Giants looking quite at home on the road
World Series champs faring better away from AT&T Park
LOS ANGELES -- With a third sweep of the Dodgers this season, and their first at Dodger Stadium, the Giants can overtake their state rivals on Sunday night at the top of the National League West. The Dodgers have had ownership of first place for all but nine days this season.
The Giants, who come alive on the road, are clearly in their element all over the landscape. No offensive unit in the Majors is as productive on the road as the reigning and three-time World Series champions.
"I think we're good at getting on base and driving in runs," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "We're not going to be a huge power team. But we're good at what we do."
Balls were flying around and out of the Dodgers' stately park late Saturday afternoon. The home side got it started with a pair of first-inning solo home runs by Joc Pederson and Justin Turner. But that was all they would produce against Tim Hudson and a Giants bullpen that threw up a roadblock in a 6-2 victory.
Continuing a season-long dominance with their ninth win in 11 meetings with the blue crew, the Giants backed their two first-inning runs off Carlos Frias with matching two-run blasts by Justin Maxwell and Belt in the fifth and sixth innings. Both homers came on Frias changeups, a good sign for Belt.
"It shows that I'm staying back, keeping my line-drive approach," Belt said. "I can only speak for myself. It doesn't change for me whether I'm at home or on the road.
"I know it's not what people might want to hear, but I think it's a coincidence that we've hit better on the road. We just hit a rough patch the past two homestands."
The Dodgers are known for going deep, their 87 home runs trailing only the Astros and Yankees in the Major Leagues. Scoring five fewer runs overall than the Dodgers, the Giants have unloaded only 56 home runs.
On the road, whatever the reasons and formulas, they mash. The Giants rank first in the Majors away from home in all three slash-line categories: batting (.285), on-base percentage (.342) and slugging percentage (.440). They lead both leagues in road OPS (on-base plus slugging) at .783. Second are the Dodgers, at .747.
To accurately evaluate a team, the road is where all things are relatively equal. Each team plays 81 games away from home, in unfriendly circumstances. There are no advantages or disadvantages.
Just as assuredly as hitter-friendly parks inflate numbers, pitcher-friendly yards -- such as AT&T Park in San Francisco -- deflate them.
These Giants are a defining case study. That .783 road OPS shrinks to .664 at home, 27th in the Majors. Only the Padres, Phillies and White Sox have been more unproductive in their home parks.
The most extreme home/road splits on manager Bruce Bochy's troupe belong to the new leadoff man. Nori Aoki had a numb foot to show for his efforts Saturday. Frias hit him with his second pitch of the day, a fastball down and in that Aoki couldn't avoid. He scored the first run of the day but departed in favor of Maxwell, who took full advantage of the opportunity with his sixth homer.
No structural damage was found in Aoki's right leg, and Bochy called him "day to day." Nobody in the game goes against the book more than the left fielder from Japan who graced the Royals last season. He hits lefties better than righties, and he tears it up on the road.
Aoki is batting .395 with a .468 OBP on the road. In his new home park, those numbers slip to .246 and .302. His OPS on the road is .928 compared to .621 at home.
"Usually you have better numbers at home," Aoki said through a translator when asked about the discrepancy. "It's something I can't explain."
In his roadside attraction, Aoki has impessive company. Buster Posey, the team's and very possibly the game's most valuable player, hits .315 and slugs .515 on the road, contrasted with .270 and .396 at home.
Belt is a .266 hitter with a .422 slugging percentage at AT&T Park. In foreign environs those numbers rise to .274 and .540. Seven of his nine homers and 23 of his 30 RBIs have come out of the live view of the home fans.
What all this means doesn't seem to matter much to the Giants, who talk about keeping it simple and trying not to overthink things.
"The more you analyze the game," Maxwell said, "the more problems you're going to have."
The Dodgers, who didn't score a run in their most recent three-game series in San Francisco from May 19-21, are encouraged not to dwell on that 2-9 record and five consecutive losses against the Giants this season.
Don't look back, the great Satchel Paige advised us. Someone might be gaining on you.