Over a third of the way through the Major League Baseball season, it appears the most daunting task for national league teams has been earning victories in Citi Field. The New York Mets are a major league best 23-9 at home, and as of June 9th have won nine games in a row in Flushing, their second such streak of 2010. It may have taken a full season to figure out, but the Mets know how to win in their spacious abode.
Mike Pelfrey is 5-0 in eight starts at Citi Field, with more strikeouts, ground-ball double plays and lower ERA, opponent batting average and OPS than in five starts on the road. While Johan Santana’s home numbers are virtually the same to his road stats, he is 4-1 at home and 0-1 on the road. Jon Niese’s home ERA is almost two runs better at home than on the road (3.49 at home to 5.40 on the road). Ditto for knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey (2.19 ERA at home, 4.15 ERA on the road). The same can be said for most of the Mets bullpen too. The Mets have created a pitchers haven that few other teams can duplicate. The spacious outfield of Citi Field keeps balls in the park for fly ball outs, or at the worst doubles or triples which can keep that extra run from scoring.
So with these impressive pitching numbers and gaudy home record, the Mets must be starting to run away with the NL East crown, right? Not so much. The Mets have yet to take their show on the road in 2010. Only the major-league worst Baltimore Orioles have won fewer games on the road (six) than the Mets (eight). Their road record is right on par with other last place teams like the Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros, and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets have not won consecutive road games since July 25th and 26th in Houston. The only road series they haven’t lost this season were a pair of two-game splits with the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.
Unless the Mets can win all of their remaining 49 home games, they will have to start winning some series on the road. The Mets will have some daunting road trips in the next six weeks. After they wrap things up with the Padres, they embark on a 10-game trip across the American League with stops in Baltimore, Cleveland and the Bronx. The Orioles and Indians are last place teams, but NL teams always have trouble with AL teams, and the Mets have a tendency to play down to their opponent. Then after the All-Star break in July, the Mets have an 11-day trip out west with four in San Francisco, three in Arizona, and four in Los Angeles with no off days in between. A prolonged slump during the latter trip could derail the Mets second half before it even starts.
This season has already been a roller-coaster for Mets fans, we’ve gone up and down the first big drop, but there’s still loops, corkscrews, zero-G drops and hairpin turns ahead. Because of their road woes and lack of starting depth (Niese is still unproven and Dickey can’t be expected to keep up this pace all season) few take the Mets seriously as a legit contender for a playoff spot. The NL East is the only division in the majors with no abject weak link. The Phillies are struggling, but are still the two-time defending league champs with one of the best lineups and starters in baseball. The Braves, currently leading the division, have been lead by stellar rookie Jason Heyward and a rejuvenated Tim Hudson and were the hottest team in baseball the month of May. The Marlins are always pesky with a young and talented rotation and one of the best all around players in the league in Hanley Ramirez. And with the scintillating debut of Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday night (seven innings, two earned runs, no walks, and 14 K’s on 94 pitches is impressive even against the Pirates) the Nationals are bound to improve.
You could go from last to first and back again in a couple weeks in the NL East. If the Mets are going to be playing any meaningful games in September and hopefully October, they need to act like Kerouac and take their act on the road, where they will play 27 of their next 41 games. There may not be a place like home, but for the Mets, they better learn to navigate the road to the postseason