What does it take to win a playoff spot? Good pitching is essential. Good, timely hitting is an absolute. Solid relief pitching is a must. But the one statistic that rules is this: you cannot have a losing record on the road. Road warriors rule.
Take a look at this season’s playoff contenders: Boston has the second best record in all of baseball and tops in the American League. Not only do they win in Fenway, but they have a winning record on the road…the second best road record in the league. Oakland also is a road warrior with more wins then losses. The Detroit Tigers were road winners over the season. Tampa was even with a 41-41 record.
Over in the National League, the only teams that are .500 or better are Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Los Angeles. Atlanta is one game under on the road. However, their home record is the tops in all of baseball.
Why is it these teams perform better sleeping on a Sealy away from home? The answer lies in the make up of the teams. Travel distances are one of the things to consider. Boston is part of a rather tight geographic fit in their division. But this brings up the issue that teams who have a big geographic spread and have to travel great distances should not do as well. While travel distances can be a factor they are not THE factor why a team plays better on the road than other teams.
Veterans are the key. Look at each team and see how age and wisdom contribute to a winning road record. Boston has regular position players Drew (30), Napoli (31), Pedroia (30), Gomes (32), Victorino (32) and Ortiz (37), all of whom have played on playoff teams previously. They are experienced road warriors. Oakland has Cespedes (27), Crisp (33), Callaspo (30) and Young (30), again, all have had playoff experience.
Perhaps you get the point. Experience in understanding a season is a marathon (not a sprint) and being able to kick it up into another gear, especially on the road, makes for a winning season on the road.
Pittsburgh may be the perfect case in point. Here is a team that finally has their first winning season in over 20 years. And their lineup is loaded with experienced road warriors who have had valuable playoff experience to support the likes of Alverez and McCutchen who do not. Morneau (32), Martin (30), Byrd (36), Barmes (34) all have playoff experience plus they have pitchers who have done so as well. A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano both bring added understanding to this year’s team, as does their manager, Clint Hurdle. He has won the National League pennant previously.
Then look at the Dodgers. Capuano (35), Greinke (29), Wilson (31), Gonzalez (31), Hairston, Jr. (37), Punto (35), Uribe (34), Young (36), Crawford (32) and Ethier (31).
Case in point: Nothing blends a team better than experience. The veterans are, at their very best, teachers. All of these teams who are fighting for a league pennant have young, exciting players on their roster. But those who succeed, especially on the road, have experience to guide the youth.
Humans are not unlike any heard of animals. Elephants look to their older members to guide them to water holes through a season, filled with drought and the unknown.
Experienced veterans are a the key to blending young and old while creating that thing called ‘chemistry’ that makes a group a team. That makes all of the difference in winning on the road.
It’s going to be an exciting playoff.