By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Lloyd McClendon knows there are some things about his team that he can’t fix overnight — the offense isn’t suddenly going to be all-world, and help for that No. 5 spot in the rotation is still a ways away — and all things considered, the Mariners manager is mostly happy with what his team has done so far this season, compiling a winning record despite some obvious flaws.
But even if the Mariners will have to continue to attack teams with their “BB gun” lineup — McClendon’s words — and even if Taijuan Walker and James Paxton aren’t ready to help the rotation yet, there is one thing McClendon would like to see his team improve upon immediately.
“We need to improve our record at home,” McClendon said. “This is our house and we need to protect it. We haven’t done as good a job as we should have at home … If we can protect our home turf and play a little bit over .500 on the road, we’ll be OK.”
McClendon said those words two weeks ago in the midst of what would end up being a 6-5 home stand. Not bad, but not exactly “protecting our home turf” either. The Mariners then had a great road trip, winning six of seven, but then returned home to lose the opening game of their current home stand Tuesday, dropping their home record to 14-16.
On the flip side of that number, of course, is Seattle’s very encouraging 20-14 road mark, but as McClendon notes, struggling at home is hardly the formula for success in baseball or any other sport. Of the 12 teams either in or tied for playoff position, only the Mariners and Dodgers have losing records at home.
All things considered, this has been a very promising start to the season for the Mariners, who entered Wednesday’s game in the American League’s second wild card position, but if they’re going to stay in contention into August and September, they eventually will have to be better at Safeco Field.
“Our guys understand the urgency of playing better and protecting your home turf,” McClendon said. “If you’re going to be successful, you need to play well above .500 at home and do the best you can on the road, and right now it’s the opposite. We’re working on it.”
And if the Mariners are going to make the most of their opportunities at home, now would be a great time to do so. Beginning with Tuesday’s loss to the Yankees, the Mariners play 20 of 31 at home prior to the All-Star break. If instead of being a slightly sub-.500 team at home, the Mariners can win, say, 13 or 14 of those, they’ll have a chance to create a lot of excitement heading into the break, something the franchise hasn’t known a lot of in recent years.
“You definitely want to be good at home,” said third baseman Kyle Seager. “That’s something we talked about. If you look at all the playoff teams, they have a good home-field advantage. Our crowds have been great, so we need to pick it up for them.”
While the Mariners understand the need to improve upon their home record, nobody is freaking out about their early-season struggles, not with such a relatively small sample size of home games. Players see their home record as more of an anomaly, and are more encouraged by their road record than they are worried about their home record. And it’s probably for good reason that nobody is overly concerned. After all, even as they have struggled in recent years, the Mariners have been better at home than on the road — they’re 21 games better at Safeco than on the road over the previous five seasons.
“I haven’t really kept up with it,” outfielder Dustin Ackley said of this year’s home record. “I don’t think anybody’s like, ‘Oh, we’re on the road now, we can start winning.’ I think it’s just kind of random right now, I don’t think there’s anything to it, to be honest… I think that’s just kind of a coincidence. I don’t think there’s really much to it.”
Even McClendon, while saying his team needs to be better at home, concedes that there isn’t much of an actual home-field advantage in his sport.
“The only advantage you have is toeing the rubber that night,” he said. “…That’s what it’s all about. You can talk about momentum and strategy and home-field advantage, but it depends on who’s on that mound. That’s momentum.”
In the past there has been plenty of discussion about whether or not Safeco Field was creating a psychological disadvantage for hitters who spend 81 games a year struggling with the pitcher-friendly park. But while Safeco Field undoubtedly stifles offense — the Mariners have scored 4.7 runs per game on the road and 3.5 at home — if that were an issue in terms of wins and losses, the Mariners wouldn’t win more at home than on the road, which they have done routinely in the past.
If anything, Seattle’s road success is more encouraging than its home record is discouraging. If the Mariners are going to be a playoff contender late into the season, they’ll improve their home record not so much because they’ll be doing anything differently, but rather because things will even out if they really are a playoff-caliber team, or something close to that.
“It’s nothing special like we’re doing something wrong here at home,” said outfielder Endy Chavez. “… I don’t think we have to worry about anything; we’re playing good baseball. We have confidence and we know what we can do on the field, so there’s nothing negative in our mind like, ‘Oh, we’re at home, we’re going to lose.’
“I know we can win at home, so we’re doing the difficult part winning games away.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.