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SF Giants running out of time to solve road woes, salvage playoff hopes

SF Giants running out of time to solve road woes, salvage playoff hopes

PHOENIX — There’s an old adage that is often applied across sports. Win half your road games, take care of business at home, and you’ve got yourself a playoff team.

The San Francisco Giants have fulfilled half that equation.

They are 43-32 at Oracle Park but just 33-42 away from the shores of McCovey Cove, and after dropping three of four at Coors Field over the weekend, have won only five of their previous 28 road games, a .179 winning percentage. Dating back almost to the All-Star break, no team has been worse away from home, a stretch of futility made only more perplexing given their 17-10 record at home during the same time.

“I saw that stat,” outfielder Austin Slater said, “and honestly, I started laughing a little bit. I thought it was encouraging how close we were and how bad we’ve been on the road. … I believe in the law of averages. If we’ve been that bad recently, it’s bound to swing back our way at some point. Because that’s not the kind of team we are. We’re much better than that.”

With 12 games to go, they are still in striking distance. But there is only so much time to correct course.

A strong finish over their final six on the road, starting Tuesday with two in Arizona against a team 2½ games up in the wild card standings, could make it all a moot point. But, if they fail to make up that ground, it will be just as easy to point to their second-half road struggles as their missed opportunities against the worst teams in the majors (37-34 vs. clubs below .500) or with their ace, Logan Webb, on the mound (12-14 in his starts, entering Tuesday).

“It’s simple, right? We’re just not playing good enough on the road,” manager Gabe Kapler said after his club was swept during its doubleheader in Colorado. “I don’t think there’s any one thing to point to. It’s a team effort. We’re not playing good enough as a team.”

Digging into the numbers, though, the Giants play like a different team away from their pitcher-friendly home confines.

The offense has been anemic since the end of June, but that has been universal across parks. No matter the venue, they’ve been among majors’ worst group of hitters in most statistical categories.

At home, they’ve survived with some of the best pitching in the majors. On the road, that same group of pitchers has been among the least effective in the league.

“It’s been largely the same people, the same teams,” said reliever John Brebbia, who, for example, has a 2.45 ERA at home this year vs. 4.11 on the road and was as befuddled as anyone else. “As much as I love pitching at Oracle, I don’t feel like a different person on the road versus at home. Maybe some people do, but I haven’t heard that.”

In 27 home games since the All-Star break, Giants pitchers have posted a 3.02 ERA, the second-best mark in the majors. They rank in the top six league-wide in FIP (3.30, 2nd), home run prevention (0.8 per nine innings, 1st), limiting walks (5.5% rate, 1st) and batting average against (.228, 6th).

In 28 games away from home, their pitchers have a 5.58 ERA, third-worst in the majors. The rate at which they allow home run is almost double (1.5 per nine, 23rd) and opponents’ batting average is more than 60 points higher (.291, 29th).

The Giants, simply, have been worse at converting batted balls into outs away from home. Opponents have hit .333 on balls in play on the road versus .276 at home.

“For some reason we just haven’t been scoring a whole lot of runs on the road. Pitching’s been better than our offense but I think we’ve been allowing extra outs,” Slater said. “That’s been killing us a lot. Just not really executing the little things of the game. I think that’s more just the last couple months. It seems to be highlighted on the road for whatever reason.”

Both their top starters have expressed an affinity for pitching at Oracle Park, and that sentiment is reflected in the numbers.

Alex Cobb is 5-2 with a 1.92 ERA in 12 starts at home, versus 2-4 with a 5.26 ERA in 15 road starts. Webb’s splits are similarly lopsided: 6-6 with a 2.37 ERA in 15 home starts, 4-6 with a 4.30 ERA in 16 road starts.

“I really do enjoy pitching (at Oracle Park),” Cobb said earlier this season. “I’ve always enjoyed wherever my home ballpark is, to pitch at home. You just have a better routine going into the day. You’re sleeping in your bed. You know where you’re going to eat. The time you get to the field. Things are just easier. You just always have that ability to have a mental outlook or a visual of what you’re going to get into on the mound because you’re used to throwing there.”

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Said Webb, “For me, I have family and friends (at Oracle Park) all the time. Maybe that has something to do with it. I think it’s one of the more pitcher-friendly parks. There’s an added boost anytime you get the crowd involved. I couldn’t explain to you why that happens. I wish I pitched better on the road to be honest with you.”

But, then again, isn’t this the same team that rattled off 10 straight wins in June, six coming on an undefeated road trip through St. Louis and Dodger Stadium? A roster largely unchanged from the one that began the second half with five straight wins in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati?

Until their current stretch began on July 19, with a 3-2 loss in their third of four games against the Reds, the Giants’ owned the third-best road record in the majors, at 28-19. They were 54-41 overall, in top wild card position. Now, they’re staring down an early offseason if recent trends continue.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s on the road or at home,” Slater said. “We just have to start playing better ball.”