When the Hickory Crawdads sprinted out to a 26-12 record in mid-May – the 14 games over .500 is currently the high-water mark of the 2016 season – much of that was on the back of a stellar start at home during which the team went 12-5 through May 14.
The next day, Hickory lost a 19-inning contest 9-2 to Rome (Ga.) and the squad has been in a free fall at home, going 10-20. Since taking three out of four from Lexington (Ky.) to end April and begin May, over their last nine home series Hickory has lost five and tied four others.
Conversely, the Crawdads (54-47 overall) currently have the best road record in the South Atlantic League at 32-22. Hickory returns home tonight (Thursday, July 28) on the heels of a 4-2 road trip at Delmarva (Md.) and Lakewood (N.J.).
“Actually, Me and Matos were talking about that the other day about our record on the road is better than our record at home,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz in an interview I had with him at the end of the last home stand. “Most of the time, anywhere you’re at, that’s different. I really don’t know.”
Looking at the home-road split for the Crawdads as a team, the lineup has struggled to take advantage of the comforts of L.P. Frans Stadium, which is considered a park that is friendly to hitters. As a team, the Crawdads have slugged just 29 homers over 47 homes games, compared to 38 over 54 road games. On the road, the team has 154 extra-base hits to just 104 at home. The home slash is .247/.317/.357 compared to .252/.322/387 away from L.P. Frans Stadium.
While the offense hasn’t taken advantage of its home park, the friendly hitting confines have taken a bite out of the pitching staff numbers. SAL hitters have bashed the Crawdads hurlers to a .265 average at home, .258 on the road. One number that jumps out is homers allowed – 42 at home to just 27 on the road. Six of the eight shutouts tossed by Hickory this season have come at road ballparks.
One thing to consider is that home teams generally do their development work at home. Major league clubs send their rovers to Hickory during home stands in order to put the time in to help players with a particular skill, etc. While Mintz says that while the work could have an effect, it’s work that has to be done.
“Hopefully, it’s going to pan out by the end of the year,” said Mintz. “We want these guys to be better. Honestly, we’d love to win, but first and foremost, we’ve got to teach these guys how to play it right. With the young group that we’ve got, that’s a big chore that’s we’ve got here. We’re up for it, but I can’t answer the home and away thing.”
The Crawdads open tonight’s homestand with a four-game series against Hagerstown (Md.), followed by a three-game set against Delmarva. For several reasons, the upcoming seven games could have a bearing on the Crawdads playoff chances.
The Crawdads open the series with the Suns in fourth place, but only 2.5 games behind Hagerstown in the Northern Division’s second-half standings. Hagerstown already clinched a playoff spot by winning the first half and should it win the second half, the team with the next best overall record would claim a wildcard spot. In that race, Hickory is two games behind Greensboro and one behind Delmarva.
After this home stand, the Crawdads will have just a few chances to take care of business themselves, as Hickory will have just eight games left against Northern Division foes – all on the road. Four of those games are at Greensboro.