Home-field advantage is crucial in MLB

BY foxsports • September 14, 2010

With roughly three weeks left in the regular season, we’ve still got pennant races to sort out and individual awards to be claimed. But here’s something else that’s at stake: home-field advantage in the postseason.

Throughout the spread of baseball history, the home team has won roughly 54 percent of the time, so that’s the baseline — a 4 percent advantage, which is significant.

Now, though, let’s consider the 2010 home-road tendencies of those teams in the mix — the contenders presently in playoff position or within three games of playoff position.

In the AL, the playoff field is set (barring a stretch-drive miracle, anyway). The Rangers will win the West, the Twins will win the Central, and the Yankees and Rays will sort out who wins the East and who claims the wild card. Home-field advantage, however, is more muddled. The Yankees, Rays and Twins all have legitimate designs on the top seed in the AL. Much, of course, depends on how the AL East shakes out.

The Rays and Yanks are playing right now, and they also play a four-game set in Tampa that starts on Sept. 20. At stake? The privilege of playing the Rangers in the Division Series. To be sure, Texas is a quality team and a worthy division champion.

However, the AL East champ will have home-field advantage against the Rangers in that opening series, and — as the numbers show — the Rangers are a much worse club on the road than they are at home. Worth noting: Should the Rays and Yanks wind up tied, then head-to-head record will determine who wins the division and who wins the wild card.

If the Twins wind up with the best record in the AL, nothing really changes in the first round (i.e., the Twins are going to play the AL East runner-up in the first round no matter how the realistic seeding scenarios play out).

The Twins would, however, love to have home-field advantage in the ALCS. That’s especially the case considering they’re the AL’s toughest team at home this season.

In the NL, the stakes are even higher. The Braves badly need to edge out the Phillies for the NL East title and secure home-field advantage through the World Series (don’t forget that the NL won the All-Star Game this year, thus securing home-field advantage in the World Series).

This is the case mostly because the Braves are a veritable Panzer Division at home but a pretty bad team on the road. To state the obvious, they’re exactly the kind of team for whom home-field advantage means so much.

The Phillies, meanwhile, have their own incentives. They’re a much better team at home than on the road, but seizing the top seed in the NL would give Philly a huge edge in the first round. As Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki recently noted, the Phillies, if armed with the best record, would enjoy a highly accommodating NLDS schedule. Specifically, they’d enjoy three off days during their best-of-five set, and that means no need for a fourth starter.

In Philly’s case, that means their NLDS rotation would consist of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, all on regular rest. Needless to say, the drop off from that trio to whomever Philly would trot out as their fourth starter (probably Joe Blanton) is substantial.

If the Phillies wind up with the top seed in the NL, then consider them heavy favorites to advance to the NLCS.

On this front, it’s worth noting that the Braves and Phillies will play six more times in the regular season. The three-game sets that start on Sept. 20 in Philly and Oct. 1 in Atlanta might just determine the NL East and the best record in the NL.

Elsewhere in the senior circuit, the Rockies, should they make the playoffs, would do well to win the NL West rather than the wild card. They simply can’t win away from Coors Field this season, and wild-card status would obviously mean no home-field advantage throughout the NL bracket.

The NL West — and perhaps the wild card and NL seeding — may come down to the three-game series between the Padres and Giants that starts Oct. 1.

So because of the trends and tendencies involved, home-field advantage figures to matter more than usual this season. That’s why the AL East race is still very much worth following, and that’s why there’s another layer of intrigue to the already gripping NL playoff races.

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