“There’s no place like home.”
Many people are familiar with that famous quote, uttered by Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz. That quote can typically be said by most sports teams, at any level.
Players simply prefer playing at home rather on the road. At home they get the comforts of their own beds, home-cooked meals and the loving support of their own fans. On the road, they are staying in hotels, eating meals out and hearing cheers and boos from the opposing fan base. Simply put, it is a lot more enjoyable to play in the comfy confines of the home environs.
Apparently, the 2015 Cleveland Indians have missed that memo. More importantly, the pitching staff may have missed it as Tribe has thrown the ball far better away from Progressive Field than at Progressive Field.
On Tuesday night, Cleveland played it’s 28th home game, losing a 3-2 pitcher’s duel to the Seattle Mariners. It is the same Mariner’s club the Tribe won three of four against in Seattle last week. The defeat dropped the Indians to 11-17 on the home front. A home record like that would normally spell doom for most teams. However, the Indians have thrived more than most away from home, in going 16-13 through the season’s first 29 road tilts.
It is not as if the Indians have played an easier schedule on the road. Take for example, the last road trip. In seven away games against the Mariners and Royals, last week, the Tribe one five times – winning the series against both clubs. Cleveland looked far better against the Royals in Kauffman Stadium last week than in Progressive Field in April in losing two of three to Kansas City.
Back in mid May the Tribe started to turn around its season winning two of three games of an exciting series against the Rangers, in Texas. The Indians lost two of three to the same team later in May in Cleveland.
Just take this current home series. After going 5-2 on the road and getting the overall record to 26-27, many Tribe fans thought the club would come home, stay hot and finally get over .500 and into contention in the American League Central. Instead, it has gone the other way through the first four games of this six-game home stand. The Indians lost two of three over the weekend to a struggling Baltimore team before dropping the first game of their series to Seattle. It has stymied some of the momentum the Tribe had garnered from looking so good in Seattle and Kansas City.
While the offense has been knocked this season, it has actually been the pitching staff that has let the Indians down at home. The Tribe is actually hitting far better at home than on the road with a .259 batting average at Progressive compared to .246 away from the park. The team has mashed a little better on the road with 29 home runs versus 22 homers at home. However, with one more road game than home game, the runs scored are actually better at Progressive Field. Cleveland has scored 125 runs in 28 game at home compared to 119 in 29 road contests.
The pitching staff, on the other hand, is where the starkest differences lie. Cleveland’s ERA in road games is 3.38 – around where the high expectations for the arms was at preseason. At home Cleveland’s hurlers are an abysmal 4.50.
Of the pitchers, there are four key guys who fared much better away from home than on familiar turf. In the rotation, Carlos Carrasco has been a true No. 2 starter in visiting ballparks, going 4-2 with a 3.58 ERA. In front of the home crowd, he has been anything but at 3-3 and 5.28. Trevor Bauer, has a similar difference in his road and home numbers. On the road, Bauer appears to be a guy turning the corner toward being a front-of-the-rotation starter. Away from home, he is 3-1 with an eye-popping 1.32 ERA. At home, though, Bauer looks more like pitcher who struggled in his first two seasons with the Indians as he is 2-1 with a much worse 4.46 ERA at Progressive Field.
In the bullpen, closer Cody Allen has been solid on the road, with a 3.86 ERA and eight saves in nine chances. At home, despite a perfect 5-for-5 in saves, Allen has a disappointing 6.10 ERA. Key reliever Marc Rzepczynski has been brilliant on the road, unscored upon in 7.2 innings. Meanwhile, he is carrying a porous 7.11 ERA in 6.2 frames at home.
Whatever the case is, the Indians need to get things turned around at home. Cleveland needs to start pitching better and winning a lot more at Progressive Field, in front of the fans that love them.
Granted, one issue is the fans that love them are often not seen in droves. The Indians, as has been a disappointing trend in recent years, have the second lowest average attendance in Major League Baseball as we inch closer to the season’s midway point. The Tribe has seen an average of 17,001 per home affair, a number certainly aided by the first home series against the defending division-champion Detroit Tigers. That attendance figure is at 39.1 percent capacity according to espn.com
While there are not a lot of fans at the game, those that go are loud and should provide a comfort to the Indians. They have the past couple years, at least. In 2013, when the Indians earned an American League Wild Card spot, they did so, in large part, thanks to a 51-30 home mark, while going 41-40 away. Last year, when Cleveland went into the season’s final weekend still alive for the Wild Card, the squad was 48-33 at home while going 37-44 on the road. A year ago, a below average road record helped doom the Tribe.
The recipe for success is typically to take care of business at home, while being around average on the road. That will usually put a team in a good place. So far, Cleveland has held its own on the road. However, it has not had the home success the team has experienced in recent seasons. The lack of success at Progressive Field is why the Indians are not contending, as expected, to this point in the season.
Obviously, there is plenty of time to get things turned around. You do not panic in June. A couple little home streaks in June, however, would be nice. Of course, it would also be helpful if the Indians do not forget how to win away from the comfy confines. Still, the home front blues need to turn around if this team is to get where it wants to go and anywhere near where it has been since Terry Francona took over as manager of the club before the 2013 campaign.
No place like home needs to become the saying for the Indians, rather than the “oh no, we’re home,” we have seen so far.
Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images