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Excellent at home, Orioles must maintain momentum on the road

The Orioles reluctantly packed up for a long road trip on Sunday and left the friendly confines of Camden Yards, where they have piled up more home victories than any other major league team and own the sport's second-best home winning percentage.

It didn't hurt that they took advantage of a couple of soft opponents to close out their recent homestand with a five-game winning streak or that they have played more home games than any other team, but winning more than 70 percent of your home games (31-13) through the first three months of the season is pretty good under any circumstance.

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Now, they need to maintain that momentum on the road, where they — not surprisingly — have played the fewest games of any major league team and have not fared nearly so well. They arrived in San Diego to begin a two-game series on Tuesday night just 14-17 away from Oriole Park.

So, this nine-game trip will rebalance their schedule and determine whether they improve on the 4 ½-game division lead they bulked up at the end of last week or send the competitive pendulum swinging back the other way.

Not that the just-completed homestand was a particularly cushy stretch of games. The Orioles had to make up two rainouts, the first requiring a one-day road trip to Texas on Monday and the other requiring the O's to play a split doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.

Manager Buck Showalter sought to soften the three-stop swing through San Diego, Seattle and Los Angeles (Dodgers) by leaving for California right after Sunday's game to give the team a full day off on Monday to adjust to the three-hour time difference.

Showalter has pointed out on a number of occasions the odd configuration of this year's schedule, which eases up considerably after the Orioles return from Los Angeles next Wednesday. The combination of off days and the four-day All-Star break will give the players (other than the All-Star participants) five days off over an eight-day span that includes three home games against the struggling Angels. But those will be the only home games between now and July 22.

Almost everybody cools off to some degree on the road. Going into Tuesday's games, only three American League teams — all of them in the AL West — have a better winning percentage on the road than at home. The Orioles have the league's second-widest disparity (behind the Kansas City Royals), but their home-road splits do not suggest that they are a decidedly poorer-performing team away from Oriole Park.

There is a significant scoring differential. The Orioles offense has averaged 5.3 runs per game at home and 4.6 on the road, but the Orioles actually have averaged more hits on the road (9.3) than at home (9.2) and more home runs in other ballparks (1.7) than at Camden Yards (1.5). Because a high percentage of their runs result from homers, the counterintuitive home/road divergence between runs and home runs would seem to be a statistical anomaly.

The pitching splits are more consistent. The Orioles have posted a 3.93 team ERA in their 44 home games and entered Tuesday with a 4.55 ERA on the road. The rest of the team pitching line, however, is fairly even. The hits per innings pitched and strikeout-walk ratios are only slightly better for the Orioles at home than away and the team WHIP is identical (1.39).

What does all this mean? Well, it could be a sign that the Orioles are going to have a tough month while the road stats — which are taken from a much smaller overall sample — rebalance along more predictable lines. Or, it could mean that the Orioles actually are configured in a way that makes them less susceptible to the traditional disadvantage of playing on the road.

If you want some reason to think the latter, consider that if you take away that awful seven-day stretch in May when the Orioles struck out 52 times in a three-game series at Houston and lost five of seven road games while infield captain J.J. Hardy and starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo were on the disabled list, they've been a decent road team.

Of course, all the games count and you can prove anything you want by manipulating statistics, so you won't find anyone in the Orioles clubhouse getting too caught up in the significance of the club's home-road splits.

"The schedule is the schedule,'' center fielder Adam Jones said. "We're professionals. We just do what we've got to do. … Whenever our number is called to go play, we just go play."

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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