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Trying to explain why the Rays are better on the road

Rays Tales: “I don’t think it’s just by chance that’s happening,” says Charlie Morton. Plus the usual rumblings.
Austin Meadows and his Rays teammates are one of the best teams in baseball on the road, and closer to average at home. CHRIS URSO | Times
Published Aug. 17
Updated Aug. 18

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays don’t have any explanations for why they’ve done so much worse this season at the Trop than on the road.

More than three-fourths through the season, the difference has been stark:

Away from home, they’re 40-23, with a majors-leading .635 winning percentage.

At the Trop, 31-29 through Friday, a .517 mark tied for a below-average 16th best.

MORE RAYS: Do these numbers add up to a Rays postseason berth?

“I know we’re going to talk about that until we get on a run here,’’ manager Kevin Cash said Friday after one of their biggest disappointments, a 2-0 loss to the majors-worst Tigers. “I don’t have a good answer for you, for any of it, really. We’ve pitched pretty consistently all year. Offensively, I don’t think there’s a major gap to what we do.

“I know we’ve got to play better at home. I certainly would agree with that assessment.’’

The basic pitching numbers are about the same, some slightly better at the typically pitcher-friendly Trop. There is some difference in the offense, a slightly better batting average, 34 more points of OPS and a half-run more per game on the road, though it doesn’t seem dramatic enough to explain the entire discrepancy.

The Rays have looked at all of that, and plenty of data we don’t see, and say they haven’t discovered evidence more telling. “I’d love to tell you I have an answer,’’ hitting coach Chad Mottola said. “We haven’t found anything in particular.’’

Nor do the players.

“Just one of those weird quirks in baseball that you can’t explain,’’ centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said.

But there is something.

“I don’t think it’s just by chance that’s happening,’’ pitcher Charlie Morton said. “Why? I don’t think it’s lack of effort or lack of focus. I don’t think that at all. But certainly when there’s a strong trend and there’s a sample size where you can say this is actually happening, it’s happening. Why it’s happening, I don’t know.’’

So, what to do?

Take away some of the comforts of home, like the chef and nap room? Well, they’re pretty pampered on the road, too. Have Ryan Denlinger’s staff redecorate the clubhouse to change the feng shui? Try a twist on what always-creative former manager Joe Maddon did with his road-challenged Cubs recently and hang the gray road uniforms in their home lockers? Start staying in hotels before opening homestands?

“That seems a little dramatic,’’ infielder Matt Duffy said.

The Rays have to do something to regain what used to be a significant dome-field advantage, with opponents dreading coming in. And not only in their glory years, as just last season the Rays went 51-30 at home.

At their current pace, they would finish 42-39, which means if they make the playoffs, they’ll have done so the hard way. In the four years they made the postseason, they won 57, 49, 47 and 51 games at home. And if they miss out, well, they’ll know how the blame will be framed.

The Rays’ split personality

A look at the Rays’ dramatically different performance at home and on the road (MLB rank in parenthesis):

Category Home Road
Wins 31 (T16) 40 (1)
Winning percentage .517 (T16) .635 (1)
Batting average .250 (20) .258 (9)
Runs per game 4.42 (23) 4.95 (11)
Home runs per game 1.17 (22) 1.49 (13)
On base pct plus slugging pct (OPS) .741 (21) .775 (8)
ERA 3.52 (4) 3.54 (1)
Shutouts 1 (24) 6 (2)
Walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) 1.13 (3) 1.21 (2)
Save percentage 59.1 (21) 72.4 (6)
Opponents batting average .228 (3) .232 (2)
Opponents OPS .677 (3) .672 (1)
Opponents home runs per game 1.13 (3) 1.05 (T1)
Average attendance 15,280 (29) 26,119 (25)

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The answer is somewhere between why they aren’t playing better at the Trop and why they are on the road. Here are some things to consider:

• The Trop dimensions have traditionally made it a pitcher-friendly park, and the Rays are typically built to prosper there — as they are this year — with an emphasis on pitching and defense. Plus, there is usually a built-in benefit in how uncomfortable opponents (especially non-AL East once-a-year visitors) are, given the Trop’s unique combination of roof, catwalks, lighting and turf. But this has been an all-or-nothing homer-happy season across the majors, and the Rays haven’t really joined the party, ranking 20th overall in long balls, and even lower at home, 22nd in terms of homers per game.

• Certain key players, for reasons both coincidental and unexplainable, have done notably worse at the Trop, most glaringly shortstop Willy Adames. In 60 road games Adames is hitting .307 with 12 homers, 27 RBIs and a .918 OPS. In 55 home games through Friday, .179, 3, 10, .491. Also, pitcher Ryan Yarbrough, 9-1, 2.22 on the road; 2-2, 5.36 at the Trop going into Saturday’s start.

• The atmosphere and energy at the Trop is often lacking, given the small home crowds, an average of 15,280 that’s 29th in the majors. Careful with their words, several veteran players acknowledge that’s an advantage they don’t have. “I wish more fans would come; it definitely is advantageous,’’ said catcher Travis d’Arnaud. “It definitely brings adrenaline.’’ Also, outfielder Tommy Pham: “A completely fair observation. But we’re a young team and because of that we should have that ‘young’ energy.’’

Plus, as Morton said, when there are big crowds for Yankees and Red Sox games, there is as much or more support for the visitors. “Those games are difficult,’’ he said. “It certainly helps when the environment you’re playing in is positive toward you and loud toward you. There’s just a different energy in the stadium.’’

Related, there is energy to be drawn from the crowds on the road, which on average are 10,000 larger per game. The recent series in Boston felt to many Rays like a playoff atmosphere. “There’s been cases where we’ve come off huge series on the road and immediately played some lesser teams (at home) and haven’t been up for the games,’’ Mottola said. “Games where we needed to pick it up from the human side.’’

Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Ray, provides a strong counterpoint, though, noting it has been that way for a while, and just last year they won 51 home games.

• There are some built-in, shall we politely say, distractions at home with family and friends and other real-life issues that are mostly eliminated when the Rays are on the road. Maybe this is just one of those player groups where that matters more. Plus there also is a corresponding element of unity and bonding on the road, an us-against-them mentality that can create more focus. “I know a lot of guys prefer road trips for that reason,’’ Duffy said. “It’s just kind of an all-business, head-down type of thing.’’

• The Rays are a better offensive team playing elsewhere, and mostly outdoors. The extra half-run a game, the additional homers and OPS points matter. Maybe some of that is just streaky, but of their 13 highest scoring games, 10 have been on the road. And of the 21 times they’ve hit three or more homers, 14 have been on the road.

Home boys

Home records during the Rays era (since 2008):

Year Wins Losses Pct.
2008* 57 24 .704
2009 52 29 .571
2010* 49 32 .605
2011* 47 34 .580
2012 46 35 .568
2013* 51 30 .630
2014 36 45 .444
2015 42 42 .500
2016 36 45 .444
2017 42 39 .519
2018 51 30 .630
2019 + 42 39 .519

* made playoffs + projected

Tampa Bay Rays injured infielder Brandon Lowe could soon return to the lineup. DIRK SHADD | Times

Rays rumblings

Getting Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle back from injuries will be a good thing. Trying to fit them and Eric Sogard, three lefty-hitting infielders, onto the roster will be challenging unless the Rays find a way to wait until the Sept. 1 roster expansion. … One obvious benefit of the 2020 schedule: only two trips to the West Coast compared to four this year. … Among those who friendly jabbed Cash about last Sunday’s decision to pull Yarbrough one out shy of a complete-game shutout was former pitching coach Jim Hickey, who texted that he would’ve left him in. … Free agent-to-be d’Arnaud, the May pickup who has played a huge role, said he hasn’t given any thought about where he would like to play in 2020. … Of the players on the 40-man roster at the start of spring training, 12 are gone. (If you’re guessing along, it’s Christian Arroyo, Nick Ciuffo, Jake Faria, Wilmer Font, Ian Gibaut, Adam Kolarek, Joe McCarthy, Andrew Moore, Jesus Sanchez, Ryne Stanek, Andrew Velazquez, Hunter Wood.) … Former Ray Alex Cobb said his experience with Cash is that he always explains any controversial moves, which is a big plus in not alienating players. … Morton is fifth among AL Cy Young Award candidates, per The Athletic’s Cliff Corcoran, behind Justin Verlander, Shane Bieber, Gerrit Cole and Lance Lynn. Lowe was still his leading candidate for AL rookie of the year despite missing six-plus weeks. … Great to see former Devil Ray Jason Standridge, who pitched most of 2007-17 in Japan, visiting with coaching friends during Seattle trip; looks at 40 like he could still play. … Triple-A Durham on Friday is hosting “Bunch of Jerks Night” in honor of the NHL Hurricanes, who were given that name for their postgame celebrations. ... The Phillies have quite the ex-Rays factor with Drew Smyly, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, Sean Rodriguez and Corey Dickerson, plus manager Gabe Kapler and player information coordinator Sam Fuld.

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.


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