks in the NLCS before losing four straight to the Red Sox in the World Series, raising the question of just how much of an advantage opening at home is.
Last season, the Cubs had the best record in the National League and were swept three straight by the Dodgers, who then were on the road to open the NLCS against the Phillies, lost the first two in Philadelphia and were bounced in five games. The Phillies, who also had the home-field advantage in winning their division series against the Brewers, opened the World Series on the road, split against Tampa Bay, then won three straight at home.
In the AL, the Red Sox took out the Angels in four games despite playing the first two in Anaheim, but were on the road for a Game 7 loss to Tampa Bay that sent the Rays to the World Series.
There have been similar stories in recent years: In 2006, the Cardinals did not have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and won the World Series against the Tigers, who were at a disadvantage in the AL playoffs before wasting their advantage against the Cardinals.
It was the same story in 2005 for the Astros, 2004 for the Red Sox, 2003 for the Marlins, and 2002 for the Angels, all but the Astros winning the World Series.
So, it would seem to be a bit of manufactured drama this season in the NL, although in the absence of any other competition, the battle for home-field edge will have to do. Every team will tell you it wants to open at home, especially in the crapshoot of a best-of-five opening round, but let's take a closer look.
With three games apiece to play at home, the Dodgers, Cardinals and Phillies, in that order, rank 1, 2 and 4 in the NL in home record (The Cubs, despite Milton Bradley's(notes) aversion to Wrigley Field, rank third).
So it matters to be home, right? Except that the Phillies, Cardinals and Dodgers, in that order, currently rank 1-to-3 in road record.
The Phillies score more at home (374, No. 2) than the Dodgers (352, 6th) and Cardinals (324, 12th), but the Phillies are also second in runs on the road (382), behind the Dodgers (388), with the Cardinals fifth (363).
Pitching? The Dodgers are No. 1 at home in ERA (3.13), but they're No. 1 on the road as well (3.67). The Phillies pitch better on the road (3.90, No. 4) than at home (4.23, 11th), while the Cards are third at home (3.35), fifth on the road (3.93).
So, let's break it down to individual players on the three teams.
Why home field favors the Dodgers
Why the Dodgers shouldn't care
Mannywood is overrated: For all the love Manny Ramirez(notes) gets from his personal rooting gallery, Ramirez is hitting .333 on the road, .266 at home, with an OPS 101 points higher on the road (1.030 to .929).
Why home field favors the Phillies
Cole mining: Cole Hamels(notes), last year's World Series MVP, has been much better (7-3, 3.29) at home than on the road (3-6, 4.98), and the less time he has to spend out of his fabulous downtown penthouse, the better.
Werth something: Jayson Werth(notes) has hit a team-leading 19 home runs in Citizens Bank Park, though it may surprise folks to know the Phils actually have hit more home runs on the road (110) than in their bandbox (101).
Why the Phillies shouldn't care
Utterly Utley: Home or road, it makes no difference to the Phillies' second baseman, who has 16 home runs at home, 15 on the road, but is a .305 hitter on the road, .286 at home.
Why home field favors the Cardinals
Yay for Yadier: He's the best defensive catcher in the NL wherever he plays, but Molina is a .309 hitter at home, .270 on the road.
Why the Cardinals shouldn't care
Pujols owns the planet: The man would hit on Saturn. The home-road numbers are a parallel universe: .326, 22 HRs, 1.123 at home, .335, 25, 1.131 on the road.
Curtain call for Cox: The Atlanta Braves settled the speculation about whether Bobby Cox would return to manage with Tuesday's announcement that Cox would make 2010 his last season in the dugout, then join the front office in a consulting position. There was never any doubt that Cox would have a lifetime position with the club in some capacity, and it was also clear that no one in the Braves' organization was going to force him out of his current position now. From a public relations standpoint, the Braves already had badly mishandled their dealings with two other icons of their glory years, John Smoltz(notes) and Tom Glavine(notes). They weren't about to risk doing so with Cox, who like the two pitchers will one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame. And despite the falling-out this spring with GM Frank Wren which had Cox jumping in his car with a suitcase and threatening to drive home (the reporting of the incident drew lukewarm denials by both men), the relationship between the manager and GM has been repaired to their satisfaction.
Who's casting this picture?: So, in the span of the last 24 hours, the former ballplayer, Curt Schilling(notes), said he's bowing out of politics, electing not to run for the U.S. Senate seat that had belonged to the late Ted Kennedy, and the politician, former President Bush (No. 43), took himself out of future consideration for baseball commissioner.
"It may never make sense for me to do it, but right now it certainly doesn't,'' Schilling wrote on his blog, citing his inexperience and his commitments to his video-gaming project, his family and support for ALS research, the cause most dear to him.
Bush, meanwhile, appearing on an interview with radio host Norm Hitzges on KTCK in Dallas, praised the Texas Rangers for the season they had and acknowledged he continues to pull for the team in which he once had a significant ownership stake. Asked if he'd like to own a team again, Bush said: "One reason why is that my checking account is a little empty."
Measure of relief: The ever-curious Ari Kaplan, the statistical analyst who consults for several big league clubs, posits that for an accurate take on how relievers (non-closers) performed, look at how they did in late and close situations. "Late and close (LAC)" is defined as when a pitcher enters a game in the seventh or eighth inning down by a run, tied or in a save situation.
Rafael Betancourt(notes), who pitched this season for Cleveland and Colorado, came into 18 LAC situations, and allowed no runs in 16 of them, an 89 percent success rate. In the other two games, just one run scored.
John Grabow(notes) (since joining the Cubs), Alberto Arias(notes) (with Houston) and Justin Masterson(notes) (while with Boston) all were a perfect 10 for 10 in LAC situations. Others who did well were the Marlins' Dan Meyer(notes) (no runs in 15 of 17) and Phil Hughes(notes) (21 of 24) of the Yankees. On the other end of the scale, Blaine Boyer(notes) of the Diamondbacks gave up a run in all nine of his LAC games, and allowed four-plus runs in three of the games.
The teams that had the best LAC conversions (no runs) are the Phillies (84 pecent LAC), Cardinals (82 percent), Rangers (81 percent) and Braves (80 percent). The teams that had the worst LAC conversions all had losing records, which reinforces the importance of mid-relievers. Those teams are: the Orioles (56 percent), Royals (57 percent), Padres (58 percent), Blue Jays (59 percent), Nationals (60 percent), Pirates (67 percent), Diamondbacks (67 percent) and Indians (68 percent).
Fungo hitting: The New York Daily News reported that Bobby Valentine is about to sign a multi-year deal with ESPN, but the guess here is that Valentine has an escape hatch in case he wants to manage again. … Huston Street(notes) will be back closing after one more outing. Street, who converted 33 of 34 save opportunities, was out the last three weeks with biceps tendinitis. … Despite the flameout of the Rays' season, they will be returning five starting pitchers 28 and younger next season: James Shields(notes), Matt Garza(notes), David Price(notes), Jeff Niemann(notes), and Wade Davis(notes). Don't be fooled by Garza's 8-10 record. His strikeouts are up, his hits were down, and he'll finish with 200-plus innings. He could have a huge season in 2010. … And birthday greetings to Johnny Pesky, patriarch of the Red Sox, who turns 90 Sept. 27.