Turner for the better: Braves amazing at home
NL East leaders powered by exceptional record in Atlanta
The Braves rarely lose these days when streets named "Peachtree" are several fungoes shy of the ballpark, along with historic Stone Mountain, Ga., and their own lovely beds. In fact, the Braves win 73 percent of the time at home, which is the best mark in the Major Leagues by a bunch. Why? Well, that's a good question.
To hear Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez tell it, this is just one of those baseball things.
"You look at the course of the year, there's always something," said Gonzalez, sitting in the friendly confines of the home dugout at Turner Field. "I think a couple of years ago, we couldn't play well on Mondays for whatever reason."
Actually, Gonzalez only was partially correct. Those Monday blues for the Braves began "a couple of years ago," but their weekly jinx after the Sabbath continued through the first half of last season. The Braves eventually dropped 16 consecutive Monday games before they won on July 30, 2012. Depending on whether you believe in voodoo, the streak ended courtesy of Braves players opting to play with their pants rolled up to their knees. Though perhaps it was pure luck, or simply 13 hits and eight runs for the Braves against a struggling Marlins team.
Gonzalez thought some more about the Braves' brilliant home record, and he shrugged again.
"I remember seven or eight years ago that they always used to turn [switch-hitter] Chipper [Jones] around to one side," Gonzalez said. "That's because he was struggling from that one side, for whatever reason. [Opposing teams] spent one year doing that, but they couldn't do that anymore."
Translated: Chipper became Chipper again, meaning both a prolific left-handed and right-handed slugger.
"You just have those things happen in baseball," Gonzalez said, "and you have guys who don't do well in day games for a given year, and then it switches around. Who knows?"
Here's what we do know: According to the folks at Elias Sports Bureau, the Braves have a chance to lead the Major Leagues in home victories for just the third time since they moved to Atlanta in 1966, and guess what? Those other two times, they reached the World Series. If you're keeping score, we're talking about 1996, when they still played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and 1999. It's frequently about home-field advantage in sports, which is splendid news for these Braves.
Since the Braves have the best record in baseball -- with much help from their home success -- they obviously also own the National League's top mark. If the latter continues, they will earn home-field advantage through the NL Champtionship Series. The Braves wouldn't have such an edge during the World Series since the AL won the All-Star Game this year, but first things first.
Atlanta entered Tuesday night's game against the Mets at Turner Field with a home record of 50-19 (.725). The Reds were second to the Braves in that category at 42-23 (.646), followed by the Red Sox and the Pirates at 45-25 (.643), the Athletics at 43-25 (.632) and the Rays at 44-26 (.629).
So we're back to the question of the moment: What is this love affair with playing at home all about for the Braves?
We know it isn't the ballpark.
Turner Field's dimensions are strikingly bland. It is 335 feet down the left-field line, 330 feet down the right-field line, 401 to dead center, 380 in the alley to left and 390 to the alley in right. The 16-year-old ballpark doesn't feature anything close to the Winds of Wrigley, and there isn't a Green Monster or a slope as you approach the fences.
Not only that, Turner Field lacks a label. Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park are called pitcher-friendly ballparks, for instance, and the Dodgers and the Giants often construct their rosters accordingly. In contrast, the baseball homes of the Red Sox (Fenway Park), the Rockies (Coors Field) and the Reds (Great American Ballpark) are partisan to fly balls, which means those teams attract sluggers more often.
Then there is the quirkiness of Tropicana Field, which center fielder B.J. Upton called home for eight years before he left the Rays for the Braves after last season.
"It was a domed stadium, so you had to get used to trying to catch fly balls with the white ceiling," Upton said, and don't forget the catwalks in play. As for other unique ballparks, Upton said, "Maybe Oakland [with its vast foul territory] and San Francisco, because it's always cold and damp in the city."
No such things happening with Turner Field. Then again, after it opened in 1997, it was considered a pitchers' ballpark. But I'm guessing that was because the Braves had some guys in their rotation named Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Turner also resembled a hitter-friendly ballpark during the 2008 season, when Jones streaked to the NL batting title with a .364 average. It's just that, as a future Hall of Famer, Jones likely would have hit like that in the Grand Canyon.
"I feel like this is a really fair ballpark," said Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons. "It's not small. It's not impossible to hit a home run here. I guess when we come home, and we're playing on what is a regular field [without unique features], we have a chance. It feels comfortable."
We're getting closer to the definitive answer.
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel said, "With our team, I just feel like the way that we are set up, we score late in games. Our starters have been so good this year, and so has our bullpen. So you're scoring all of those runs late during games, and you're already a little more comfortable at home than you are on the road. And then you have the fans getting into it and things like that, and it's really worked out well for us."
Kimbrel paused, then added, "But you know, it could just be as simple as, in baseball, everybody just feels more comfortable sleeping in their own bed than in a hotel. There are a lot of variables."
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.