LOS ANGELES -- Something strange happened with ballparks in 2017. Most people think of Houston as having a mad hitter's park. It was once, back in the early 2000s, when it was still called Enron Field and in the first couple of seasons after it changed names to Minute Maid
LOS ANGELES -- Something strange happened with ballparks in 2017. Most people think of Houston as having a mad hitter's park. It was once, back in the early 2000s, when it was still called Enron Field and in the first couple of seasons after it changed names to Minute Maid Park. Over the last few years, it has become a more neutral park, which is to say it has not decisively favored hitters or pitchers.
But in the last year or two, Minute Maid Park somewhat, suddenly and defiantly turned into an extreme pitcher's park -- the most extreme, in fact, in the American League, according to Baseball Reference's ballpark factors.
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Conversely, Dodger Stadium has long been known as a great pitcher's park; this goes back to the days of Koufax and Drysdale. But in 2017, hitters actually hit better at Dodger Stadium than they did on the road.
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All of which is to say: It's baffling out there.
All of which is to say: Stadiums could be major factors in this year's World Series.
Of course, that's the storyline before every World Series, right? Yes, every year before the games begin, we write all these stories about home-field advantage, about how good it is to have Game 1 (and, potentially, Game 7) at home, about how important it is for a team to steal a road game.
Do these stories reflect anything real? Well, it depends on your point of view. It is true that since 1980, teams with home-field advantage in the World Series are 27-9, and home teams have won 61 percent of the games. So that pretty persuasively suggests home field can be a big deal, especially when you consider that until this season home-field advantage was not chosen by the team's individual records.
On the other hand, the last three World Series champions have clinched on the road -- this includes the Cubs, who last year won the last two games in Cleveland to take it all. You have to go back to 2001, that classic Series between the D-backs and Yankees, to find the last time each team won all its home games in the World Series.
So what does any of this mean for this World Series presented by YouTube TV? Who knows? But here's the thing: These Astros and Dodgers fit their ballparks well, and it could be difficult for either to break serve. Neither team has lost a home game in this postseason. Neither team has come especially close to losing a home game in this postseason. The Astros outscored the Red Sox and Yankees, 31-7, in the five games at Minute Maid Park, and their pitchers did not allow more than two runs in any game.
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The Dodgers, meanwhile, have averaged 6.5 runs a game at home and have outscored the D-backs and Cubs, 26-13, in their four postseason games at home.
This is a small sample size, but it does reflect how those teams played at home this year. During the season, the Astros' pitchers held opposing batters to a .225 average at home (30 points less than on the road) and a .388 home slugging percentage (almost 40 points less than on the road). The Astros' ERA was almost a full run better in Houston.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, uncharacteristically mashed the ball at Dodger Stadium all year. Their 115 home runs at home was a Dodger Stadium record, and their .449 home slugging percentage was the second highest since the team moved to Los Angeles.
Both teams were superb on the road, too. You don't win 100 games, as both teams did, without success on the road. The Astros actually had a slightly better record on the road through the season (they tied Cleveland for the best road record in baseball) because their incredible offense overcame their pitchers' 4.61 road ERA.
But in the postseason, when everything is magnified, when managers will use their pitching staff creatively to get every out, when each moment feels so important, it's easy to see these ballparks being weapons for each team. The Dodgers are just so comfortable at Dodger Stadium. They went 57-24 at home -- only the 1998 Yankees (62-19) have had a better home record the last 25 years.
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And those Astros pitchers at Minute Maid Park are just a different bunch. It was something to see in Games 6 and 7 of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World, when the Astros came in on the brink of elimination. The crowd was crazy -- observers say it was as loud and electrifying an atmosphere as any in recent memory -- and the Astros' pitching staff, which got beat up in New York, allowed just one run in the final 18 innings.
There will be a million analyses going in the World Series, and most of them will be rendered meaningless pretty quickly -- perhaps including this one. But keep an eye on the home park. The first visitor to break through might just win this thing.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.