If the baseball season is a series of tests with varying degrees of difficulty, then the Phillies aced their first examination by going 5-1 during their season-opening homestand against the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, the two teams the oddsmakers and experts believe will battle for the National League East title.
The Phillies’ next examination comes against the same two teams during a seven-game road trip that begins Friday night when they take on the Braves at Truist Park. For much of the last decade, the Phillies have been crash test dummies when taking their road tests.
As well as the Phillies played in their first six games, we really should not be too surprised. They have been a good home team for quite a while. In each of their last three seasons, they have posted a winning record at Citizens Bank Park, including 19-13 a year ago under Joe Girardi. Three years ago in Gabe Kapler’s first season as manager, the Phillies were 49-32 at CBP, which was the third-best home record in the National League and tied for sixth in baseball.
Consider this, too: As bad as the Phillies have been during the majority of their nine-year playoff drought, they have still won more often than they lost at home, compiling a 351-335 record. Away from home, however, they are 270-406.
If that doesn’t change in 2021, the postseason drought is going to grow to a decade old.
In each of the last three seasons, the Phillies have gone into September in playoff contention only to fade out of the competition. A big reason they have even had a chance is the way they played at home.
Since 2018, they are 118-82 at home, which includes this year’s first homestand. Atlanta, which has won the NL East every season since 2018, is 112-80 at home during that three-year stretch. The Braves, however, have also figured out a way to win on the road. They are 107-86 away from home since 2018. The Phillies are 76-114.
So what needs to change in order for the Phillies to become a successful road act?
“It’s just about playing your brand of baseball,” Girardi said. “It’s about playing good defense, having good at-bats and pitching well. It’s really not a different game. Sometimes the comfort of your own home is nice and that’s why you play well, but I think we have a group that has traveled enough and understands how to make a hotel room comfortable, so now we just go play our game.”
Easier said than done.
In Girardi’s first season, the Phillies averaged 5.4 runs per game at Citizens Bank Park and pitched to a still-too-high 4.86 ERA at home. On the road, they averaged 4.7 runs per game and pitched to a 5.62 ERA. Their 9-19 record was the fifth-worst in baseball.
The vast majority of players have more success at home, but the truly successful players have more balanced home-and-road splits.
Bryce Harper, for example, is a career .280 hitter at home with a .396 on-base percentage and .918 OPS. On the road, he is a .271 hitter with a .379 on-base percentage and an .880 OPS.
Rhys Hoskins, on the other hand, is a .263 hitter with a .382 on-base percentage and a .926 OPS at home, but that slash line falls to .221/.351/.803 on the road. A season ago, Hoskins really struggled on the road, hitting .197/.305/.770 compared to .288/.447/.984 at home. It will be interesting to see if Hoskins’ hot start continues during the Phillies’ seven-game trip.
Phillies ace Aaron Nola has also been much better at Citizens Bank Park than on the road during his career. He is 33-17 with a 2.98 ERA at home and 25-23 with a 4.02 ERA on the road. Over the last two seasons, he has gone 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA at home and 8-9 with a 4.94 ERA on the road.
Zach Eflin has also had far more success at home than on the road, posting a 16-9 record and 3.57 ERA at Citizens Bank Park since 2018 compared to a 9-14 record and 4.88 ERA on the road. The good news for the Phillies is that Zack Wheeler has reverse splits. He is 25-17 with a 3.45 career ERA on the road and 24-23 with a 3.89 ERA at home.
The Phillies’ great start at home was nice, but it was also pretty normal. Now we find out if they can hold their own when they go out on the road against two top division rivals.