Keys to victory: Saints 28, Panthers 10

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
What were the keys to the New Orleans Saints snapping their seven-game road losing streak against the Carolina Panthers?

The Saints threw it well, ran it well and defended well. They held an opponent scoreless in the first half of a road game for the first time since Week 6 of the 2010 season, against the Buccaneers.

Brees and Graham on target
Drew Brees was 7-for-7 for 83 yards and six first downs when targeting Jimmy Graham. It was the ninth time in Graham’s career that he has caught every pass on which he was targeted, and the second in which he had at least six targets.

Graham now has a touchdown catch in each of his past six games against the Panthers.

Ingram goes for 100, again
Mark Ingram had 30 carries for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’s rushed for 272 yards in his past two games, the first Saints player with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since Deuce McAllister in 2006.

Ingram had 52 yards after contact, one week after racking up 92 yards after being hit.

The Saints had three rushing touchdowns between the tackles, including both of Ingram’s. They had only four rushing scores between the tackles all season entering the game.

Newton not sharp
Cam Newton’s 10 completions were the fewest in his career, and his 36 percent completion percentage was a career low.

Newton had nine overthrows, his most in a game this season and tied for the second-most in a game in his career.

Newton was 2-for-10 when targeting Kelvin Benjamin, his worst success rate targeting Benjamin all season.


Stats to know: Unhappy return for James

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.

But the New York Knicks spoiled the welcome home party in a big way.

James had one of the worst games of his career in the 95-90 loss.

He shot 5-for-15, was 1-for-9 outside the paint and had eight turnovers.

James was 3-for-4 in transition, but shot 2-for-11 in the half-court offense.

This was the first game of James' career (regular season or postseason) in which he had at least eight turnovers, fewer than 20 points and fewer than five assists.

The various combos didn’t work
The Cavaliers were outscored by 13 points with James on the court. They outscored the Knicks by eight points in the 4 minutes, 46 seconds in which he didn’t play. James had only one home game last season in which he had a minus-13 or worse.

The Cavaliers' big three of James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were outscored by three points when all three of them were on the court. But the Cavaliers couldn’t score when one was out, shooting 41 percent when the big three weren’t on the floor.

In particular, James and Irving were not a potent combo on this night. The Cavaliers were outscored by 12 points when James and Irving were on the court together. They outscored the Knicks by seven when at least one was on the bench.

Knicks make their jumpers
One night after shooting 31 percent on jump shots, the Knicks made 23 of 45 (51 percent) against the Cavaliers.

The Knicks were 8-for-20 on jump shots judged to be open looks by video review against the Bulls. They were 11-for-15 on those shots against the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers did not make their jump shots. They were 14-for-43 when shooting from more than 10 feet away from the basket.

Carmelo Anthony came up with a big game after having been outscored and outshot by James in their previous three head-to-head meetings. He finished with 23 points, and shot 6-for-10 for 17 points when guarded by James.

Unsung hero of the game
Travis Wear had two points, two rebounds and two assists in his 13 minutes off the bench for the Knicks.

But he held James to 0-for-4 shooting from the field when he was James’ primary defender.


Climb on our back, we'll carry you to the top

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30

AP Photo/Jamie SquireMadison Bumgarner stands near the top of the best postseason pitching performers.
Madison Bumgarner’s postseason performance got us to thinking …

What are some of the other great recent examples of a pitcher (or a pitching tandem) single-handedly carrying a team to a World Series title?

If you go through major-league history, we’re putting Bumgarner in a class with the likes of Hall-of-Famers Christy Mathewson, Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. David Schoenfield covered that today in the Sweet Spot blog.

But let’s look at the last 30 years for examples, with our criteria being that a)you had to be great and b)you had to be great for multiple rounds …

Orel Hershiser, 1988 Dodgers
Hershiser came out of the bullpen to get a bases loaded flyout to center in the 12th inning of a one-run Game 4 win in the LCS that turned the series around and then shut out the Mets in the Game 7 clincher.

He then went 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA and was 3 for 3 as a hitter in a World Series upset of the Athletics, with a win in the series clincher.

That followed a close to the regular season in which Hershiser broke Don Drysdale’s record for consecutive scoreless innings.

Dave Stewart, 1989 Athletics
Dave Stewart was a workhorse for the 1989 Athletics, notching four of their eight wins, two apiece in the LCS and World Series.

Stewart threw eight innings in each of his two LCS wins and pitched a shutout in the World Series opener, then added a win in Game 3 after the series resumed (due to the San Francisco earthquake), pitching seven solid innings.

That postseason, Stewart went 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA.

Jack Morris, 1991 Twins
Morris was 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA in five postseason starts. He won two games in the LCS and two in the World Series and will be best remembered for his 10 scoreless innings in Game 7 of the World Series against the Braves.

Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, 2001 Diamondbacks
We pair these two, as they were best known as a duo, one that shared World Series MVP honors.

Johnson is the last pitcher to win three games in a World Series. He won two as a starter (including a shutout) and one in relief (Game 7). That postseason, he was 5-1 with two shutouts, a 1.52 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings pitched.

Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA in 6 starts. He won a pair of one-run games in the LDS against the Cardinals, winning 1-0 in Game 1 and 2-1 in Game 5. He pitched a 12-strikeout complete game against the Braves in the NLCS.

He made three starts in the World Series, winning one and allowing no more than two runs in each. He yielded two runs in 7 1/3 innings in an epic duel with Roger Clemens in Game 7, which the Diamondbacks won on Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off hit.

Schilling logged 305 innings that season, between the regular season and postseason. No pitcher has pitched that many since then.

Josh Beckett, 2003 Marlins
Beckett had an epic two-week stretch to carry the Marlins to an improbable title.

With the Marlins down, 3-games-to-1, he shut out the Cubs in Game 5 of the NLCS. He pitched four innings of one-run ball in relief on two days rest to help the team to a Game 7 win in that series.

Though he lost to the Yankees in Game 3 of the World Series, he was terrific, allowing only two runs and three hits in 7 1/3 innings. Then, he pitched a shutout on three days rest in Game 6 in Yankee Stadium to clinch the series.

Cole Hamels, 2008 Phillies
Hamels went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in the postseason with at least one win in each round and copped both LCS and World Series MVP honors as the Phillies knocked off the Brewers, Dodgers and Rays to win their first World Series since 1980. The Phillies won each of his five starts.

Madison Bumgarner, 2014 Giants
Madison Bumgarner had two wins, a five-inning save, and an 0.43 ERA in the World Series.

He finished the postseason with a 4-1 record and a 1.03 ERA.

He won the Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh, and won both LCS and World Series MVP honors, clinching the World Series with five scoreless innings of relief in Game 7.
-- Mark Simon

By the math, the best of those was ...
There's a way to look at this and rank these from a statistical perspective.

Win Probability Added (WPA), a stat tracked by the Elias Sports Bureau and also found on and Fangraphs, measures how players affect their team’s win expectancy on a play-by-play basis.

Using this metric, we can quantify his performance across different eras and see how much he contributed to his team compared to other pitchers.

In Game 7, Bumgarner threw five scoreless innings in a one-run game, and had a WPA of .603, the highest by a reliever in any winner-take-all game in postseason history.

Bumgarner had a 1.26 WPA during this year’s World Series, the sixth-highest by any pitcher all-time in a single World Series. Three of the five names above him are in the Hall of Fame-- Waite Hoyt, Stan Coveleski and Christy Mathewson, the most recent of those being Hoyt in 1921.

Jack Morris isn't a Hall of Famer, but among the pitchers from the last 30 years, he rates a spot above Bumgarner with a 1.32 WPA.

But looking over the entire postseason, Bumgarner’s WPA (1.7) was the second-highest by any pitcher in a single postseason in MLB history.

The only one higher-- Schilling, who had a WPA of 2.1 with the 2001 Diamondbacks.
-- Lee Singer


Florida State's lack of game control

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
The first graph is a compilation of Florida State’s win probability charts in its 13 pre-bowl games last season. As you can see, Florida State’s chance to win never dipped below 50% in the second half, and the Seminoles had on average a 92 percent chance to win at halftime.

Overall, Florida State had an average in-game win probability of 84 percent throughout all of plays entering bowl season, the best for any Power 5 team in the last 10 seasons, and led the nation in Game Control by a wide margin.

The second graph is a compilation of Florida State’s win probablity charts this season. As you can see, the Seminoles have rarely been in control of their games (rank 22nd in Game Control) and have had an average in-game win probability of 68 percent (20th in the FBS). The disparity at the half is telling. Florida State has trailed at halftime in three games this season after never trailing at the half of any of its 13 pre-bowl games last year.

The Seminoles have had a 65 percent chance to win at halftime, which ranks 33rd in the FBS and nine spots below Louisville.


Postseason Kernels

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30

AP Photo/David J. PhillipThere were plenty of standout performances this postseason en route to the Giants' championship.
Just 221 days, 18 hours and 21 minutes after the first pitch in Sydney, the 2014 MLB season has come to its inevitable end. But there's still time for a look back at some of the postseason's best oddities. We invite you to tell us which of these games was your favorite ...

AL Wild Card
It seems so long ago now (a month, in fact) but it gave us "Yostball," after the skipper's habit of bunting and running in unexpected situations. Kansas City had seven different players steal a bag, one shy of the record for any major league game (the Oakland Athletics had eight thieves against Minnesota on Aug. 1, 1976). They tied the postseason record of seven steals as a team, set by the 1907 Cubs and matched only by the Big Red Machine in the 1975 NLCS.

Cardinals-Dodgers, Game 1
Clayton Kershaw's disastrous seventh inning made him the first pitcher in postseason history to allow eight runs while also recording 10 strikeouts. No Dodger had done that in the regular season since Van Mungo in 1936. Meanwhile, Cards starter Adam Wainwright allowed 11 hits and six runs but got bailed out by the big inning. He's the first postseason starter with those totals to not lose the game since Scott Erickson of the Orioles in 1997. A.J. Ellis had four hits and scored three runs, becoming only the second Dodgers hitter ever to do that in the postseason. The other was Steve Garvey (1974 NLCS).

Giants-Nationals, Game 2
When go-ahead run Buster Posey was thrown out at the plate in the ninth, we literally played two. Brandon Belt finally homered in the 18th, only the third 18th-inning-or-later homer in Giants history. George "High Pockets" Kelly hit an inside-the-parker in 1922, while Larry Doyle in 1914 provided the deciding runs in what was (at the time) the longest National League game ever, a two-run shot in the top of the 21st in Pittsburgh. Yusmeiro Petit threw six innings of one-hit relief and got the win, something no pitcher in the majors had done since fellow Giant Ryan Jensen on May 4, 2002.

NLCS Game 2
Kolten Wong's walk-off made the Cardinals the first team ever to homer in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of the same postseason game. The 5-4 final score was spread over nine different half-innings (no crooked numbers), tying the record for most runs in a postseason game without a multi-run inning. The Yankees set the record when they beat the Orioles in the 1996 ALCS when Bernie Williams hit a walk-off homer in the 11th.

NLCS Game 5
Travis Ishikawa hit the fourth pennant-winning home run since the start of divisional play in 1969. Magglio Ordoñez sent the Tigers to the 2006 World Series, while the others were both famous Yankee homers: Chris Chambliss in 1976 and Aaron Boone's 11th-inning shot in Game 7 in 2003. This year's NLCS was only the third postseason series with walk-off homers by both teams, the others being the 2004 NLCS and the 1988 World Series-- in which one was Kirk Gibson's legendary "one-legged" homer.

ALCS Game 3
Pushed back a day (in the only weather incident of the entire postseason), Jeremy Guthrie needed 94 pitches to get through five innings. That gave the Royals' bullpen another chance to shine. Jason Frasor, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland each worked one perfect inning; they're the first quartet of relievers ever to do that in a postseason game. The entire ALCS was the first series in postseason history in which no starter-- for either team-- finished the sixth.

World Series Game 4
Eleven different Giants batters had hits, matching a World Series record last accomplished in 1960. Even Petit got in on the action, the first relief pitcher with a World Series hit since Al Leiter had a double in 1993, and the first Giants reliever with a hit since Clydell "Slick" Castleman in 1936. In a four-run third inning, the Royals sent 11 batters to the plate, including Jason Vargas twice. He became the first AL pitcher to bat twice in a World Series inning since Boston's Luis Tiant in 1975.

World Series Game 5
Madison Bumgarner threw the first Giants shutout in the World Series since Jack Sanford in 1962; the first walk-free World Series shutout for any team since Bret Saberhagen in 1985; and the first walk-free World Series shutout with eight strikeouts since, well, ever. The previous high for K's in a World Series shutout with no walks had been seven -- by Don Larsen in his perfect game in 1956.

World Series Game 7
Because it was Game 7. And because Bumgarner recorded just the second five-inning save in the majors in the past 20 years. Joaquin Benoit of the Rangers recorded a seven-inning save -- and nearly finished a combined no-hitter -- on Sept. 3, 2002, when starter Aaron Myette was ejected for throwing at the first batter. Much more on Game 7 here.

By the way, the season would not be complete without a hearty shout-out to the amazing Play Index, and also our partners at the Elias Sports Bureau. Most of this column's content would be difficult, if not impossible, without their help. A sincere thank-you.

And if you're wondering ... our favorite game?

The next one. See you in April.

Cowboys face tough test against Cards' D

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30

AP Photo/Brandon WadeDeMarco Murray has rushed for 100 yards in a Cowboys-record eight consecutive games.
The Dallas Cowboys welcome the Arizona Cardinals in a game featuring division leaders entering Week 9.

The Cowboys are coming off their first loss since Week 1, while the Cardinals’ only loss was in Denver, where third-string quarterback Logan Thomas was forced into action.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on as the Cowboys and Cardinals duel for the NFC’s top seed.

More Murray, Less Problems
DeMarco Murray extended his 100-yard streak to eight games with his most efficient rushing game of the season Monday, despite a season-low 19 rushes. But Dallas looked elsewhere in short-yardage situations.

Dallas ran 14 plays with 3 yards or fewer to gain. Only two were rushing plays, and both resulted in first downs. On the 12 pass plays, the Cowboys went 3-of-10 passing with two sacks taken.

This season, the Cowboys have gained a first down on 81 percent of rushing attempts with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the highest rate in the league.

Arizona’s defense has held opponents to a 52 percent conversion rate with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the second-lowest rate in the league this season.

The Cardinals pressure the opposing quarterback on 35 percent of their attempts with 3 yards or fewer to gain, the third-highest percentage in the league.

Cardiac Cards Bring Pressure
Since defensive coordinator Todd Bowles joined the Cardinals prior to the 2013 season, Arizona has had the most blitz-happy defense in the league.

This season, the Cardinals have a league-high five interceptions when blitzing and are one of three teams with a negative touchdown-interception differential (minus-1) when blitzing.

The Cardinals not only bring pressure, but they bring it from deep. Arizona has blitzed a defensive back on a league-high 48 pass attempts this season.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed only 38 percent of their attempts when the Cardinals send a defensive back on a blitz, tied for the second-lowest percentage in the league.

Ellington Evolves into Every-Down Back
After averaging 10.5 touches per game last season, Andre Ellington has 20-plus touches in each of the Cardinals’ last five games.
The Arizona running back has 31 percent of the Cardinals’ yards from scrimmage this season. Ellington is one of five running backs to record more than one-quarter of his team’s yards from scrimmage.

Ellington, Le’Veon Bell and Matt Forte are the only three backs this season with at least 400 rush yards and 250 receiving yards.

Inside the matchup: Brady vs. Manning

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30

Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsFor the third straight regular season, Tom Brady hosts Peyton Manning in Foxborough.
The two oldest starting quarterbacks in the league this year will meet Sunday for the 16th time. Thirty-eight-year-old Peyton Manning and 37-year-old Tom Brady, with a combined 442 starts and 32 years of professional experience between them, should be facing two opponents each Sunday: opposing defenses and Father Time. Only eight of the 118 4,000-passing yard seasons since the merger were by quarterbacks age 37 or older, and given the high level of their primes, Manning and Brady should be declining.

Except they aren’t (at all). No one’s played better in October than Manning and Brady.
Career resumes and supporting casts aside, Total QBR gives a slight edge to Manning in October, but the season-long advantage is sizable (90.1 to Brady’s 75.4) for the reigning AFC champion.

Bill Belichick said Tuesday there were “no weaknesses in [Manning’s] game,” but his own quarterback has played pretty well, too. Here’s how Manning and Brady match up in a few specific areas of focus for quarterbacks.

Deep ball
Manning is 14-of-27 (51.8 percent) for 550 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions on throws at least 20 yards downfield, leading the league with a plus-six touchdown-to-interception differential and 20.4 yards per attempt average on deep throws.

He’s one of three quarterbacks with at least 25 downfield attempts and no interceptions.

Brady really struggled to connect downfield in the first four weeks, but he’s been on fire since.

Brady connected on one of his first 17 deep throws this season, but has connected at least once in each of his past four games.

Avoiding pressure
Manning has the lowest pressure percentage in the league (sacked, under duress or hit while throwing on 15 percent of dropbacks) because of his ability to get the ball out quickly. No quarterback has a lower time-in-pocket average than Manning’s 2.11 seconds.

Brady’s average time in pocket is 2.19 seconds, fourth fastest in the league. Brady’s hardly holding on to the ball too long, but offensive line inconsistency has left him more susceptible to pressure (23 percent of dropbacks, 14th in NFL).

Six different Patriots have played at least 100 snaps at guard or center this year, most of any team in the league (Denver’s used the minimum three).

Limiting mistakes
One by-product of the increased pressure on Brady has been fumbles. The only quarterback with more fumbles than Brady (six) is Jay Cutler (nine). Manning struggled with fumbles in 2013 (10), but has fumbled only twice this season.

However, even during Brady’s slow start this season he wasn’t throwing interceptions. The only quarterback with fewer interceptions than Brady (two) this season is Carson Palmer (one), and Palmer (four) has played half as many games as Brady (eight). Brady’s 0.7 interception percentage (two in 281 attempts) is the second lowest in the league and would be the lowest over a full season in Brady’s career. Hardly a risk taker, Manning has thrown three interceptions in 252 attempts this season for a 1.2 interception percentage, fifth best in the league.

Key Matchups: Auburn rushing vs. Ole Miss

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30

USA TODAY SportsAuburn always scores 20 points under Malzahn (left), while Freeze's Rebels haven't allowed more than 20 in 2014.
In its win last week against South Carolina, Auburn looked just like Auburn from last season. The Tigers had season highs in rushing yards (395), yards per rush (8.4) and runs of 30 yards or more (3). At the same time, they had a season-low 15 passing attempts.

It was a return to the formula that helped the Tigers win the 2013 SEC championship. Entering Saturday’s game, Auburn had passed on 37 percent of its plays, 7 percentage points higher than in 2013.

Against South Carolina, Auburn passed on a season-low 24 percent of its plays, one week after passing on a season-high 49 percent in the loss to Mississippi State. To be fair, Auburn was trailing most of the second half against the Bulldogs and needed to pass.

This week, the Tigers travel to Ole Miss, which leads the nation in per-game scoring defense (10.5) and defensive efficiency (19.6), which measures the points a defense contributes to the team’s scoring margin and adjusts for the offenses faced.

It is a classic something-has-to-give matchup. Consider:

-Ole Miss is the only FBS team that has not allowed more than 20 points in a game this season, whereas Auburn has never been held to fewer than 20 under Gus Malzahn.

-Since Malzahn took over as head coach, Auburn is 15-0 when it runs for at least 250 yards and 3-3 when it does not. Ole Miss is winless (0-7) in three seasons under Hugh Freeze when its opponent rushes for more than 200 yards, including last week’s loss to LSU.

-Ole Miss has allowed three rushing touchdowns this season, tied for third fewest in the FBS. Auburn scored five rushing touchdowns last week against South Carolina.

Auburn outside offense

Under Malzahn, Auburn has been one of the best perimeter rushing teams in the nation. Since the start of last season, it has more rushing yards outside the tackles (4,122) than 90 FBS teams have total rushing yards. On such runs, the Tigers have averaged 7.8 yards per carry, second best among Power 5 schools behind Wisconsin (8.7).

Last week against South Carolina, Auburn had its best perimeter running game of the season, gaining a season-high 228 yards outside the tackles, including five touchdowns. The Tigers had more rushing yards outside the tackles on Ricardo Louis’ 75-yard touchdown than they had the previous game in their loss at Mississippi State.

Speaking of that loss, the 2014 Bulldogs were the fifth team to hold Auburn to less than 6 yards per carry outside the tackles under Malzahn. The Tigers are 2-3 in those games, with both wins coming by six points or fewer.

Ole Miss can stop it

Until last week, Ole Miss had been stout against the run. But crazy things happen under the lights in Tiger Stadium. The Rebels allowed 264 rushing yards to LSU, 19 more than they allowed in their previous four games combined. LSU had four runs of 15 yards or more; Ole Miss had allowed eight such runs entering the game, including four in its previous five games.

Despite last week, Ole Miss ranks fourth in the FBS in defensive efficiency on rushing plays. It has held opponents out of the end zone (allowed 3 TDs), forced turnovers (4 fumble recoveries) and limited teams on third down (31 percent conversion rate, sixth in the FBS).

Ole Miss has excelled on defense in the same area in which Auburn excels on offense. The Rebels have allowed 4.0 yards per rush outside the tackles, third fewest in the SEC. On such runs, the Rebels have allowed one touchdown and the second-lowest percentage (12 percent) to gain 10 yards or more in the SEC behind Alabama (9 percent).

In last season’s matchup, an eight-point Auburn win, the “Landshark” defense looked more like a fish out of water. Auburn had 175 rushing yards outside the tackles on 23 carries, including six runs of 10 yards or more. It is the most yards, yards per carry and 10-yard rushes that Ole Miss has allowed on such plays the last two seasons. If Ole Miss can improve in this area Saturday, it might be able to “set the edge” on the scoreboard as well.

Top stats to know: Giants win it all, again

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
The San Francisco Giants have lived up to their team name. They are now one of baseball’s dynasties.

The Giants won their third World Series in the past five seasons, beating the Kansas City Royals in Game 7.

It took an epic relief effort from Madison Bumgarner, who threw five scoreless innings to clinch a one-run win.

The Giants are the fifth franchise to win three World Series titles in a five-season span, the first since the Yankees won four from 1996 to 2000.

The Giants franchise has won eight times in total, tied with the Red Sox for the fourth-most titles in major league history, trailing only the Yankees (27), Cardinals (11) and Athletics (9).

The history
The Giants became the first road team to win Game 7 of a World Series since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy won his third World Series titles. He’s the 10th manager to win three World Series. The other nine are all in the Hall of Fame. Bochy and Connie Mack are the only managers to win three titles in a five-year span for a team other than the Yankees.

Doing so required the Giants snapping their four-game losing streak in World Series winner-take-all games.

The Giants won 88 regular-season games, the fewest of any champ since the 2006 Cardinals won 83. They joined the 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox and 2011 Cardinals as wild-card teams to win the World Series.

The one thing these Giants haven’t done is win two in a row. This is the 14th straight season without a repeat World Series champion, tied for longest such streak all-time (1979 to 1992).

MVP: Who else but Bumgarner?
Bumgarner became the fourth pitcher to win league championship series and World Series MVP in the same postseason, joining Orel Hershiser (1988 Dodgers), Livan Hernandez (1997 Marlins) and Cole Hamels (2008 Phillies).

He’s the third Giants player to win World Series MVP, joining Edgar Renteria (2010) and Pablo Sandoval (2012).

Bumgarner was 2-0 with an 0.43 ERA in 21 innings in this World Series.

He's the first pitcher with two wins, a shutout and a save in a World Series since the save rule became official in 1969.

He'a also the first pitcher with two wins, a sub-0.50 ERA in at least 20 innings in a single World Series since legendary lefty Sandy Koufax for the 1965 Dodgers.

Bumgarner logged 52⅔ innings this postseason, the most of any pitcher in a single postseason (topping Curt Schilling’s 48⅓) and had an ERA of 1.03.

Bumgarner has now won three World Series titles. If he were never to pitch in the World Series again, his 0.25 ERA would be the best of anyone with at least 20 innings pitched.


Top stats to know: World Series Game 7

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29

USA TODAY SportsTonight's matchup of Tim Hudson, left, and Jeremy Guthrie will be the oldest for Game 7 starters.
The Giants and Royals meet in the seventh and deciding game of the World Series tonight at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Here are the stats you need to know before the teams take the field:

Odds are with the Giants

• According to numberFire simulations, the Giants have a 54.7 percent chance to win tonight's Game 7.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Royals are the 61st team to trail 3-2 in the World Series.

• Like the Royals, 60.7 percent of them have forced a Game 7 (37 of 61).

• However, just 31.7 percent of them have won both Games 6 and 7 to win the series (19 of 60).

History is on the Royals' side

• The last nine times the World Series went a full seven games, the home team prevailed. The last time a road team celebrated a Game 7 win was the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates, who won Game 7 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium -- a facility demolished in 2002.

• The last seven World Series teams to force Game 7 by winning Game 6 at home won the title. The last to lose was the 1975 Red Sox, who lost the follow-up to Carlton Fisk’s dramatic Game 6 home run.

• As a franchise, the Royals have won their last four World Series elimination games, dating back to a 6-1 win over the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 1985 World Series.

• In those games, including Tuesday night’s Game 6, Kansas City has outscored its opponent 29-2.

Eldest Game 7 matchup

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, tonight’s matchup between San Francisco’s Tim Hudson and Kansas City’s Jeremy Guthrie is the oldest combined meeting of Game 7 starting pitchers in World Series history.

• At 39 years, 107 days old, Hudson is 15 days older than the previous elder statesman of Game 7 starters, Roger Clemens, who set the mark with a no-decision for the Yankees against the Diamondbacks in a 2001 loss.

• Elias also tells us that Hudson, who went 9-13 during the 2014 regular season, has the lowest winning percentage (.409) of any starter in a winner-take-all game in World Series history. Only four other pitchers to pitch this type of game even had a losing record during the preceding regular season: Johnny Podres in 1955 (9–10, .474), Jon Matlack in 1973 (14–16, .467), Hal Gregg in 1947 (4–5, .444) and Liván Hernández in 2002 (12–16, .429).

Stanford has blueprint to beat Oregon

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesPressure on Marcus Mariota has been vital to Stanford's ability to contain Oregon's potent offense.
How do you stop Oregon's high-octane offense?

Stanford appears to have found the formula for success, holding Oregon to two of its three lowest-scoring outputs since the start of the 2012 season.

Three keys for Stanford in the past two seasons have been limiting Oregon’s designed running game, pressuring quarterback Marcus Mariota, and forcing the Ducks into third-and-long situations.

Limiting Oregon’s Run Game
Since the start of the 2012 season, Oregon ranks second in the FBS in yards per rush (5.9) and rushing touchdowns (112).

Against Stanford, however, the Ducks’ rushing attack has been stymied, totaling one touchdown in the past two meetings. The Ducks have averaged 3.5 such touchdowns per game against all other opponents during that time.

When looking at designed rushes, Oregon has gained 122 and 77 yards in its past two games against Stanford; the Ducks have had at least 150 such yards in 31 of their 32 games against all other opponents.

One key to stopping Oregon’s designed run game has been funneling the Ducks inside the tackles. Since the start of 2013, Oregon is averaging 7.4 yards per designed run outside of the tackles (fifth among Power 5 schools) and 5.3 inside the tackles (16th among Power 5 schools).

Oregon was held to a season-low six carries and 30 yards outside the tackles last year against Stanford. In every other game, the Ducks had at least 13 carries and 50 yards to the outside (averaged 18 for 145). In 2012, the Cardinal were also able to funnel Oregon inside as they held the Ducks to season lows in yards (29), first downs (2) and 10-yard rushes (zero) outside of the tackles.

Pressuring Mariota
Marcus Mariota has a Total QBR of 67.0 in the two matchups against Stanford, compared with an 87.8 career Total QBR.

The Cardinal have done a great job of putting Mariota under duress. He has been pressured on 29 percent of his dropbacks against Stanford, and 17 percent against all other opponents.

When under duress against Stanford, Mariota is averaging fewer than 3 yards per play and has been sacked six times.

Forcing Oregon into third-and-long
Stanford has won third downs. Oregon, which ranks at the top of the conference in third-down conversions since the start of the 2012 season (47 percent), has converted 26 percent of its third downs against the Cardinal in its past two meetings.

More than the Ducks' other opponents, Stanford has been able to force them into third-and-long situations. They have needed eight or more yards on 14 of their 27 (52 percent) third downs against Stanford. Although Oregon’s average third-down distance to go is not significantly lower against other opponents (7.1 to 6.9), it has had eight or more yards to go on a much lower percentage of third-down plays (39 percent).

Given the difficult situations and the strength of Stanford’s defense, Mariota has struggled against Stanford on third down, posting a 29.7 third-down QBR and gaining a first down on 36 percent of his plays.

Can Stanford do it again Saturday?
Despite losing first-team All-Pac-12 members Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds, in addition to defensive coordinator Derek Mason to Vanderbilt, Stanford’s defense still has been one of the best in college football. The Cardinal rank second in FBS in opponent points per game (12.5), second in yards per game (250.6) and first in yards per play (3.7).

The biggest difference for Stanford, however, is on offense. In their previous meetings, the Cardinal have been able to run the ball to keep Oregon’s offense off the field. They have had the ball almost twice as long as the Ducks the past two seasons, including for 42 minutes, 34 seconds in 2013. Stanford’s run game has been able to move the chains and keep the clock ticking (274 rushing yards last season).

This year, Stanford ranks 90th in the FBS in rushing yards per game and does not have a workhorse back like Tyler Gaffney or Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal were held below 3.5 yards per rush in each of their losses this season.

Stats to know: Royals rout forces a Game 7

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants will play one game to decide which team is baseball’s champion for 2014. That was made necessary by a 10-0 Royals romp in Game 6.

The Royals have won 14 of their past 17 postseason games dating back to Game 5 of the 1985 World Series.

Ventura aces Game 6
Royals starter Yordano Ventura came through with seven scoreless innings, helping the Royals both win and rest their key relievers to keep them fresh for Game 7.

Ventura is the first starter to throw at least seven scoreless innings in a Game 6 or 7 of the World Series since Josh Beckett of the Marlins beat the Yankees in Game 6 to clinch the 2003 World Series.

Ventura joined an impressive list of pitchers to do that in the last quarter-century, as noted in the chart on the right.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Ventura is the first rookie to start and win a potential elimination game in the World Series since John Lackey won Game 7 for the Angels against the Giants in 2002.

Royals bats come alive
The Royals scored seven runs in the second inning, the first team to score that many in a World Series game since the Giants in 2010 against the Rangers (seven runs in the eighth inning of Game 2).

The 10-0 shutout was the largest margin of victory in a World Series shutout since the Royals beat the Cardinals 11-0 in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series.

Lorenzo Cain had three RBIs, the first three-RBI game by a Royals player in the World Series since Darryl Motley in that 1985 Game 7.

Mike Moustakas hit his fifth homer this postseason, the most ever by a Royals player in a single postseason. The only Royals player with more career postseason home runs is George Brett with 10.

What to know about Game 7
The note you will hear repeated often throughout Wednesday is this:

The home team has won each of the last nine World Series Game 7s. The last road team to win Game 7 of a World Series was the 1979 Pirates, who rallied from a 3-games-to-1 deficit to beat the Orioles 4-1 in Game 7 behind a big game from Hall-of-Famer Willie Stargell.

The starting pitching matchup pits Tim Hudson of the Giants against Jeremy Guthrie of the Royals.

Neither has started a winner-take-all postseason game. Hudson pitched in relief in one, allowing a run in 1 2/3 innings in a Game 5 ALDS loss for the Athletics against the Yankees 13 years ago.

Hudson is 0-5 with a 5.51 ERA in his last nine starts (combining regular season and postseason). At age 39, he'll be the oldest pitcher to start a winner-take-all World Series game.

Guthrie is 4-0 with a 1.19 ERA in his last five starts, dating back to the end of the regular season. Elias notes that Guthrie's career record is 83-100 (.454 winning percentage), giving him the second-worst winning percentage ever for a starter in a World Series winner-take-all game.

Curly Ogden was 11-14 (.440) when he started (and pitched less than an inning) for the 1924 Senators against the Giants, as part of a gimmick to force the Giants to adjust their lineup mid-game.

The Giants last played in a World Series Game 7 in 2002, when they lost to the Angels. They are 0-4 all-time in winner-take-all World Series games, with three of the four losses by one run.

The Royals won their only World Series Game 7 in 1985.
What about Bumgarner?
There was a time when starting on two days' rest from your last start wasn't a big deal ... but that was a while ago. So Giants starter Madison Bumgarner will work out of the bullpen for the Giants on Wednesday.

The only pitchers in the divisional era to start a winner-take-all game on two days' rest from his previous start in the divisional era are Ron Guidry for the Yankees against the Royals in Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS and Derek Lowe for the Red Sox against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS.

The last to do so in a World Series was Mickey Lolich of the Tigers, who beat Bob Gibson of the Cardinals on two days' rest in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series.

Bumgarner has pitched four games in relief in his career (three in the regular season, one in the postseason). In those four, he allowed no runs in 6 2/3 innings pitched.


Arizona Cardinals: No. 2 in Power Rankings

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28

Norm Hall/Getty ImagesThe Arizona Cardinals climb to No. 2 in the NFL power rankings for Week 9
At 6-1, the Arizona Cardinals have ascended to the No. 2 spot in the weekly NFL Power Rankings. This is the highest spot the Cardinals have ever earned in these rankings, which dates back to 2002.

The Cardinals are off to their best start in 40 years, when the St. Louis Cardinals started the 1974 season at 7-0. Dating back to Week 8 of last season, the Cardinals are 13-3, which is tied with the Denver Broncos for the best record in the NFL during that span. In fact, the Cardinals only loss this season came to the Broncos, who are currently No. 1 in the power rankings.

What is fueling the hot start for the Cardinals? A little bit of everything.

Only the New England Patriots (+11) have a better turnover differential than the Cardinals (+9) this season. The Cardinals have forced 14 turnovers this season, which is four shy of the NFL lead, but they’ve also limited their own mistakes. Only the Broncos (4) have committed fewer turnovers than the Cardinals (5) this season.

The lack of turnovers stems from quarterback play. Carson Palmer has thrown one interception on 154 attempts this season after throwing 22 last season. Even when he missed time, his backups Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas did not throw a single interception.

This has led to the Cardinals yielding only 10 points off turnovers this season, tied for best in the NFL.

Andre Ellington
Andre Ellington gives the Cardinals a versatile option out of the backfield, something they have not had in a long time.

Ellington has accounted for 31 percent of the Cardinals’ yards from scrimmage this season, fifth-highest in the NFL. The last two Cardinals running backs to even account for at least 25 percent of the offense were Edgerrin James in 2006 (26 percent) and Marcel Shipp in 2002 (26 percent).

Rush defense
The Cardinals rank third in the NFL this season in both rush yards per game allowed and yards per rush allowed. The Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 were the first team to record 100 rush yards in a game against the Cardinals since Week 16 of last season.

Since Todd Bowles took over as the Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2013, the team ranks first in rush yards per game allowed and second in yards per rush allowed.

The blitz
Another key to Bowles’ defense has been blitzing. The Cardinals have blitzed on an NFL-high 47 percent of dropbacks the last two seasons.

It has been a boom or bust strategy for the Cardinals, especially this season, but the blitz has come up big late in games this year.

In two of the biggest wins for the Cardinals this season, their opponents had one final possession needing a score. In Week 1, Philip Rivers was trying to drive the San Diego Chargers downfield trailing by one. The Cardinals blitzed on all five plays of that drive, forcing three straight incompletions and a turnover on downs.

In Week 8, the Eagles need a touchdown and reached the Cardinals 16-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. The Cardinals blitzed on Nick Foles ’ last two attempts, putting him under duress and forcing incompletions.

Special teams
Not to be forgotten, Cardinals rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro has made all 16 of his field goal attempts to start this season. That’s tied with veteran Adam Vinatieri for most makes without a miss this season.

Top stats to know: World Series Game 6

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28

Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesThe World Series returns to Kansas City on Tuesday night for Game 6. The Giants lead the series 3-2.
The San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals will meet in Game 6 of the World Series Tuesday night, with the Giants trying to wrap up another title and the Royals trying to keep their magical season alive.

What's at stake
The Giants are trying to win their third World Series in the last five seasons. They’d be the fifth franchise to do that and the first since the Yankees in 1996-2000.

The Royals are trying to do what they did in their last World Series appearance in 1985: win Game 6 to force a Game 7.

Getting to Game 7 has a significant historical meaning.

The home team has won nine straight Game 7s in the World Series. The last team to win Game 7 on the road was the 1979 Pirates in Baltimore.

Jake Peavy stats to know:
Jake Peavy, who will start Game 6 for the Giants, has a 7.05 ERA in his postseason career. That is the highest postseason ERA among active pitchers and the second highest all time (minimum 35 innings pitched).

Including Game 2 of this World Series, Peavy is 1-6 lifetime at Kauffman Stadium with a 6.50 ERA and 1.69 WHIP.

Yordano Ventura stats to know:
The Royals are 3-0 in games started this postseason by Yordano Ventura, who gets the start Tuesday night.

Ventura had the fastest average fastball velocity among starters this season at 96.8 mph.

But the Giants have had success against heaters this postseason. The Giants are hitting .319 against pitches of 95 mph or faster this postseason, best among playoff teams, including 6-for-16 (.375) against Ventura in Game 2.

Keep an eye on: Giants versus pitches out of strike zone
One of the advantages the Giants hold in this series is success against pitches out of the strike zone.

Giants batters are hitting .270 with 17 hits on pitches out of the zone, compared to .167 with 10 hits for the Royals.

The Giants have done so without going considerably beyond their means. They chased 31 percent of pitches out of the strike zone during the regular season. Their chase percentage in this series is 32 percent.

Pablo Sandoval has four hits against pitches out of the strike zone this series. That’s not unusual. He had a major league best 70 such hits during the regular season.

But some of Sandoval’s success seems to have rubbed off on his teammates. Seven of his teammates have a hit against an out-of-the-zone pitch this series, including Brandon Crawford, whose second such hit scored Sandoval in the fourth inning of Game 5.

Why is that notable?

Crawford had only eight hits against pitches out of the strike zone during the regular season, tied for the fewest in the majors among the 150 players who saw the most out-of-zone pitches in 2014.

Also watch: Royals bats don't have the same pop in World Series
The Royals are hitting .221 in the Series. Left fielder Alex Gordon is among those struggling most, with only two hits in 20 at-bats. But he's 10-for-30 (.333 batting average) in his career against Peavy.

One batter Peavy has handled is Eric Hosmer, holding him to four hits in 22 at-bats. Hosmer, who was hitting .448 (13-for-29) this postseason entering the World Series, is hitting .263 (5-for-19) in five games against the Giants.

Stat of the night: Shutout in Game 5 is reason to celebrate
Since World War II, five pitchers have thrown a shutout in Game 5 of a World Series tied 2-2. Madison Bumgarner is the most recent to do so.

In the previous four instances (each of which happened more than 40 years ago), each pitcher's team lost Game 6, but won the Series in the final game.

Battle of strengths: Florida State-Louisville

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
MCT via Getty ImagesFlorida State quarterback Jameis Winston will face a tough Louisville defense Thursday night on ESPN
Jameis Winston is 20-0 as a starter and the driving force behind Florida State’s ACC- and school-record 23-game win streak. Last season, Winston became the third starting quarterback since 1950 to go undefeated, win a national championship and take home the Heisman Trophy in the same season. His efficiency, especially when under pressure, had a lot to do with that success.

But Winston has never faced a pass defense like Louisville’s. Every opponent he faced last season finished the season outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency on passing plays and this season every opponent he has faced is currently ranked outside the top 40.

Louisville, on the other hand, leads the nation in that stat, adding about 13 points per game to its net scoring margin as a result of its defense on passing plays. The Cardinals have allowed the lowest Total QBR in the nation and only NC State’s Jacoby Brissett has posted a raw QBR above 25 against them (0-100 scale, 50 is average).

When Winston matches up with Louisville’s defense Thursday night on ESPN, it will be strength versus strength, and one of the two will have to give. Will it be the reigning Heisman winner or the nation’s best defense in terms of Total QBR?

To help answer that question, we break down the areas in which Winston excels and how Louisville’s defense matches up.

Third Down
Winston has converted a first down on 53 percent of his third-down passing plays in his career, on pace to be the best for any FBS quarterback in the last 10 seasons (min. 10 games started). His career third-down Total QBR (96) is the highest for any active player and second to only Johnny Manziel’s.

Louisville is allowing the second-lowest third-down conversion percentage in the FBS at 24 percent. The Cardinals have an FBS-high seven interceptions on third down, which is more than 57 FBS teams have on all downs combined.

One player Winston might want to stay away from is Louisville safety Gerod Holliman, who has four interceptions and one forced fumble on third down. Holliman and Ole Miss’ Senquez Golson lead the FBS in third-down interceptions.

Winston can make all the throws. He has completed 51 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield during his career, best for an ACC quarterback with at least 50 attempts since the start of the 2012 season (first year we have air yard data). Winston has the most touchdowns (22) and completions (86) for any player in the ACC since the start of last season on such throws.

One problem is that Winston has a history of turning the ball over when passing downfield. Since the start of last season, the only Power 5 player with more interceptions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer than Winston is Washington State’s Connor Halliday.

That could be bad news against a Louisville defense that is tied with Ole Miss for the most interceptions among Power 5 schools on passes thrown 15 yards or more from the line of scrimmage with 10.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Winston has thrown a Power 5-high 26 touchdowns against five or more pass rushers. Winston has been even better against the blitz in his last two games, completing 19-of-22 passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Louisville has not blitzed often under first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. They have sent five or more pass rushers on 21 percent of opponent dropbacks, six percentage points lower than the average for a Power 5 defense.

When they do blitz, the Cardinals have been successful, allowing 3.4 yards per dropback, seventh-best among Power 5 schools and two yards better than the Power 5 average.