Credit: Brett Davis, US PRESSWIRE
A fairly robust debate exists over the importance of a team’s road record, but the inability to win consistently on the road can only be a detriment to a team’s overall performance and chances to reach the postseason. The Milwaukee Brewers, unfortunately, fuel this debate for the ugly reason of their terrible play away from the cozy confines of Miller Park. Last year, the Brewers started off horrendously on the road, and many were worried it would cost them a chance at the playoffs. It didn’t, thankfully. The 2011 team ended up with a losing record on the road at 39-42, despite a second-half rebound in road performances and their August surge. Of course, the 2011 team crushed opponents at home to the tune of 57-24 utter domination. This year’s team is, somewhat surprisingly, 33-26 at home. As bad as they’ve played, the Brewers have managed to post a winning record at Miller Park once again.
Their putrid road record, however, of 19-38 has killed their chances of contending. Sure, there have been injuries, obscene bullpen pitching, stagnant offense and everything else. But to be a successful major league team means stomping teams on their turf more than just once in a while. It means systematically and without mercy beating opponents on the road. The 1st-place Chicago White Sox have a very similar record to the Brewers in home games, at 32-26; one fewer victory. Nevertheless, the Pale Hose are a winning 31-26 on the road. That puts them at 63-52 overall and in good position to make the postseason. It’s just that simple, folks. Proponents of the idea that road play in baseball means nothing or is negligible are missing a huge part of the picture. Maybe in football a team can get away with being mistake-prone, flat or just plain losers away from home. In baseball, there are far too many games to get away with that. When a team plays 81 road games, it hurts A LOT to lay eggs in road games as a matter of course, rather than exception. The Brewers exhibit a trend of losing almost automatically on the road, as if it’s inevitable for the visiting team to lose. It’s not. They’ve been incredibly polite guests in opponents’ parks.
The Brewers recently snapped an 11-game road losing streak with a victory Sunday against the Astros in Houston. They even barely pulled that one out. That road losing streak was second only to a streak from their first year in 1970. What’s even more astonishing is that only eight nine of the Brewers’ 22 23 blown saves have come on the road. So even though they’ve blown 14 saves at home, they’ve still managed to win at a decent clip at Miller Park. Part of winning consistently on the road is the possession of a lock-down bullpen to shut down opposing teams when necessary. Of course, the Brewers in 2012 have anything but a lock-down pen. They blew ten saves in July alone, to lead the league in the category. August looks no different for this sad-sack crew. Still, the bullpen can’t be blamed for every loss on the road. Sometimes it’s the starting pitching; sometimes it’s the offense failing to do anything, even when given multiple chances to put the opponent out of it. It appears the Brewers don’t have that ‘killer instinct’ that allows teams to go from pretenders to contenders. Even last year it seemed they would back off just enough for the other team to get back in the game.
As atrocious as the bullpen has been this season, and it’s been comically, absurdly, cruelly hideous, the Brewers would have a better record this season if they’d won more road games. If they can find a way to overcome such lousy relief pitching, streaky offensive performances and a patchwork starting rotation at home, they should be able to do it on the road. There may be such a thing as home-field advantage, but it is not so great as to extinguish the team so much that it fails to win more than once in a blue moon on the road. I can only hope that the Brewers, especially older players who should be the leaders of this team, like Braun, Gallardo and Hart, can learn from this season and perhaps go into next year with more determination and calculation in their approach to games on the road. It may not be as fun to be narrowly focused on spoiling the home team’s party, but that’s the way they should look at it. We’ve seen other teams do it to the Brewers, like with the Cardinals last year. Playing consistently good baseball means playing baseball well more often than not, whether home or away. Miller Park isn’t going to be the cushion the Brew Crew can forever fall back on to support its crumbling place in the standings.