More Sports:

June 14, 2021

Kevin Cooney: Phillies about to face their biggest test of the season, and it's not their opponents

The Dodgers and Giants will prove difficult, sure, but it's all about where the games are being played: away from Citizens Bank Park

By the time the 38,000 plus spilled out to the surrounding streets of South Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon and the Phillies team charter — complete with players adorned in NBA gear — filled up for the flight to the West Coast, there was a little prevailing wind in the home teams sails.

For the first time since that opening series where they played so well against the Braves and the Mets, there was a sense that maybe this team finally had found a little mojo from three straight walk-off wins to keep building off in a division that is still there for the taking.

“It’s amazing what putting the ball in play will do,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said after Sunday’s 7-0 thrashing of the overpaid and overrated New York Yankees that, by the way, wasn't even that close.

And yet, the biggest challenge remains to be figured out. Because airplanes, hotel rooms and small clubhouses on the road do not agree with this team even a little bit.

This week is the teeth of the lion's den against arguably two of the top three teams in the National League right now — three against the Dodgers in Los Angeles starting on Monday, followed by a three-game set at Oracle Park on Friday night against the “wait, how did they get 15 games over .500?” San Francisco Giants.

Consider this little chart about home/road records over the past five seasons for the Phillies:

TOTAL173-135 (.561)114-187 (.378)

The moral of the story has been the Phillies are a playoff contending team at home and a picking-at-the-top-of-the-draft team away from home. And while it is true that almost every team plays better in their own yard — sleeping in your own bed, knowing the quirks of the facility, crowd support — being that big a difference from one location to another and not close to seeing .500 on the road is a sure-fire way to insure plenty of October golf dates.

If you break down the individual numbers in this season, it is easier to figure out where this goes off the track. The offensive slash lines for the Phillies at home (.245 average, .328 on base percentage, .713 OPS) are in the same ballpark as the ones on the road (.237/.303/.691). In all cases, they are smack around the middle, ranging from 12th to 17th in split comparisons within Major League Baseball.

The pitching? Now that’s a different story. The Phillies pitchers have a 3.48 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP at home in 2021, both of which are in the Top 11 in MLB rankings. On the road, the ERA balloons to 4.89 and the WHIP to 1.39 – both categories are in the bottom 10 within the sport in 2021.

In this way, the numbers are similar to Gabe Kapler’s first year in 2018. The Phillies home ERA that season was 3.71 with a WHIP of 1.22. Both are respectable. The road numbers were 4.62 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. Both are absolute crushers.

Ultimately, here in lies the question: Can they find a way to keep momentum going? Over the past three seasons, the amount of winning road trips of six or more games can fit on one hand.

Two of those came in May and early June of 2019 when they were playing their best baseball of this era. That came crashing down shortly thereafter when Andrew McCutchen got hurt, Odubel Herrera’s domestic violence incident resulted in a suspension and the reality of the moment set in.

In all honesty, there’s a lot that’s similar right now to that moment. They are feeling good and they’ve played — at least since the beginning of June — decent baseball. (Don’t mistake it, however, for great baseball. The bullpen and defensive lapses are still major concerns.)

"We have a team that can be an all-around, really good team," McCutchen said Sunday after another solid 2-for-3 outing that has confirmed his drop to more of an RBI spot in the lineup by Girardi was a wise move. "We can hit, we can pitch and we can field. We can be that type of team. But we also understand that we can be a team with consistent with that — not just have periods of it. We’re showing that and it’s just heating up for us. We should be expecting that."

In reality, you should expect that. When you see Herrera and Jean Segura starting games with the type of at-bats they had against Domingo German on Sunday, it is not impossible to get caught up in the potential that can be maddening but there. Smart at-bats that wear pitchers down, content to put the ball in play as opposed to swinging for the fences, not wasting opportunities – that’s the type of stuff that carries on the road.

For this Phillies team, it has to if they are going to make a run. And it has to start right now — on the toughest remaining trip of the season — if they want the good feelings from a Sunday afternoon to keep on going.

Kevin hosts the “Working The Beat” podcast with Mike Kern, available on iTunes, Google Play and everywhere podcasts are heard. A regular on WIP, Kevin loves to interact with readers on Twitter. Follow him there at @KevinCooney.

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports