Home-field advantage key for NL this year
Current Senior Circuit playoff contenders struggling on road
PHOENIX -- If ever the National League needed home-field advantage in the World Series, this is the year. Conveniently, the Senior Circuit's champion will open the World Series at home this October.
And it's a good thing, because of the teams currently in playoff position in the NL, there's not an especially strong road team in the bunch. Only the Braves have even played .550 ball away from home.
So when Brian Wilson of the reigning World Series champion Giants -- who used home-field advantage in Games 1 and 2 of the 2010 series as quite a springboard -- closed out Tuesday night's All-Star Game, he may have been doing a huge favor to his team or one of its rivals. For the ninth year, the All-Star Game's result determined home field in the Fall Classic.
Thanks to a 5-1 NL win, this year's World Series will begin with pitchers batting and designated hitters either trying out the field or sitting on the bench. It may not be an end-all, be-all, but it's an edge every team would like to have.
"It's a huge advantage for whoever makes it to the World Series," said Phillies and National League pitcher Cliff Lee, who ought to know. Lee was on the losing side in the 2010 World Series, and took the defeat in Game 1 at AT&T Park.
"Anytime you have home-field advantage, you're going to play more games at home, which is big. Hopefully we can keep things where they are and give the Phillies home-field advantage. That's what I'm hoping for."
The Phillies have been baseball's second-best home team, going 34-15 at Citizens Bank Park. They're four games over .500 on the road. Milwaukee, which has the game's best home record at 33-14, is 13 games under .500 away from home.
In total, there are five teams currently in playoff position in the NL: the East-leading Phillies, the Wild Card-leading Braves, the West-leading Giants, and the Cardinals and Brewers, who are tied atop the Central. They're a combined 148-84 at home on the year, a winning percentage that would translate to 103 wins in 162 games. They're under .500 on the road, a combined 113-114.
If the regular season is at all predictive, the NL champion will likely be unusually glad to have last ups in the first game of the World Series.
"It was a nice way to start the series," said Giants and NL manager Bruce Bochy, "and it really benefits you. So that was part of the message, how important it was for us, and how important the game was; do it again for the National League champion. The guys did it, we played well, pitched well and had some big hits. "
Overall, in the short time that the All-Star Game has determined home field in the World Series, the teams with that advantage haven't particularly taken advantage. From 1982-2002, the last year of alternating home field in the World Series, the home team won 17 out of 20 Fall Classics. In the last eight years, with home field decided by the All-Star Game, the home club has gone 4-4.
That's the number that an American League club will likely look at. Besides, there are some very good road teams in the AL, with both the Red Sox and Yankees sporting better road records than any NL team. The Angels, one game out of first place in the AL West, have a better road record than home.
"I'm not disappointed," said Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis. "I kept the philosophy that we had to win on the road anyway. For us, we'll have to go into somebody else's place to play if we're in the World Series."
Still, there's no doubt you're better off in a seven-game series if you have Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at your own ballpark. Ask the 2010 Giants and Rangers, after San Francisco jumped all over Texas for two convincing wins at home before the series shifted eastward. The series never looked the same after those first two games.
"You can see last year, the Giants, they started at home against Cliff Lee, that's a huge difference," said Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
Molina also experienced it firsthand in 2004, in the second year of the current setup. St. Louis gutted out a grueling seven-game win in the NL Championship Series against Houston, then started the World Series at Fenway Park less than 48 hours later.
It's not always the determining factor. But it's a lot nicer to have that edge than not to have it.
"I think that will go through my mind later a little more I think," said the Brewers' Prince Fielder, who was All-Star Most Valuable Player, "but right now, I'm enjoying the victory with the kids and seeing them here. As far as the home field advantage, it's great, because ... we play great at home. And if we are fortunate enough to get into the World Series, I think that would obviously it's going to help us a ton."
Now they just have to get there.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.