After a tough start to their season thanks to a treacherous schedule, the Denver Nuggets have won eight straight games. They have taken the Western Conference by storm and they are now an impressive 32-18 on the season. They are in hot pursuit of a top 4 and possibly a top 3 seed for the playoffs.
Back to that aforementioned “tough start.” Do you know what the Nuggets’ record was when they were considered something of a disappointment? On December 12th their record stood at 11-12. On Christmas day they were 15-14. Of those first 29 games, 20 were played on the road. Now that they have played a number of games at home, the team has heated up and reached something closer to their expectations for the season.
At the moment the Nuggets’ road record is actually below .500 at 10-15. Still, they have survived so far and should be able to coax that up to .500 by season’s end. Their home record? 22-3.
So when the Nuggets were off to their “average” start, it was actually just part of the plan. Play .500 basketball on the road and do serious damage at home. It is easier to see the math play out with an imbalanced schedule like the Nuggets have this season. They were not off to a disappointing start. They were right on track.
This is the model for the Colorado Rockies to succeed.
People overrate the distinctiveness of the Colorado home field advantage, but it exists nevertheless. The altitude creates an extra wrinkle to which visiting teams must adjust in a short period of time. Good Colorado teams take full advantage of that and make opponents dread trips to the Mile High City.
In a way that has always been the case for the Rockies. Even some of the most mediocre teams in the franchise’s history have done damage at home thanks to gaudy offensive numbers. The problem was, their ineptitude on the road was so exaggerated that their home record didn’t matter.
Interestingly enough the onus to put this blueprint into action falls largely on the offense. A strong lineup can cover up the holes in an unimpressive pitching staff and lead to a string of victories at altitude. Do you associate LoDo magic with great, lock-down pitching? Certainly not. The team will still need improved pitching at home…you know, something that at least approaches competence. But in the end, home field dominance is about the bats.
The ability to play .500 ball away from also falls largely on the offense. The pitchers tend to improve, taking advantage of the tangible and psychological advantages of getting away from Coors Field. Meanwhile, Colorado hitters have become famous for their exaggerated home/road splits. Those splits have been cause for national writers to devalue the accomplishments of Rockies hitters since day one of the franchise’s existence. The perception of Colorado hitters will keep Larry Walker out of the Hall of Fame. It cost Matt Holliday the 2007 MVP award. It has caused people to question Carlos Gonzalez‘s status as a true superstar in this league. It may have diminished interest in Dexter Fowler as a target of trade discussions. Exaggerated though the reaction may be, the facts are there. The Rockies do not hit enough on the road, and they never have.
If the Rockies are going to follow the Colorado recipe for success, their deep lineup will be the key to success. They need to mash at home and, more importantly, they need to level out those bad home/road splits. That is the best chance for the Rockies to play .500 on the road, dominate at home, and dig out of the bottom of the National League West. That is the best chance for them to follow the example set by the Denver Nuggets.