Perez zeroes in without dominating

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
11:14
PM ET

Martin Perez has excelled versus everyone in this three-start run.
Rangers lefty Martin Perez isn’t necessarily a dominant pitcher, but he’s finding ways to get through starts without allowing any runs.
Martin Perez
Perez
Perez pitched his second straight shutout in beating the Athletics and has now thrown 26 straight scoreless innings over his last three starts.

He’s the first pitcher to throw consecutive shutouts since Cole Hamels in 2012 and the first Rangers pitcher to do so since Derek Holland in 2011. He’s the fourth pitcher in franchise history to throw eight or more scoreless innings in three straight starts, the first since Charlie Hough in 1983.

How he did it
Perez has not overpowered opposing hitters. He has 13 strikeouts in his last three starts, with three in this game and two in the 1-0 win over the Astros on April 13.

But when he gets two strikes, he’s made things difficult. Opponents are 1 for 36 with two strikes against him. Key to that has been pitch location. Sixty nine of his 84 two-strike pitches have been in the lower-half of the strike zone or below.

With that, Perez has made excellent offspeed pitches. Opponents are 2 for 30 in at-bats ending in a changeup, curveball or slider (1 for 20 against the changeup).

Perez has also been perfect when it comes to avoiding tough situations. Opponents are 0 for 23 against him with runners on base.

Looking ahead
In his next start, Perez will try to be the first pitcher to throw three straight shutouts since Cliff Lee in 2011. He could also be the first pitcher to throw four straight starts of eight or more scoreless innings since Orel Hershiser set the scoreless inning record with six straight such starts in 1988.

That game should come against the Athletics, whom the Rangers will host from April 28 to 30. Perez has allowed four earned runs in 22 1/3 innings in his last three starts against them, including Wednesday's shutout.

Top stats to know: 2014 NFL schedule

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
8:34
PM ET

Jennifer Stewart/Getty ImagesThe 2014 NFL season will culminate at Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Sure it is April, but the 2014 NFL schedule has been released and that means it is time to get ready for a season full of intriguing matchups.

From high-profile veterans facing their former teams, to the 16th meeting between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, here is a look at some of the early highlights of the 2014 season:

Reunion games
DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith, Chris Johnson, Darrelle Revis, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers.

Those are just a handful of veterans released during the off-season who will have a chance to play against their former teams in 2014.

After a career year in 2013, Jackson was released by the Eagles this off-season. He will face the Eagles twice this season (Week 3 in Philadelphia and Week 16 in Washington).

Smith, the Panthers career leader in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards, promised there would be "blood and guts everywhere" if he faced the Panthers in 2014 after being released by the team in March. As a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Smith will get a crack at the Panthers on Sept. 28 in Baltimore.

Johnson only joined the Jets a little more than a week ago, but he's already slated for a Tennessee reunion. Johnson and the Jets will travel to Tennessee Week 15 to take on the Titans. Johnson has posted six straight 1,000-yard seasons, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Allen signed a 4-year deal with the Bears at the end of March after spending six seasons in Minnesota. Allen led the NFL with 85.5 sacks during his Vikings tenure. Allen will face the Vikings twice this season (Week 11 and Week 17).

Peppers is now on the other side of the NFL's most-played rivalry after signing a three-year deal with the Packers in March just days after being released by the Bears. Peppers totaled 38 sacks in his four seasons in Chicago and made three Pro Bowls.

And a college reunion
Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles will play the NFC West this season as part of the standard division rotation.

Kelly will have the opportunity to coach against former Pac-10 coaching rivals Pete Carroll (USC) and Jim Harbaugh (Stanford). As a head coach, Kelly was a combined 2-1 against Carroll and Harbaugh with a win over each.

Kelly and the Eagles will also travel to Indianapolis in Week 2 for a Monday Night Football showdown against former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Kelly's Oregon teams were 2-1 against Stanford during Andrew Luck's collegiate career.

Top games
On Nov. 2, Manning and Brady will meet for the 16th time, including the playoffs, tied for the most between any pair of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.

Manning will also face his former team for the second time as the Broncos will host the Colts to open their season. Manning and the Broncos lost to the Colts 39-33 in 2013.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks in the 2012 draft, will meet for the first time in Week 13. In their young careers, Griffin III is 12-16, while Luck is 22-10.

A rematch of last year's Super Bowl, Broncos-Seahawks, will also take place this season. The Seahawks' 35-point margin of victory in the Super Bowl is tied for the third largest in NFL history.

Top stats to know: Yankees at Red Sox

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
1:03
PM ET
The New York Yankees visit Fenway Park to take on the Boston Red Sox Wednesday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

This matchup features one of the league's hottest pitchers (Michael Pineda) against one that has struggled mightily (John Lackey).

Pineda has been great
Pineda has allowed two runs in 18 innings in his three starts this season, including a win over the Red Sox on April 10, in which he allowed one run in six innings.

Pineda is the first pitcher to allow one run or fewer and pitch at least six innings in each of his first three games with the Yankees since Kevin Brown in 2004. The only pitcher in the last 100 years to do so in his first four starts with the Yankees was Tommy John in 1979.



Pineda is succeeding because of an effective slider, a pitch that has netted nine of his 15 strikeouts. He’s thrown the pitch for strikes at a 73 percent rate.

Pineda has a 6.97 ERA in two career starts vs Red Sox, his highest ERA versus any team he's faced more than once.

Lackey struggling
Lackey has a 5.25 ERA through 4 starts this season after posting a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts last year.

So what’s happened?

For starters, hitters have crushed his pitches on the outer-third or further of the plate this season, an area where Lackey thrived last year. The difference is noted in the chart on the right.

He’s given up two opposite field home runs so far this year. He gave up four such home runs all of last season.

He’s also really struggled to get righties out this season. They’re hitting .368 and slugging .526 against him in 2014 after hitting .258 with a .463 slugging percentage in 2013.




Defensive struggle for the Captain
Derek Jeter has not fared well according to defensive runs saved. He's got -6 defensive runs saved since the start of last season.

Jeter has posted negative defensive runs saved in 11 of the 12 seasons the stat has been kept, starting in 2003.

In eight of those 11 seasons he has cost his team more than 10 runs defensively. In fact, since the stat was first kept in 2003, only two players have cost their teams more runs defensively than Jeter has.

Should the Sox be worried?
The Red Sox sit at 9-12 this season. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that Boston has never made the playoffs when starting under .500 in their first 20 games.

One area of concern for Boston has been in the leadoff spot. Red Sox leadoff hitters are batting .182, ranked 29th in the league. The Red Sox have had five different players start in the top spot in the order. Grady Sizemore has had the most leadoff plate appearances for Boston, but is hitting just .088 in that spot.

Last season the Red Sox were one of the best clutch teams in baseball. But it's been a different story so far this year.

Boston is batting .226 with runners on, ranked 25th in baseball. With runners in scoring position, the Red Sox are batting .207, ranked 27th. Last season Boston ranked 3rd in both of those categories.

Fernandez brings his best to the table

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
11:07
PM ET


Baseball Tonight picked a good day to debate who the best pitcher in baseball is.

Jose Fernandez left little reason to vote for anyone other than him.

Fernandez finished with 14 strikeouts and no walks in a 1-0 win, the second pitcher ever to have such a line against the Atlanta Braves. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the other was Nap Rucker in a no-hitter for the Brooklyn Dodgers (then known as Superbas) in 1908.

Fernandez became the fifth pitcher in the Divisional Era (since 1969) with a pair of 14-strikeout games before turning 22. The others are Dwight Gooden (5), Jose Rijo (2), Frank Tanana (2) and Kerry Wood (2).

How he dominated
Fernandez had a devastating breaking ball, one that netted him 11 strikeouts, nine of which were swinging.

Fernandez’s fastball averaged 96.1 mph, the third fastest average in a game in his career.

He finished with 26 swings-and-misses, four more than any other game he’s pitched in his career.

Making his case
Fernandez has a 2.16 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 33 starts since the start of last season. The only pitcher to rate better in those stats is Clayton Kershaw, who is currently on the disabled list.

However Fernandez's opponents' batting average in that span is .184, 11 points better than Kershaw's, and his opponents' OPS against (.522) trails Kershaw's by only three points.

On the other side
Alex Wood threw 8 innings for the Braves, gave up 1 run and got the loss. It was his second straight loss allowing one run in eight innings or more.

He’s the first pitcher to have two straight such starts in a row since Mike Norris of the 1980 Athletics and the first in the National League since Tom Seaver for the 1973 Mets.

Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Night
Fernandez (age 21) and Wood (age 23) both had at least 11 strikeouts.

This is the second time since 1900 that two pitchers age 23 or younger both had at least 11 strikeouts in the same game.

The other game was on July 31, 1901, when the Reds' Noodles Hahn (age 22) had 11 and the Cubs' Long Tom Hughes (age 22) had 15.

Fernandez is the fifth-youngest pitcher to have a 14-strikeout, no-walk game in the Modern Era (since 1900), the youngest since Kerry Wood had his 20-strikeout, no-walk game against the Houston Astros in 1998.

The teams combined for 28 strikeouts and no walks. This is the first time in the modern era that two teams combined for at least 28 strikeouts and no walks in a game.

Pujols joins 500-homer club distinctly

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
10:32
PM ET
Albert Pujols has done many distinct things in his baseball career, so it’s no surprise that his 500th career home run was done in a one-of-a-kind fashion.

Pujols became the first player to hit his 499th and 500th career home runs in the same game. The Elias Sports Bureau noted that two players hit their 500th and 501st home runs in the same game -- Mark McGwire and Harmon Killebrew.

Pujols is also the fourth player to hit his 499th and 500th home run within a span of three at-bats or fewer, along with Ted Williams, McGwire and Willie Mays.

The 34-year-old Pujols is the third-youngest player to join the 500-home run club, which now numbers 26 members. He trails then-32-year-olds Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx.

Pujols is the fourth player to reach 500 home runs within his first 14 seasons, along with McGwire, Rodriguez and Mays.

Pujols is also the fourth player born outside the United States to hit 500 home runs, joining Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez.

He is the second player to hit his 500th career home run as a member of the Angels, joining Reggie Jackson on Sept. 17, 1984.

Pujols entered the day with a career batting average of .321. Only three members of the 500-homer club have hit for a higher average: Williams (.344), Babe Ruth (.342) and Foxx (.325).

This wasn’t the first milestone home run he hit at Nationals Park. He also hit his 400th career home run there against Jordan Zimmermann.

Pujols now has eight home runs in 2014, his most before the end of April since hitting eight in 2009. He's hit more than eight by the end of April only once (2006, when he had 14).

Getting his swing back
Pujols' 500th home run went 430 feet, his longest of the season (and longest since June 21, 2013, a 448-footer off Gerrit Cole). It came on a fastball at the top of the strike zone.

Pujols has four home runs on 35 swings against pitches in the upper-third of the strike zone or above. He had six home runs on 226 such swings last season.

Gruden's QB camp: Blake Bortles

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
10:49
AM ET

After leading UCF to a 12-1 record and an impressive Tostitos Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor, Blake Bortles has become one of the hottest names in the 2014 NFL draft.

Scouts Inc. lists him as the top quarterback prospect available, but is Bortles worthy of the hype? ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden will meet with Bortles in Gruden’s "QB Camp" show (airing Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) to try to find out. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of what makes Bortles such an interesting prospect to evaluate.

Physical Attributes
At 6-foot-5, 232 pounds, Bortles has prototypical size for the position. Since 2006, the average first-round quarterback has measured 6-4, 232 pounds. His top-end size has helped him remain durable throughout his career (never missing a start).

For a large quarterback, he has shown mobility throughout his career. At the Fiesta Bowl, he ran for a career-high 93 yards on eight rushes.

That combination of size and mobility also makes him a difficult matchup in the red zone. Bortles rushed for 13 red zone touchdowns the past two seasons.

Greatest Strength -- Handling Pressure
Bortles’ physical attributes help him handle the opposing pass rush effectively. He has the frame to absorb hits and the athleticism to scramble away from pressure. But perhaps most importantly, he maintains his composure to make accurate passes under pressure.

No BCS automatic qualifying quarterback threw for more yards when being hurried or knocked down last season, and he ranked near the top in completion percentage and yards per attempt.

He is especially good when able to keep his feet planted under pressure, completing 57.9 percent of those attempts, a 16 percent increase over when his feet are moving.

Another area he excels at when under pressure is keeping his eyes downfield. He was 13 of 22 (59.1 percent) on passes traveling at least 15 yards downfield when under pressure, the most completions by any AQ quarterback.

Needs Improvement -- Consistency
Although Bortles often looks the part of a franchise quarterback, he isn’t always consistent. On short passes (within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage), he completed just 62.2 percent of his attempts. The only quarterback in the Scouts Inc. top 10 with a lower percentage was Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech.

From game to game, Bortles was also more inconsistent than most other draft hopefuls. On the bright side, he posted four games with a QBR of 94 or higher last season, tied for most among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts.

However, he also had two games with a QBR below 30, which came against teams that went a combined 5-19 last season (Memphis and South Florida).

By comparison, fellow highly rated quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron did not have any games with a QBR below 30.

Bortles also didn’t play the highest-caliber schedule in college, with just five games against teams that ranked in the top 30 in opponents’ QBR the past two seasons, including only one in conference play (Louisville).

On Tuesday night, watch Gruden break down the tape with Bortles, examining these areas and more.

Gruden's QB camp: Tajh Boyd

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
9:42
AM ET

Robert Mayer/USA Today SportsTajh Boyd brings multiple skills to the quarterback position.

Tajh Boyd entered last season as a Heisman contender, but his stock took a hit following Clemson's 37-point loss to Florida State in October, and his poor showing in the Senior Bowl (7 for 61, 31 yards, interception) didn’t help.

He bounced back with a strong pro day in early March and, though he is not ranked in the top 10 QB prospects according to Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay, he has impressed NFL scouts and could be a late-round pick in the draft.

In preparation for Jon Gruden’s QB Camp show with Boyd, below is an in-depth breakdown of Boyd’s greatest strength, his main area of improvement in 2013 and a cause for concern.

Greatest strength: Arm strength
Over the last two seasons, no other quarterback from a BCS-AQ school has more 30-yard completions than Boyd. And it's not just the high volume of long passes that Boyd throws; he is also the most accurate passer on deep balls of any BCS-AQ quarterback since 2012.

His accuracy might even be understated by those numbers in the chart to the right. Of his 29 incompletions on throws of 20 or more yards downfield last season, three were dropped by the receiver and six in total were deemed "catchable passes" by STATS LLC.

Boyd is able to make these deep throws even when facing pressure. Over the last two seasons, his 24 completions of at least 30 yards when facing the blitz are six more than any other BCS-AQ quarterback.

Biggest improvement: Passing outside the pocket
Boyd is an above-average athlete who has shown the ability to escape the pocket and run since his first season as a starter in 2011. He averaged 12 rushes per game and ran for more than 1,110 yards during his sophomore, junior and senior campaigns combined.

Yet in 2012, he struggled when passing outside the pocket, completing 47 percent of his throws. Although he led a game-winning drive against LSU in the Chick-fil-a Bowl that season, he completed just 1 of 5 passes outside the pocket for seven yards in the game.

Last season he improved his completion percentage when passing outside the pocket to 55 percent, ranking among the top 10 BCS-AQ quarterbacks with at least 50 such throws. He was impressive in the Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, completing 3 of 6 passes outside the pocket, including two touchdowns.

Biggest concern: Not prototypical NFL QB
Although he was productive in college, Boyd's below-average height is one reason he is not ranked among the elite quarterbacks. Only five quarterbacks 6-foot-1 or shorter threw at least 100 passes in the NFL last season – though two of them were Drew Brees and Super Bowl champ Russell Wilson.

There is also concern about his ability to adapt to a pro-style offense after playing in a wide-open scheme at Clemson. Since 2011, no BCS-AQ quarterback threw more passes or had more completions from a shotgun or pistol formation than Boyd.
Tags:

NFL, Tajh Boyd

Gruden's QB camp: Teddy Bridgewater

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
12:59
AM ET

Entering the 2013 college football season, Teddy Bridgewater was the consensus No. 1 quarterback prospect and a likely top-2 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

After Bridgewater's shaky pro day and below-average combine measurements, questions emerged about whether he should be the first quarterback taken off the board.

In preparation for ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden’s "QB Camp" show with Bridgewater (airing Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN), here is an in-depth breakdown of Bridgewater’s greatest strengths and causes for concern when evaluating him as a pro prospect.

Greatest strengths:

1. Accuracy:
Bridgewater completed 71 percent of his passes last season, the highest completion percentage of any qualified AQ quarterback. He was not just throwing short passes and screens; Bridgewater’s average pass traveled 9.5 yards past the line of scrimmage, which is a full yard and a half farther than the AQ average and longer than any qualified NFL quarterback last season.

Bridgewater was at his best on short-to-intermediate passes. On passes thrown between 5 and 15 yards downfield, Bridgewater completed 77.2 percent, best of any AQ player in a single season since 2011. Such accuracy allowed Louisville’s receivers to make plays after the catch. The Cardinals led the American Athletic Conference in yards gained after the catch on these intermediate passes.

As a result of his pinpoint accuracy, Bridgewater had just four interceptions in 427 passing attempts last season. Only four FBS players had a lower interception rate than Bridgewater’s.

2. Poise under pressure
Bridgewater’s completion percentage when under duress was 53.5 percent, third-best among AQ quarterbacks. To put that into perspective, the average completion percentage in such situations was 35 percent.

Sending extra pass-rushers did not faze Bridgewater. He ranked second among AQ quarterbacks in completion percentage when blitzed (70.1 percent) and threw 15 touchdowns and just one interception when facing five or more pass-rushers.

According to Todd McShay: “No QB in this draft shows on tape a better understanding of his offense and how to read defenses and blitzes than Bridgewater.”

Concerns:

1. Size/measurables:
Bridgewater measured in at 6-foot-2, 214 pounds at the NFL combine. At his pro day, he was six pounds lighter, at 208 pounds.

There are only five active NFL quarterbacks who are listed at 208 pounds or lighter. Of those five, only Seattle's Russell Wilson is a starter.

Bridgewater also has the smallest hands (9.25 inches) measured of any of the top QB prospects. There have been 39 quarterbacks since 2008 who have had a hand size of 9.25 inches or smaller at the NFL combine. Of those players, only 18 percent have started half of an NFL season (eight games) and none has made the Pro Bowl.

In comparison, of the 36 players with a hand size larger than or equal to Johnny Manziel’s (9.88 inches) since 2008, 31 percent started at least eight NFL games and four have already made the Pro Bowl.

Given Bridgewater’s below-average hand size and his lack of experience in cold temperatures (he did not start a single game in freezing temperatures while at Louisville), teams may question his ability to grip the football in cold weather.

2. Downfield passing
After Bridgewater’s pro day, questions emerged about his accuracy and velocity on downfield passes.

Bridgewater’s statistics in his final college season confirm the scouts' concerns. He completed 39.1 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or farther downfield, the second-lowest percentage of the top 10 QB prospects ranked by Scouts Inc.

The issue is arm strength. As noted above, Bridgewater is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the nation on intermediate passes, but when he has to throw it farther downfield, the ball tends to hang in the air.

Tune in Tuesday night at 9 as Gruden takes a closer look at Bridgewater’s downfield accuracy and pro potential.

Inside the box score: Reds vs. Pirates

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
12:07
AM ET
Monday’s matchup between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates was a wild, evenly played contest with a host of dramatic moments befitting a playoff-worthy game, so let’s give it a playoff-worthy breakdown.

McCutchen is clutch
Andrew McCutchen had three hits and two walks and hit a game-tying homer in the eighth inning against Reds reliever Manny Parra. It marked the first time that McCutchen hit a game-tying home run that late in a game.

Walker is too
Neil Walker had his second straight three-hit game. His walk-off hit was the second of his career, both of which have come this season. The other was a home run on Opening Day.

Walker’s hit was just out of the reach of Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. Phillips has ranked in the top 10 among second basemen in Defensive Runs Saved in five of the last six seasons.

Inside the at-bat: Davis’ grand slam
Eduardo Perez pointed out on Baseball Tonight that one of Ike Davis’ flaws has been timing, and he noted that on Davis’ grand slam his timing seemed to be better. Davis started his swing earlier, allowing him to turn on an inside fastball from Mike Leake and hit it over the fence.

Davis has two hits on inside pitches (those on the inner-third of the plate or off the inside corner) in three games with the Pirates. In 2012 and 2013, he hit .161 in at-bats that ended with pitches to that area.
Ike Davis
Davis
The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Davis became the third player in major-league history to hit two grand slams against a team in a season with the home runs coming for two different teams (in this case the New York Mets and Pirates).

The other two are Ray Boone (grandfather of ESPN’s Aaron Boone, who pointed out that his grandfather’s nickname was Ike) and Mike Piazza.

How they got him out: Joey Votto
Reds first baseman Joey Votto was 0-for-5 in the loss. Votto saw 21 pitches in the game, 16 of which were on the outer third of the plate or off the outside corner.

All five of Votto’s outs came against those pitches. Votto has missed outside pitches at a rate that is nearly twice as often as he has missed other pitches thrown to him this season (26 percent versus 14 percent).

Votto’s .348 batting average against the Pirates entering the day was the highest among active players.

Top stats to know: Reds at Pirates

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
11:59
AM ET

AP Photo/Don WrightFrancisco Liriano helped eliminate the Reds last postseason. Will they pay him back tonight?


The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates meet Monday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Francisco Liriano’s change in approach
Francisco Liriano helped eliminate the Reds last postseason with his slider, throwing it on half of his 90 pitches. His slider netted him 14 outs and yielded only one baserunner in the NL wild-card game.

Since the start of last season, Liriano’s slider has been one of the best in the majors, ranking in the top 10 in most major categories. Although successful against the Reds last season with the pitch, Cincinnati is batting an MLB-best .307 against sliders this season.

The slider isn't the only pitch Liriano has leaned on this season. Liriano has increased the usage of his changeup, throwing it nearly 31 percent of the time, up from 22 percent last season.

Liriano has limited opponents to a .174 batting average while generating a 54 percent swing-and-miss rate this season when throwing the change. Last season opponents hit .273, while swinging and missing 38 percent of the time.

We could see a continuation of that trend tonight. The Reds have hit .192 against changeups this season, 22nd in the majors.

Joey Votto’s lineup change
On April 12, the Reds moved Joey Votto to second in the batting order instead of his usual third. The move has aided Votto in returning to his former MVP self.

The Reds are 4-2 since the tweak to the lineup after going 3-7 with Votto batting third. Votto has hit three of his four home runs when batting second.

Andrew McCutchen not as valuable
Last season Andrew McCutchen became the first Pirates player to win the National League MVP award since Barry Bonds in 1992. So far this season, McCutchen has been unable to replicate last season’s success.

McCutchen’s OPS has dipped to .759 this season, which if it held, would be the lowest of his career. McCutchen’s OPS exceeded .900 in each of the previous two seasons.

Such a big dip in OPS isn’t uncommon for the reigning league MVP. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 55 players have dropped 100 points in OPS the season after winning the MVP award. Both McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera have seen such dips in the opening weeks this season.

Jay Bruce is a slow starter
Jay Bruce is batting .220 to start this season, but this hasn’t been uncommon in his career.

Bruce’s career batting average in March and April is .249, his second lowest in any month. Last season, Bruce hit .252 with a .651 OPS in April before ripping off a .288 average and .903 OPS from May to July.

Extra, Extra: Free baseball on Sunday

April, 20, 2014
Apr 20
8:39
PM ET
This was a good day for extra-inning games in baseball, with two going 14 innings or longer and another finishing up in 12 frames. Let’s put the statistical microscope to each one.

New York Yankees 5, Tampa Bay Rays 1 (12)
Key moment: Dean Anna walks with bases loaded to force in go-ahead run in the 12th inning.

Anna entered the at-bat hitless in his last eight at-bats and is only 3 for 22 this season, but he held his swing on a 3-2 slider at the most critical point of the day.

Anna has seen 20 sliders this season. He hasn’t swung and missed at one yet.

Did You Know? The last time the Yankees beat the Rays on an extra-inning bases-loaded walk was in 2000 when Paul O’Neill drew a walk from Jim Morris, the pitcher immortalized in the movie “The Rookie.”

New York Mets 4, Atlanta Braves 3 (14)
Key moment: After an intentional walk to Eric Young Jr., Curtis Granderson benefits from a wild pitch that advanced runners to second and third, then hits a go-ahead sacrifice fly.

It was Granderson’s first walk-off RBI since the 2006 season. He’s hitless in his past 16 at bats and hitting .127 this season after an 0 for 6 on Sunday. That’s the fifth-lowest batting average in the majors and explains why Young was walked, even though David Wright (who had four hits in the game) was waiting to hit after Granderson.

Did You Know? It is the second latest the Mets have won a game by walk-off sacrifice fly. They had a 15-inning win against the San Diego Padres in 1983.

Milwaukee Brewers 3, Pittsburgh Pirates 2 (14)
Key moment: In a game that will be better remembered for a fight involving Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee continued its winning ways when Ryan Braun homered to tie the game in the ninth and Khris Davis homered to win the game in the 14th.

It marked the second time Braun hit a game-tying homer in the ninth inning or later, the first since Aug. 17, 2008, against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It’s the second time in the last four seasons that a Brewers player hit a homer in the 14th inning or later. The other was by Prince Fielder in 2011.

Did You Know? This is the first time the Brewers beat the Pirates in a game lasting 14 innings or longer.

Kernels: Good things happen in 3s

April, 20, 2014
Apr 20
7:29
PM ET
The number three pops up all over the place in baseball. Three strikes and you're out. Three outs in an inning. Many linescores are three groups of three innings each. Most series are three games.

And this was week number three of the 2014 season, which might explain all of this happening:

• On Thursday the New York Yankees took an early lead over the Tampa Bay Rays with a pair of triples in the top of the 2nd. It was their first inning with two three-baggers in nearly three years (May 19, 2011, at Baltimore). In the bottom of the inning they recorded three outs on one pitch when Sean Rodriguez grounded into a triple play. The Yankees have turned just three triple plays in the past 45 years, and CC Sabathia has been on the mound for all of them. How many triple plays have the Rays hit into in their history? Yep, three.

• The Yankees were the first team to hit two triples and turn a triple play in one game since the 2004 Astros, and they are the first team since at least 1939 to do it in the same inning.

• Later on Thursday, the Toronto Blue Jays' bullpen got mired in an epic inning that saw the Minnesota Twins score six runs on one hit... and eight! walks. (The major-league record is 11 walks in an inning, dating to 1949.) Sergio Santos faced three batters and issued three walks and three wild pitches-- two of which were on ball four, and all of which scored runs. He's the first pitcher in the live-ball era to throw three wild pitches and not record an out. And he's the first pitcher to issue three run-scoring wild pitches since starter Rob Bell for the Rangers on Aug. 18, 2001. No reliever had done it as far back as play-by-play is available (to around 1950).

Santos also became the first Blue Jays pitcher to surrender three runs on zero hits since Kerry Ligtenberg walked all three Cleveland Indians he faced on Aug. 12, 2004.

• Before Monday's Pittsburgh Pirates/Cincinnati Reds game was suspended, the teams combined for 10 home runs in the rainy conditions, six of which were by the visitors. The quirk: They came as three sets of back-to-back jacks, two of those by Neil Walker and Gaby Sanchez. So when was the last time a team had three pairs of back-to-back homers in a game? That's 1977 by the Red Sox (Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, and Carl Yastrzemski are in that mix). How many times has it happened in major-league history? Yep, three. The 1956 Reds were the first to do it.

The 10 combined homers also set a Great American Ball Park record.

• In Friday's game with the Rays, the Yankees summoned Cesar Cabral from the bullpen to try and escape an eighth-inning jam. He faced six batters. Three of them got hits, and the other three got hit. Cabral became the first reliever since 2010 to hit three batters in a game, and the previous one was another Yankee-- Javier Vazquez, also against the Rays. Arizona's Joe Kennedy, in 2007, is the only other reliever to do it in the past decade; he was also the last to allow three base hits along with the three hit batsmen.

Although it happens several times a year across the major leagues, Cabral was the first Yankees pitcher to face six or more batters, and not retire any of them, since Steve Howe did it against Cleveland on April 8, 1993.

• The Chicago Cubs' Edwin Jackson pulled off a rare pitching feat on Saturday. After the Cincinnati Reds' Billy Hamilton beat out a bunt single on the first pitch of the inning, Joey Votto hit the next pitch into a double play. The next batter, Brandon Phillips, grounded the first pitch he saw back to Jackson... completing a three-pitch inning. It's the first three-pitch inning of the 2014 season (Jorge De Leon of the Houston Astros recorded one last September, also against the Reds). Randy Wells recorded the last one by a Cubs hurler on July 1, 2011.

The inning in which Jackson threw only three pitches? Yep, the third.

Top stats to know: Orioles at Red Sox

April, 20, 2014
Apr 20
3:35
PM ET
The Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox face off on "Sunday Night Baseball" at 7 p.m. ET in a matchup of veteran pitchers. Here are some of the stats our broadcast crew will be focusing on tonight:

Ubaldo Jimenez struggling
Jimenez has had his issues against the American League East teams, no more so than the Red Sox. He is 1-3 with a 10.27 ERA in five starts against them (also 1-4 with a 6.67 ERA against the New York Yankees).

The only active pitcher who has made at least five starts with a worse ERA against the Red Sox is Rick Porcello (10.42).

Jimenez closed 2013 with an AL-best 1.82 ERA after the All-Star break, even with a fastball that has dropped nearly 6 mph over the last four seasons to its current 90.3 average.

He has been battered around a bit in his first three starts. Opponents are hitting .348 and slugging .576 against him, and his ERA/WHIP combo stands at 7.31/2.06.

Peavy off to solid start
In contrast to Jimenez, Red Sox starter Jake Peavy has a 1.93 ERA and .179 opponents’ batting average through three starts. Hitters are 12-for-67 against him this season.

Jake Peavy
Peavy
Peavy appears to have made two key adjustments to his approach over the past few years: throw more strikes early and increase the frequency with which he’s pitching batters inside.

His first-pitch strike rate has climbed by year from 57.7 percent (2010) to 66.7 percent in 2013, though it’s dipped to 55.1 percent this season.

He is 2-0 with a 3.15 ERA in three starts against the Orioles, with a 23-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and zero homers allowed in 20 innings.

Red Sox situational struggles
The Red Sox are hitting .223 with runners on base and .207 with runners in scoring position, which ranked 25th and 26th in the majors entering the day.

The hitters struggling the most are a couple of the younger ones; Daniel Nava and Xander Bogaerts are a combined 4-for-43.

Red Sox hitter to watch: Dustin Pedroia
Pedroia is hitting .250 this season but has been better the last couple of days since getting a clean bill of health. He is 5-for-17 with four walks and five runs scored in his last four games.

Opposing pitchers have taken to pounding Pedroia with fastballs until he proves he can hurt them this season. He has seen a fastball or some variant 66 percent of the time this season, compared to 57 percent in 2013.

Chris Davis
Davis
Orioles hitter to watch: Chris Davis
Davis hit 53 home runs for the Orioles last season but has only one in his first 16 games in 2014.

The flaw in Davis’ game has been an inability to hit pitches in the upper half of the strike zone.

Last season, Davis hit 15 home runs against pitches to that area. This season, he has only one hit against the 100 pitches he’s seen (54 against 1,071 pitches in 2013).

Next Level nuggets from Saturday

April, 20, 2014
Apr 20
1:36
AM ET
It was a wild opening to the NBA playoffs. Three of the four games were won by road teams, just the second time in NBA history that three road teams won Game 1 of the First Round on the first day of the postseason. It also happened in 1996.

Playoff games are all about matchups. Here are the biggest ones from the four Saturday games.

Nets 94, Raptors 87

Paul Pierce
Pierce
The story of this game was Paul Pierce, who scored nine of his 15 points in the 4th quarter. Seven of those nine points were scored when Patrick Patterson was the primary defender.

DeMar DeRozan, however, had a much more disappointing day. He was 3-for-13 from the floor, including 1-for-9 on jump shots.

DeRozan averaged 9.6 points per game on jump shots during the regular season, tied for seventh best in the NBA..

Warriors 109, Clippers 105

Chris Paul scored 28 points Saturday, but struggled with Klay Thompson as his primary defender. Paul missed his first eight shots when guarded by Thompson, who also forced three of his six turnovers.

But Doc Rivers and the Clippers shouldn't want Paul to score that much. They now have seven wins and five losses this season when Paul scores 25 points or more. They're 37-12 when Paul scores fewer than 25.

Hawks 101, Pacers 93

Jeff Teague helped to snap the Hawks eight-game road playoff losing streak, scoring 28 points, a new playoff career high. 78 percent of his field goal attempts came on drives, and he scored 20 points on those shots (including free throws).

Teague averaged just 5.6 points per game on drives during the regular season.

Roy Hibbert, however, continued to struggle. Hibbert was 4-for-9 from the floor Saturday and has not made a shot outside the paint since April 4.

In his first 77 games this season, he shot 40 percent on such shots.

Thunder 100, Grizzlies 86

Kevin Durant
Durant
Kevin Durant had 33 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. That makes nine straight postseason games where Durant had 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, tied for the fourth-longest streak in NBA history.

The only Grizzlies player that could contain Durant Saturday was Tony Allen. He held Durant to 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting (36 percent) Saturday, but Durant scored 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting (73 percent) against everyone else.

But we all knew Durant is good and would be tough to stop. What we didn't know was how bad the Grizzlies would be outside of the paint.

Memphis missed its first 18 shots from outside the paint Saturday before hitting their last attempt of the second quarter. The Thunder outscored the Grizzlies 23-3 outside the paint in the first half, making up most of Memphis' 22-point halftime deficit.

"Wow Stats" for every NBA Playoff series

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
10:24
PM ET
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant has the fourth-highest postseason scoring average in NBA history.
The NBA playoffs get underway on Saturday. Before they do, here’s a stat you should know on each of the eight first-round series.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Dallas Mavericks

• 29: The Spurs and Mavericks have played 29 playoff games dating back to the 2000-01 season, one behind the Spurs and Lakers for the most playoff games between two teams in that time. Dallas and San Antonio are separated by just 33 points over those 29 meetings, just over one point per game.

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies
• 28.6: Kevin Durant is averaging 28.6 points per game in his playoff career. In NBA history, the only players with a higher playoff scoring average are Michael Jordan (33.4), Allen Iverson (29.7) and Jerry West (29.1).

(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs (6) Golden State Warriors
• 484: The “Splash Brothers”, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, have combined for 484 3-pointers this season, the most by a pair of teammates in a single NBA season. Whose record did they break? Their own (483 last season).

(4) Houston Rockets vs (5) Portland Trail Blazers
• 45.6: The Blazers allowed 45.6 points in the paint per game this season, the worst of any playoff team. Houston’s Dwight Howard averaged 13.1 paint points per game this season, fifth-most in the league.

(1) Indiana Pacers vs (8) Atlanta Hawks
• .480: Both teams went 12-13 in their final 25 games for a .480 winning percentage. Only two teams in NBA history were under .500 in their final 25 games and went on to win the NBA championship: the 1957-58 Hawks and 1994-95 Rockets.

(2) Miami Heat vs (7) Charlotte Bobcats
• 15: The Heat and Bobcats have met 15 times since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces before the 2010-11 season. Miami has won all 15. In that same time, Miami is 14-0 against the Raptors, a possible opponent in the next round.

(3) Toronto Raptors vs (6) Brooklyn Nets
• 2 and 3: On the morning of January 1st, the Raptors and Nets both had a losing record. Since then, however, they’ve been two of the Eastern Conference’s best. The Nets have the second-best win percentage since January 1 (.667), the Raptors are third (.642).

(4) Chicago Bulls vs (5) Washington Wizards
• 7.8: Nobody dominated the ball like John Wall this season. He averaged 7.8 minutes of possession per game, most in the league. That’s roughly 16 percent of a regulation game.

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