Home field advantage is sometimes an overused cliché in sports. How much a home crowd affects the actual outcome of a game is hard to quantify.
But baseball can be separated from other major sports in that all ballparks have different dimensions. And with 81 games over the course of a regular season, major league ballplayers can get used to the way their home field plays.
The way the outfield fence curves. The way the foul line walls angle. The way the wind blows in and the sun shines.
Even though it’s not always the case, you would figure most teams would have more success at home than on the road.
Not these 2022 Nationals, now a little over a month into their season.
After yesterday’s loss to the Mets, the Nats are 4-13 at home while being outscored by their opponents 80-42. Over the first five home series, they are 0-4-1, with the one tie coming in a four-game series against the Diamondbacks three weeks ago in which they won the first two games before dropping the last two.
The 42 runs scored at home are the fewest in the National League and the Nats' total ranks 27th in the majors. The 80 runs allowed at home rank third in the NL (behind only the Reds and Braves) and fourth in the majors.
Manager Davey Martinez, ever one to stay in the present, still takes his usual day-by-day approach to the season. But he still admits his team’s lack of success on South Capitol Street is something that’s been discussed.
“Oh, yeah. You know, as I always say, our focus is on today and going 1-0 today,” Martinez said during Thursday’s pregame media session on the heels of Wednesday's 8-3 win over the Mets. “But, I mean, we definitely got to play better at home. You know, it's something that we talked about, something I talked about with the coaches. And yesterday, we played well. And there were some games here that I thought we played well; we just didn't finish the game. So now it's an opportunity to keep going and trying to finish those games on top. But we definitely got to play a lot better at home. And yesterday was a good sign.”
That sign didn’t reappear Thursday afternoon. With a chance to win their first home series of the season, the Nationals put up another dud at home in the form of a 4-1 loss.
With those kinds of results at home, one might just chalk it up to being a bad team. And while the Nationals don’t have high competitive expectations this year, they do have some good pieces with which to compete. It’s just that those pieces are actually playing better on the road.
The Nationals are 7-9 away from Washington, D.C., outscoring their opponents 94-86. On the road, the offense is slashing .301/.369/.428 with a .797 OPS, all leading or at least second in the major leagues. At home, the bats are slashing .200/.257/.304 with a .561 OPS, all close to the bottom of the major league ranks.
Is there any noticeable difference with the players when they’re at home versus when they’re on the road?
“The energy is the same. It really is,” Martinez said. “Look, we were down (Wednesday) from the first inning 3-0. And it didn't bother them a bit. They came back and they had great at-bats. Our middle of the lineup did the job (Wednesday), and we hit a couple of good home runs (Wednesday). So we got to continue to do that.
“For me, it's just doing the little things. The errors. I hate bringing it up because I bring it up all the time. But when we limit our mistakes, we're really good. And I think they understand that. And we harp on it every day. So we just got to limit our mistakes. (Wednesday), we talked about we didn't walk anybody. And when we do that, we're pretty good. So now it's like I said, just make the routine plays. Don't give teams 28, 29, 30 outs, and we'll be in good shape.”
The Nationals have made 11 errors over their home games, while their pitchers have issued 65 walks (second-most in the NL) and hit 14 batters (most in the NL).
While the Nats look to clean up at home, they’ll get another chance to win their first home series as they welcome the Astros back to D.C. for the first time since the 2019 World Series. Yet another tough opponent that is in first place at 20-11 (11-7 on the road) and riding a nine-game win streak.
“It's just mentality. I mean the game is not easy,” Josh Bell said after Thursday’s loss. “You know the guy on the bump is paid to get us out. But we know that if we can get things rolling, especially early, things can kind of tumble, snowfall for us. So if we can get the bats going early … and we can answer and respond, then good things happen. But it starts tomorrow with the 'Stros.”