Despite being a game over .500 and a game out of first place in the tightly packed National League East, the Phillies have not won a road series this season.
They were one strike away from doing so Saturday night in Atlanta before Pablo Sandoval turned around a Hector Neris fastball and a woulda-coulda-shoulda victory turned into three blown leads and a hideous 8-7 loss in 12 innings.
By comparison, Sunday night’s loss was quick and painless. Aaron Nola was cut early as they say in the boxing business and the offense did nothing after the first pitch of the game.
And, so, the Phillies lost another road series.
They’ve lost two straight games after winning five in a row.
“I think overall we had a pretty good week, but it’s frustrating because of what happened Saturday night,” manager Joe Girardi said after Sunday night’s loss. “You’ve got to put it in a compartment, throw it away and go on to Washington and try to win a series there.”
The Phillies open a three-game series in Washington on Tuesday night. They will send Chase Anderson, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin to the mound in the series.
The Phils won just one road series last season and that came in Washington – but in a two-game series.
This season, the Phils are a dismal 5-11 on the road.
“We definitely need to turn it around,” Girardi said.
Playing poorly on the road has been a thing for this team for a few years. Since the start of 2018, the Phils are 81-125 on the road. Only Miami (79-132) has a worse road record in the NL over that span.
Conversely, the Phillies have the fourth-best home record (126-87) in the NL over that span.
There are many theories why teams play better at home and worse on the road, and they include everything from sleeping in your own bed to playing in front of supportive fans to simply being built for the ballpark you play in 50 percent of the time. Not all of them always stand up, though. The Marlins made the postseason last year with an 11-15 record at home. They made up for that by going 20-14 on the road.
You can search high and low for a reason why the Phillies have struggled on the road but basically it comes down to one overarching reality: They have holes and those holes have prevented them from having a winning season since 2011.
More tangibly, the Phils produce more offense at home, and they also pitch better there. Look at Nola’s career numbers: 35-17 with 2.90 ERA in 75 home starts, 26-25 with a 4.14 ERA in 72 road starts.
Since 2018, the Phils rank 11th in the majors, scoring 4.87 runs per game at home. They are 23rd on the road, scoring 4.19 per game. At home, the Phils have hit 296 homers since the start of the 2018 season, seventh-most in the majors, as opposed to 226 on the road, which ranks 27th. Since 2018, the Phils have hit .246 at home and .237 on the road.
On the pitching side since 2018, the Phils have a team ERA of 4.11 at home as opposed to 4.80 on the road. Pitchers have given up 292 homers at home and 262 on the road since the start of the 2018 season.
The Phillies are desperate to snap a decade-long postseason drought this season. But can it be done if they don’t improve on the road? Probably not. They are currently on pace to go 25-56 on the road. That’s a winning percentage of just .309. Only one team has ever made the postseason with a road winning percentage under that mark and that came in last year’s unprecedented 60-game season. The Houston Astros went 9-23 on the road (.281) but made the expanded 16-team playoff field on the strength of a 20-8 home record. Six teams, in fact, that had losing road records made the postseason last year.
This season, there are no expanded playoffs. Ten teams, five in each league — three division champs, and two wild-card clubs, will make up the postseason field.
Surprisingly, since divisional play was introduced in 1969, 69 teams have made the postseason with a losing road record and several, including the Marlins in 1997 and 2003, the Cardinals in 2006 and the Twins in 1987, have gone on to win the World Series. The Phillies made the playoffs with a losing road record in 1978, 1981 and in 1983, when they won the NL pennant. But those Phillies teams all had road winning percentages significantly above .400.
In ordinary times – i.e., non-pandemic seasons – the team with the lowest winning percentage to make the postseason was the 1987 Twins. They went 29-52 on the road for a .358 winning percentage. They made the postseason and went on to win the World Series on the strength of their play at home – 56-25 at the Metrodome during the regular season and 6-0 in the postseason.
Again, these Phillies are on pace to have .309 winning percentage on the road and it’s worth repeating what Girardi said:
“We definitely need to turn it around.”
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