Kluber dominant in no-decision

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25

Ed Zurga/Getty Images Corey Kluber took a perfect game into the seventh against the Royals but left with a no-decision.

Corey Kluber had a perfect game bid of 6 ⅓ innings Thursday, the longest of his career, eclipsing his previous career-long of 4 ⅓ innings which he set on May 14 of this season.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first Indians player to take a perfect game into the seventh inning since Charles Nagy in 1991, and the first Indian to take one 6 ⅓ innings since Len Barker threw a perfect game on May 15, 1981.

The Barker perfect game is the last no-hitter thrown by the Indians, a drought of over 33 years. The only team with a longer active drought is the Padres, who have yet to throw a no-hitter in their 45-year history.

Kluber has enjoyed facing Kansas City this season, he has a 2-1 record with a 1.15 ERA and 0.57 WHIP in four starts against the Royals. In three of those games, including Thursday,
Kluber struck out 10 or more batters. He is the only pitcher this season with a double-digit strikeout game against the Royals, who entered the day with a 15.6 strikeout rate, by far the lowest in the major leagues.

All of Kluber’s pitches were working on Thursday, but he had the most success with his breaking pitches. Royals hitters were 0 for 16 in at-bats ending with his breaking balls, including eight of his 10 strikeouts.

He also kept the ball away from Royals hitters, throwing 57 of his 107 pitches to the outer third or farther away. The Royals were 0 for 14 in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location.

Kluber’s night ended after nine innings, allowing no earned runs, striking out 10 and walking none, making him just the fourth pitcher in the last 20 seasons to reach all of those marks in a no-decision. He is the first Indians pitcher since Pedro Ramos in 1963 to get a no-decision while pitching nine innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks.

The unearned run allowed by Kluber came on a defensive misplay by left fielder Ryan Raburn in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Indians entered Thursday with -58 Defensive Runs Saved, 16 fewer than any other team in baseball.

Dozier Mobley/Getty ImagesJeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, and has added three more since.
This Sunday, NASCAR will go racing at one of the most historic tracks in motorsports, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And two of NASCAR’s most-accomplished drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, will have the chance to do something that only one other driver has ever done at the Brickyard, visit Victory Lane five times in a major race.

No driver has won the Indianapolis 500 more than four times -- A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser each have four wins in that race. But Johnson and Gordon will look to join Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher, who won the U.S. Grand Prix five times when the race was held at Indy.

With four wins apiece, both Johnson and Gordon have more Brickyard 400 wins than any other team combined in the race. Those two are responsible for all eight of Hendrick Motorsports’ wins in this race, while no other team has more than three.

The teammates will be on the short list of favorites for the race. Gordon is a regular in the top 10, with 16 in 20 Brickyard 400 starts. Johnson has won this race in four of the past eight years, and finished second behind Ryan Newman last year.

Those two don’t just have elite results, but they’ve been among the most dominant drivers in terms of raw speed. Since 2008 at Indianapolis, Johnson has paced the field with 153 fastest laps run, while Gordon is third with 97. From there, it’s a drop, as the fourth-place driver has 49 fastest laps.

Who else should we be watching for Sunday afternoon?

Busch and Montoya make return visit
The driver between Johnson and Gordon in fastest laps run is Juan Pablo Montoya, who will attempt to make the field in a third Team Penske entry this week.

Both Montoya, who finished fifth in the Indianapolis 500 earlier this season, and Kurt Busch (who was sixth), will attempt to be the fifth and sixth drivers to run both the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season.

Both also have a chance to join Tony Stewart as the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in both races in the same year. Stewart finished ninth in the 1999 Indianapolis 500, and seventh in the same year’s Brickyard 400.

Wider range of winners?
For the first 16 runnings of the Brickyard 400, every winner came from the top 10 in points, with the lowest points position of a winner being 10th, when Jeff Gordon won in 1994 for his second of 89 career wins.

But in the past four seasons, three of the winners entered 18th or lower in points, with Ryan Newman winning last year after entering 19th in the standings.

That being said, 40 percent (eight of 20) of the time this race’s winner has gone on to win the championship that same season.

Top stats to know: 2014 Denver Broncos

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
SportsCenter will be in the Denver Broncos camp on Thursday to visit with the AFC champs. Here's a look at the most significant statistical storylines for this team heading into the 2014 season.

1. The Broncos will attempt to accomplish something that hasn’t been done in over 40 years: win a Super Bowl after losing it the previous season. The last team to accomplish that was the 1972 Dolphins, who beat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII to complete a perfect season after losing to the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.

2. Since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver two seasons ago, the Broncos have the best regular-season record in the NFL (26-6). They will look to win a fourth straight division title for the first time in franchise history, and will also attempt to become the first AFC West team to win a Super Bowl since 1998.

3. Peyton Manning threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes last season, and with 18 more this season will pass Brett Favre (508) for the most in NFL history. Manning threw more touchdown passes in 2013 than each of the other 31 teams scored total touchdowns last season.

What made Manning so effective last season was that he threw the ball effectively to all areas of the field, as this image below shows.

4. The Broncos lost wide receiver Eric Decker to the Jets in free agency. Decker was the Broncos’ most effective deep threat last season, leading the team with 24 receptions and 6 touchdowns on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield. Only A.J. Green, Josh Gordon and DeSean Jackson had more touchdown catches on such throws last season.

5. The team drafted Cody Latimer and signed Emmanuel Sanders to help replace Decker, but more responsibility will likely fall on the shoulders of Demaryius Thomas. He was second in the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions last season and the team is currently negotiating with him on a long-term contract extension, since he is an unrestricted free agent after 2014.

6. Montee Ball is currently listed as the top running back on the depth chart, replacing Knowshon Moreno, who signed with the Dolphins in free agency. Ball averaged 2.55 yards after contact per rush in the team’s last eight games in 2013, the fourth most in the NFL during that span. Ball also had more rushing touchdowns (3) than Moreno (2) during that span despite having half the number of rushes.

7. Along with a returning Von Miller, the Broncos made some big acquisitions on the defensive side. Perhaps the biggest is DE DeMarcus Ware, whose 63.5 sacks in the last five seasons are second in the NFL behind Jared Allen. Miller and Ware each had at least 35 sacks from 2011 to 2013, meaning (via the Elias Sports Bureau) the Broncos will be the third team since 2000 to have two players that each had 35 sacks in the previous three years.

8. The Broncos also acquired cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. Talib has 19 interceptions in the last five seasons, tied for seventh in the NFL since 2009. Ward had 112 tackles last season, second most on the Browns and 40 more than any Broncos defensive back.

9. The Broncos particularly needed help in the secondary. They had the 27th-ranked pass defense last season (254.4 yards per game) and allowed 58 completions on balls thrown at least 15 yards downfield, tied for the fourth most in the NFL.

10. The Broncos open up the season with three straight games against 2013 playoff teams: home games against the Colts and Chiefs followed by a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle in Week 3. The Broncos' five scheduled prime-time games are tied for the most in the league.

Pence gets exactly the pitch he needed

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
Wednesday on ESPN.com, writers discussed the importance of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval to the San Francisco Giants’ playoff chances. But let’s not forget their wins above replacement leader, Hunter Pence.

Pence’s bloop three-run double against Jonathan Papelbon gave the Giants a lead and an eventual 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

Papelbon has now pitched twice against the Giants in the past two days and allowed four earned runs. He has allowed only five runs in 38 1/3 innings against every other team in the majors combined.

Pence’s hit made him 3-for-4 in his career against the Phillies closer and gave him an NL-best 125 hits this season. He’s also now 10-for-25 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Inside the at-bat
Pence survived a close call on a 2-2 slider that was just below the bottom of the strike zone, than fouled off another pitch before hitting a 93-mph tailing fastball near the inside corner into a vacant spot down the right-field line.

That was probably the last place in which Papelbon wanted to attack Pence with two strikes.

Pence has 16 hits, second-most in the majors, and made only 17 outs on pitches that fit the following criteria:
    - 93 mph or faster
    - on the inner third of the plate
    - from a right-handed pitcher

Both Pence’s double and Posey’s game-tying home run on Tuesday came against that type of pitch from Papelbon.

Pence’s 2014
Pence has lived up to the big contract he signed with the Giants last season (five years, $90 million), hitting .304 with 13 home runs and an .840 OPS in 2014. He leads the NL in runs scored and is someone who is thriving at a time when offensive numbers are declining.

Pence’s basic skills (strikeout rate, walk rate, home run rate) are almost identical to what they were last season, but the results have actually been a little bit better, thanks to a .300 batting average when he hits a ground ball (last season, he hit .263).

Pence currently ranks fifth among those whose primary position is right field with 3.3 wins above replacement (his defense rates a hair below average). Last season, he ranked as the ninth-best right fielder, with 3.9 WAR.

Stat of the night (amazing but true)
The last time a Giants player got a hit to break a scoreless tie in the ninth inning or later in Philadelphia was May 15, 1989, when Will Clark hit a go-ahead home run against Steve Bedrosian in the 12th inning.

Amazingly, the Giants lost that game on a three-run, inside-the-park home run by Bob Dernier in the bottom half of that inning.

However, they would go on to win the National League pennant.

Top stats to know: Giants at Phillies

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Madison Bumgarner will take his sparkling road record to the hill tonight against the Phillies.
Tonight, Wednesday Night Baseball features the San Francisco Giants hitting the road to take on the Philadelphia Phillies (7 PM, ESPN and WatchESPN).

The Giants enter tonight’s game with a one-game lead in the NL West over the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the lead stood at nine-and-a-half after games on June 8. Since then, the Giants have been nine games under .500, while the Dodgers have put up a 23-15 mark.

Part of the Giants recent struggles have come at the plate, as they’ve been shut out in six of their last 25 games, and held to two runs or fewer in 13 of those contests.

It’s part of an offensive decline that’s been in effect for the Giants since winning the 2012 World Series. Their batting average and on-base percentage have each dropped in each season since, leaving them ranked 22nd in batting average and 25th in on-base percentage this season entering Wednesday’s games.

Luckily for the Giants, they’ll send Madison Bumgarner to the mound tonight to face the lefty-heavy Phillies lineup. This season, no left-handed starter has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Bumgarner, who has 40 strikeouts against just three walks. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown are among the Phillies regulars who are left-handed.

Bumgarner has also been much better at home than on the road, going 7-2 with a 1.94 ERA on the road, compared to just a 4-5 mark with an ERA of 5.22 in his home park.

He’ll also be facing a Phillies lineup that is having one of the worst seasons in recent franchise history. A team that once leaned on its offense is now batting .238 with a .300 on-base percentage, which would be the worst marks for a Phillies team since the early 1970s. And this season, only the San Diego Padres have a lower slugging percentage.

Who has struggled for the Phillies? Nearly all of their sluggers have tailed off:

• Ryan Howard: .377 slugging percentage would be the lowest mark of his career (previous lowest is .423).
• Domonic Brown: .606 OPS is sixth-worst in the majors among qualified players. -1.6 Wins Above Replacement is second-worst in majors among qualifiers.
• Chase Utley: 47.25 at-bats per home run is more than double his career average of 23.5.

The Phillies find themselves in last place, four games back of the Miami Marlins for fourth in the NL East. The Phillies haven’t finished last place in their division since 2000. That 13-year streak since finishing in last place in the division is the eighth-longest in all of the majors.

By the numbers: Can Manziel succeed?

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
As rookies report to Browns’ camp on July 23, all eyes will be on the most scrutinized rookie in the NFL, Johnny Manziel. Analysts are split on whether Manziel will be able to make the transition to the NFL given his reckless style of play and reliance on his legs. Below are three numbers that suggest that Manziel could succeed in the NFL and three that suggest that he may struggle.

Three numbers that suggest that Manziel could succeed in the NFL:

1: Johnny Manziel’s QBR rank in 2012

Manziel had the highest Total QBR in the FBS in 2012 and ranked seventh in 2013. Every player who led the country in Total QBR from 2008 to 2011 is a current NFL starter, including three players who led their respective teams to the divisional round of the playoffs last season.

Manziel had a 88.2 Total QBR in his two-year career at Texas A&M. No college player in the last 10 seasons has had a higher career QBR than Manziel among players who started at least two seasons.

73.5: Manziel’s completion percentage from inside of the pocket

Manziel had the highest completion percentage from inside of the pocket of any AQ quarterback in 2013.

Seeing over tall linemen was not an issue. Only three of Manziel’s 347 pass attempts from inside of the pocket were batted down at the line (0.9 percent) in 2013, well below the AQ average of 2.1 percent.

97.5: Manziel’s Total QBR on third down in his career

Manziel’s career 97.5 Total QBR on third down is the best of any qualified quarterback in the last 10 years (the start of Stats & Info’s data set).

Third-down performance in college has been shown to translate to NFL success. Among the 25 quarterbacks who were selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft from 2009 to 2013, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford had the top third-down QBRs in college.

Those players were a combined 38-17 last year, and Manziel’s third-down QBR was far ahead of theirs in college.

Three numbers that suggest that he could struggle:

76: Percentage of dropbacks Manziel escaped the pocket when under duress

Manziel left the pocket on 76 percent of the plays in which he was under pressure in his career, by far the highest percentage of any AQ quarterback in the past two seasons and more than twice the rate of the NFL average (33 percent).

As Merril Hoge noted in a pre-draft breakdown, “He has an instinct to run, but that’s a bad instinct if you have that in the National Football League.”

73: Percentage of Manziel’s scrambles on which he was hit

There is no denying that Manziel was in a league of his own when it came to scrambling in college – he scrambled for 1,400 yards and 64 first downs in two seasons at Texas A&M, which was 521 more yards and 15 more first downs than any other AQ quarterback during that time.

Yet Manziel rarely ran out of bounds or slid. Overall, he was hit on 73 percent of his scrambles, slightly above the AQ average and a significantly higher percentage than the NFL average last season (56 percent).

Other than Newton, who is the average weight of a linebacker, all of the top scramblers in the NFL have learned to avoid contact.

55: Average temperature of Cleveland’s games the last 5 seasons

Cleveland’s average game-time temperature in the past five seasons has been 55 degrees. It drops to 49 degrees when looking at the 40 regular-season home games. Only Pittsburgh and Green Bay had a colder average game-time temperature during that time.

Manziel played high school and college football in Texas. In two years at Texas A&M, the average temperature of Manziel’s games at kickoff was 71 degrees, and he did not play a single game in freezing temperatures. His coldest game came against Missouri on Nov. 30, 2013, a game that Texas A&M lost 28-21, when it was 45 degrees. Every other game that he played in college was at least 55 degrees.

Pirates break out long ball to beat Dodgers

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23

AP PhotoNeil Walker rounds the bases after hitting the first of the Pirates' three home runs on Tuesday.
It had been a long time since the Pirates had hit three home runs in a game. Since Pittsburgh last did this April 17 against the Brewers, every other team in the majors has hit three homers in a game at least once. The Blue Jays have done it 13 times.

Gregory Polanco went 2-for-4 with a home run, three runs and three RBIs. The home run was his first since July 2, a span of 14 games. Over that span Polanco went without an extra-base hit and hit .158 with two RBIs.

During his slump, Polanco struggled in particular with the inside pitch, going just 1-for-18 (.056) in at-bats ending with a pitch on the inner half. Both of his hits on Tuesday came on inside pitches.

Another Pirate to break a homerless drought was Ike Davis, who went deep for the first time since June 9. Over 32 homerless games Davis hit .205 with a .582 OPS.

During his homerless stretch, Davis oddly hit nearly 150 points better on pitches out of the strike zone (.313) than he did on pitches in the zone (.177). Davis' home run on Tuesday came on a fastball in the strike zone.

Neil Walker also homered for the Pirates, though he has not had trouble with the long ball as of late. His 15th homer of the season was his fourth in his last 10 games, and leaves him one shy of his career high.

The three homers all came off Dodgers starter Josh Beckett, who struggled in his return from the disabled list. Beckett, who had allowed just two home runs in his previous six starts combined, lasted a season-low 3 2/3 innings on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh is now 28-17 since the start of June (second-best in the National League) and has closed within 2.5 games of the Brewers in the NL Central. The Pirates have enjoyed playing at PNC Park this season, improving to an NL-best 33-21 at home, including wins in 13 of their last 16 games.

The rubber game of the series comes on Wednesday night as Dan Haren takes on Francisco Liriano. The Pirates will look to continue their power surge against Haren, who has allowed 20 home runs this season, which is tied for second-most in the major leagues.

Yankees look to Headley at the hot corner

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22

Denis Poroy/Getty ImagesChase Headley looks to provide some help for the Yankees at third base.
The Yankees acquired Chase Headley from the San Diego Padres on Tuesday for Yangervis Solarte and minor league pitcher Rafael De Paula.

Headley, who missed 14 games with a calf injury earlier this season, is having a down year offensively. Among 163 qualified hitters, his .229 batting average ranks 147th and his .651 OPS ranks 145th. These are a far cry from his career year in 2012, when he hit .286 with an .875 OPS and an NL-leading 115 RBIs.

However, his power numbers could see some improvement as he transitions from a pitcher-friendly Petco Park to a hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. At Petco, 9 percent of fly balls turn into home runs, whereas at Yankee Stadium that figure is 13.2 percent (major league average is 10.3 percent).

Yankees third basemen have been serviceable for the season, matching the major league average with a .260 batting average and a .723 OPS. However, this might be misleading, as the majority of the Yankees’ contributions at the hot corner came at the beginning of the season, particularly from Solarte.

Solarte hit .303 with a .404 on-base percentage in April, and as late as May 14 led the AL in batting average at .336. However he hit .164 in June and is 2-for-17 (.118 batting average) so far in July. Since June 1, Solarte has just three extra-base hits, with no homers and five RBIs.

Overall since June 1, Yankees third basemen are last in MLB with seven extra-base hits and 12 RBIs and second-to-last with a .302 slugging percentage. Headley is hitting .259 over that span with three home runs and 14 RBIs, including .323 in July.

Headley can also help the Yankees improve on the defensive side of the ball. Headley's seven defensive runs saved are tied for third in the majors at his position. Yankees third basemen have combined for minus-1 defensive runs saved, which ranks in the bottom half of the league at the hot corner.

Top stats to know: 2014 New York Giants

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports
Eli Manning and the New York Giants look to avoid missing the playoffs for the third straight season
SportsCenter is at Giants training camp Tuesday. Here are the top things to know leading up to the 2014 season.

1. The New York Giants rebounded from an 0-6 start to go 7-3 over their final 10 games last season, tied for the fourth best record in the NFL over that span. But a 7-9 record wasn’t good enough to reach the postseason, meaning that the Giants have now missed the playoffs in two straight and four of the last five seasons. The Giants haven’t missed the playoffs in 3 straight seasons since 1994-96.

2. Eli Manning threw a career-high and an NFL-high 27 interceptions in 2013, his third time leading the league in interceptions. It was the most interceptions thrown by any player in a season since Brett Favre in 2005 and also the most interceptions thrown by a QB in Giants history, breaking Charlie Conerly’s record from 1953. Manning’s 37 Total QBR last season (0-100 scale) ranked 33rd among 39 qualified quarterbacks.

Manning's numbers took a significant hit on his deep throws, as the image below notes.

3. Manning was sacked a career-high 39 times last season, more than doubling Manning’s sack total from 2012 (19). Manning was sacked on 6.5 percent of his dropbacks last year after being sacked on just 3.6 percent of his dropbacks from 2010-12 (second lowest in the NFL behind his brother Peyton Manning). No Giants offensive line combination played more than 40 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in 2013. The hits took a toll on Eli, who is coming off offseason ankle surgery. He could have as many as four new starters on the offensive line this year.

4. The offensive line’s struggles also carried over to the rushing game. Only the Baltimore Ravens (3.1) and Jacksonville Jaguars (3.3) averaged fewer yards per rush than the Giants last season (3.5). The Giants gained only 1,332 rushing yards in 2013. During the first nine seasons of Tom Coughlin’s tenure with the Giants, the team averaged 2,029 rushing yards a season, sixth best in the NFL. The team’s leading rusher in 2013, Andre Brown, signed with the Houston Texans this offseason.

5. Eli Manning also didn’t receive much help from his receivers. Hakeem Nicks, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason, posted no touchdowns despite 896 receiving yards, the second most receiving yards without a touchdown in NFL history. Victor Cruz, tied for third in the NFL with 18 30-yard receptions from 2011-12, recorded just four 30-yard receptions last season. Manning was intercepted on 10 percent of his passes to Rueben Randle, the highest interception percentage to any one receiver in the NFL last season (min. 50 attempts). To help at wideout, the Giants drafted Odell Beckham Jr. 12th overall, the second highest draft pick they have ever used on a wide receiver (Ike Hilliard – 7th in 1997).

6. For the first time since 2006, the Giants will open training camp without Kevin Gilbride at offensive coordinator. Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo was hired to replace Gilbride and is installing a new offense. The Giants ranked 28th in both points and yards last season, the first time they’ve finished outside the top 25 in both categories since 1996.

7. The Giants’ once vaunted four-man pass rush produced just 18 sacks last season, tied for 26th in the NFL. When the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2011, they had 34 sacks with four or fewer rushers, second most in the NFL. Justin Tuck, whose 11 sacks were five more than anyone else on the Giants team last season, signed with the Oakland Raiders in free agency. The team is counting on Jason Pierre-Paul, who had 16.5 sacks in 2011, to return to form after an injury-plagued 2013.

8. The best competition in camp could be at the cornerback spot, where the Giants signed two coveted free agents this offseason. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie signed a five-year deal with $14M in guaranteed money and Walter Thurmond signed a one-year deal that includes $2M guaranteed. The duo, who faced each other in Super Bowl 48, will compete with former first-round pick Prince Amukamara for a starting job.

9. Head coach Tom Coughlin signed a 1-year contract extension in February, tying him to the team through the 2015 season. Coughlin, who will turn 68 on August 31st, is the NFL’s oldest active head coach. He’s been with the team since 2004, making him the third-longest tenured head coach behind Bill Belichick (with the Patriots since 2000) and Marvin Lewis (with the Bengals since 2003).

10. Giants Top Transactions This Offseason

Draft picks: WR Odell Beckham Jr., C Weston Richburg, DT Jay Bromley, RB Andre Williams

Additions: RB Rashad Jennings, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Walter Thurmond, CB Zack Bowman, DE Robert Ayers, S Quintin Demps, G John Jerry, OT Charles Brown, G Geoff Schwartz

Departures: WR Hakeem Nicks, C Kevin Boothe, G David Diehl, DE Justin Tuck, DT Linval Joseph, S Ryan Mundy, S, Will Hill, TE Brandon Myers, LB Keith Rivers, CB Terrell Thomas

Gonzalez a winner the past two nights

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
The Los Angeles Dodgers need to be careful over the next couple of weeks, because the schedule favors their division rivals.

If the San Francisco Giants are going to make a move in the NL West, it may come in the next month. Over the next 30 days, only nine of their 27 games are against teams currently over .500. In that same span, the Dodgers play 22 games against teams with winning records. The Dodgers managed a road win against the Pittsburgh Pirates Monday, while the Giants defeated Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Winning teams had been flummoxing Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez this season. But he’s now had two notable days in a row against contending teams, with the go-ahead RBI in Sunday’s win over the St. Louis Cardinals and a 3-for-3 showing with a pair of runs scored against the Pirates.

Gonzalez entered Monday hitting a meager .222 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 135 at-bats against teams with winning records this season. It would seem to be a priority for the Dodgers to get his bat going.

Perhaps Sunday’s hit will go down as the at-bat that turns Gonzalez’s season for the better. He singled in the winning run on a 98 mph fastball from Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal with two outs in the ninth inning.

Gonzalez entered that at-bat with only one other hit (and 26 outs made) against pitches of 98 mph or faster dating back to August 15, 2010, and that hit came a little less than a month ago against Rosenthal’s Cardinals teammate, Carlos Martinez.

Monday the pitches came in a little slower and Gonzalez delivered three hits and two walks against them, including another that came with two outs and runners in scoring position (he'd been 9-for-48 in such situations entering that last at-bat on Sunday).

There’s something about seeing that Pirates uniform on the other side that Gonzalez likes. He’s 20-for-50 against them over the past three seasons and his .341 career batting average against Pittsburgh is his best versus any National League team.

What’s the biggest key for Gonzalez the rest of the way? Something he didn’t have to deal with Monday: hitting against left-handed pitching.

Gonzalez’s numbers against right-handers this season aren’t that different from when he was in his prime -- a .286 batting average and .508 slugging percentage with 13 home runs.

But against lefties, he’s hitting .178 (18-for-101) with a .478 OPS. That’s a far cry from two seasons ago when he hit .322 and slugged .491 against left-handed pitching.

Top stats to know: Rangers at Yankees

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21

Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports
Jacoby Ellsbury and the New York Yankees face the Texas Rangers on "Monday Night Baseball."
The Texas Rangers (39-59, last in AL West) and New York Yankees (50-47, second in AL East) face off on ESPN’s "Monday Night Baseball" at 7 p.m. ET.

Here are the top stats to know about tonight’s young starters, the Rangers’ injury woes, and contributions from a speedy Yankees outfield and a dominant setup man.

Probable Pitchers

Miles Mikolas will make the fourth start of his career Monday night.

The 25-year-old Rangers righty is off to a rough start this season with a record of 0-2 and a 10.05 ERA. Mikolas is the first Rangers pitcher to allow at least 17 runs in his first three career starts since Tommy Hunter in 2008. He is also one of four Rangers pitchers to allow at least nine runs in a game this season. No other team has had more than two pitchers do that.

Shane Greene, another 25-year-old righty, is off to a much better start for the Yankees. Greene enters his third career start with a 2-0 record and 1.32 ERA.

Greene has been dominant against right-handed batters in limited action this season. Righties have a .105 batting average (2-for-19) and a strikeout percentage of 36.4 percent against Greene. Lefties are hitting .207 and are striking out far less frequently (12.5 percent).

Rangers Injuries

The Rangers are 11-33 in their last 44 games, going from four games behind the Oakland Athletics to 22 games back and in last place in the AL West.

Injuries have played a major role.

The Rangers have used 51 players so far this season, most in the majors and the most they have used since 2008 (55 players). They have already tied the most pitchers they have ever used in a single season with 30.

Speedy Outfielders Lead Yankees

Jacoby Ellsbury is off to a strong start with the Yankees after signing a seven-year, $153 million deal in the offseason. Ellsbury leads the Yankees in hits (106), doubles (21), steals (27) and on-base percentage (.352) while batting primarily third in the order.

Ellsbury has become more of a line-drive hitter with the Yankees. After hitting line drives on 20 percent of balls in play during his last four seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Ellsbury has hit line drives more than 29 percent of the time in 2014 (first in AL).

Meanwhile, Brett Gardner continues to be one of the most valuable Yankees players while batting primarily leadoff. Gardner has the second-highest WAR (wins above replacement) among Yankees position players over the last five seasons at 18.7. Only Robinson Cano's 29.8 wins above replacement ranks better since the start of 2010.

Dominant Setup Man

Yankees reliever Dellin Betances has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season and already has 88 strikeouts, 23 more than any other relief pitcher.

Among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched in 2014, Betances ranks first in ERA (1.46), WHIP (0.71), opponent batting average (.124), opponent OPS (.410), strikeouts per 9 (13.7) and strikeout percentage (41 percent).

Top stats to know: The 2014 Buffalo Bills

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21

Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesThe Bills are counting on Sammy Watkins for big numbers in 2014.
NFL training camps are opening and SportsCenter will be on hand at select teams as they get ready for the upcoming season. Monday, we pay a visit to the Buffalo Bills.

Here are some statistical takes on 10 topics sure to come up throughout the day.

1. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. Their last playoff game was a loss to the Titans in the 1999 Wild Card Playoffs (a.k.a. the Music City Miracle). Their last playoff win was in the 1995 Wild Card Playoffs against the Dolphins. The only teams without a playoff win from 1996 to 2013 are the Bills, Lions, Browns, Bengals and Chiefs.

2. The Bills have lost at least 10 games in five straight seasons, tying the franchise record from 1967 to 1971. Over the last six seasons, the Bills have finished in last place in their division five times. That’s tied with the Browns and Redskins for the most last-place finishes in that span.

3. The Bills traded from the No. 9 pick to the No. 4 pick to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins, giving up their first-round pick and fourth-round pick in next year’s draft to the Browns.

Currently, Buffalo is the only team that doesn’t own its first-round pick in the 2015 draft. However, the Bills got a conditional mid-round pick in 2015

4. Watkins is the 19th WR drafted in the top five in the Common Draft Era. The previous 18 averaged just 38 catches for 569 yards and 3.5 touchdowns as rookies. Only one of them had 1,000 yards as a rookie (A.J. Green – 1,057 yards in 2011).

5. EJ Manuel was 4-6 in his 10 starts last season. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,972 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He ranked 28th in the NFL in the Total QBR (rating of 42.3 on the 0-100 scale). His 10 starts were third most ever for a Bills rookie quarterback behind Joe Ferguson (14 in 1973) and Dennis Shaw (12 in 1970).
E.J. Manuel
6. Manuel’s biggest problem might have been against the blitz. He completed only 41 of his 85 passes when blitzed, giving him the league’s second-worst completion percentage against it (48 percent) (Case Keenum – 46 percent).

Manuel was also bad on third down, completing only 48 percent of his passes (second-worst in NFL) for 5.2 yards per attempt (worst in the NFL). That’s one reason the Bills converted on only 34 percent of their third down attempts (29th in NFL).

7. While the Bills passing attack struggled (194 yards per game, 28th in NFL), the rushing attack averaged 144 yards per game, second-best in the league behind the Eagles. The Bills called run plays on 45 percent of their snaps, the third-highest percentage in the NFL behind the Seahawks and 49ers.

C.J. Spiller (933 yards) and Fred Jackson (890 yards) were the only teammates to each run for at least 800 yards last year. They’ll both be pushed for playing time by Bryce Brown, acquired in a trade with the Eagles this offseason.

8. The Bills defense was the inverse of the Bills offense last year: good against the pass and bad versus the run. Buffalo had the league’s 28th-ranked run defense, allowing 129 yards per game on the ground, and the league’s fourth-ranked pass defense, allowing only 204 yards per game.

The Bills held opponents to the lowest completion percentage in the league (55 percent) and the second-lowest Total QBR (36.0). That might be a tough feat to repeat after losing safety Jairus Byrd, their best defensive back and 2013 franchise player, in free agency.

9. Another problem for the Bills defense is the loss of linebacker Kiko Alonso to a season-ending torn ACL suffered this offseason. Alonso is the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He ranked third in the NFL with 159 tackles last season, 32 more than any other rookie and 77 more than any other Bills player.

Alonso also played all 1,089 snaps for the Bills defense last season, the seventh most defensive snaps of any player in the NFL.

10. The Bills were second in the NFL with a franchise-record 57 sacks last season. Mario Williams (13.0), Kyle Williams (10.5) and Jerry Hughes (10.0) became the first trio of teammates with double-digit sacks in a season since the 2000 Saints (La’Roi Glover, Darren Howard, Joe Johnson). In two years since signing a massive free agent deal ($39.4M guaranteed) with the Bills, Williams is tied for sixth in the NFL with 23.5 sacks and has played a team-high 1,839 defensive snaps.

Kernels: First half leftovers

July, 20, 2014
Jul 20
To bring you our weekly looks at baseball's interesting and unusual stats, we comb through every boxscore and usually research much more than can fit in this space. With four days off this week, we decided to give a second chance to some previous Kernels that didn't quite make the cut when they first happened.

April 2: Gio Gonzalez hit his third career homer, giving him one in each of the past three seasons. His homers remain the last three by Washington Nationals pitchers, and he's halfway to the franchise record of Steve Renko (1969-75).

Livan Hernandez homered in three straight seasons, but two were when the team was in Montreal. Similarly, Pedro Ramos homered in 1959 and 1960 for the Senators, but their move meant his homer in 1961 was for Minnesota. The last pitcher to homer in three straight seasons, all in a "Washington" uniform, is Walter Johnson from 1925-27.

April 24: Boston Red Sox first baseman Mike Carp pitched the ninth inning of a blowout against the New York Yankees. He didn't allow a hit, mainly because less than one-third of his pitches were in the strike zone. Instead he walked five batters, but thanks to a double play, escaped the inning with only one run.

He became the first Sox "reliever" to issue five walks in the same inning since Dean Stone did it on July 14, 1957. He's the first pitcher for any team to work only one inning, start-to-finish, walk five, and give up just one run, since at least 1921.

May 4: Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians threw another gem, working eight innings with one run, 13 strikeouts... and a no-decision. John Axford allowed three runs in the ninth and the Indians lost.

That made Kluber the first Cleveland pitcher to go eight-plus, strike out 13, allow no more than one run, and not get a win since Sam McDowell hurled an 11-inning complete game against Oakland on June 13, 1968. He lost 1-0 on a Sal Bando RBI double.

May 5: Yankees reliever Shawn Kelley walked four batters, scoring a run, before getting ejected arguing balls and strikes. Matt Thornton came in, faced one batter, and issued a bases-loaded walk. Preston Claiborne issued another before ending the inning. With all the runs charged to Kelley, he became the first Yankee reliever to allow three earned runs on zero hits since Ryne Duren did it in August 1960.

Yankee pitchers hadn't issued six walks in an inning since 1990. Only once before had the Angels drawn six walks in an inning: July 4, 1979, in a 10-run frame against the Oakland Athletics.

May 26: Clay Buchholz issued eight walks and recorded just nine outs against the Atlanta Braves. The Red Sox later got him off the hook, making Buchholz the team's first pitcher in 90 years to walk eight-plus in three innings and not lose the game.

"Lefty" O'Doul did it against Cleveland on July 7, 1923. After starter Curt Fullerton allowed eight runs, Lefty was summoned to pitch innings 4-6. He allowed (really!) 11 hits and eight walks... and sixteen of those runners scored. The Indians won 27-3, and thanks to several errors, 13 of Lefty's runs were unearned! His line of 16 R (3 ER) is still the most lopsided earned/unearned tally ever.

June 10: The Baltimore Orioles managed just two hits, with them coming from number-nine hitter Ryan Flaherty and a pinch hitter. Their first eight starters all went 0-for-the-game. Excluding the obvious situation of completely getting no-hit, it's the first time that's happened to the Orioles since September 30, 1988, against Toronto, when pinch hitter Jim Traber recorded their only hit with two outs in the ninth. Yes, that's the second of Dave Stieb's famous back-to-back lost no-hitters.

July 4: Christian Colon, Brian Roberts, and Andrew McCutchen all collected a triple and two doubles (Roberts had three) in their respective games. We touched on two of them here. But the last time three players did it on the same day? September 14, 1935! Rookie Ival Goodman of the Reds-- who led the NL in triples that season-- joined future Hall of Famers Earl Averill (Indians) and Freddie Lindstrom (Cubs) with that line.

July 11: Dan Johnson's line for the Toronto Blue Jays: 0-for-0, four walks, three runs scored. Four players this year have played an entire game with no at-bats, but Johnson was the first Jay ever to score three times in a game where he had zero at-bats.

For extra fun, it was Johnson's first game of the year; he had spent the season in triple-A until Edwin Encarnacion went on the disabled list.

Several dozen players have left their first game of a year due to injuries or substitutions, but Johnson is the first non-pitcher whose season debut was a complete-game 0-for-0 since April 17, 1934. Catcher Paul Richards drew three walks and hit one sacrifice for the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds.

Lester looks like he's locked in

July, 20, 2014
Jul 20
If Jon Lester had appeal to a team contending before postseason, he's done nothing but increase that over the last few weeks. Lester is 5-1 with a 1.41 ERA in his last nine starts (and has an 0.85 ERA in his last seven) after throwing eight scoreless innings against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. In his last six starts at Fenway Park, he has allowed three earned runs in 44 innings, with 49 strikeouts and five walks.

Lester is now 7-3 with a 1.43 ERA in 11 career starts against the Royals. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that his ERA is the lowest for any active pitcher with at least 10 starts against an opponent (Clayton Kershaw ranks second with a 1.48 ERA in 22 starts against the San Francisco Giants).

Lester now has four starts against the Royals in which he held them scoreless and pitched at least eight innings, including his no-hitter in 2008. All of those starts have been at Fenway Park, where Lester is 6-0 with a 0.86 ERA in seven starts lifetime against the Royals.

What’s going well
One of the pitches that has been money for Lester has been his fastball, particularly when it has been located in the middle or upper-third of the strike zone (or above it).

The Royals were 0 for 7 with four strikeouts (with a walk and hit by pitch) in their plate appearances against it on Sunday.

In this nine-start run, opponents have made 80 outs and reached 18 times via hit, walk, error or hit by pitch against that pitch in that area.

Prior to that, they had made 76 outs and reached base 31 times.

Lester has also gotten great mileage out of his curveball. He has 22 strikeouts on the last 66 two-strike curveballs he’s thrown (a 33 percent “putaway rate” after striking out 12 with his first 60 two-strike curves (20 percent “putaway rate”).

Lester had not allowed a hit with his curveball in his last five starts, but did give up two on Sunday (he also got seven outs with the pitch).

The other big difference for Lester is in how he’s fared with runners in scoring position. Opposing hitters started the season 20 for 60 against him in those situations. They are since 6 for their last 48 and 3 for their last 34.

Stat of the Day
Lester has also matched a career best by allowing two earned runs or fewer in seven straight starts.

Lester now has a pair of streaks of seven straight starts in which he allowed two earned runs or fewer. This is his first one since 2006.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Lester is one of three Red Sox lefties to have multiple such streaks of at least seven straight starts. The other two are Dutch Leonard and Babe Ruth.

Rory McIlroy in the company of legends

July, 20, 2014
Jul 20

Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty ImagesRory McIlroy's drives were the most powerful in the field.
Rory McIlroy reached an elite plateau with his victory at the Open Championship on Sunday.

The 25-year-old McIlroy is the third-youngest player in the Masters era to win three majors and the third-youngest to win three legs of the career Grand Slam, trailing only Jack Nicklaus (23) and Tiger Woods (24).

McIlroy is now a Masters win away from joining the small group of players who have won the career Grand Slam. Those in that club are Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Nicklaus and Woods.

McIlroy became the seventh player to win the Open Championship in wire-to-wire fashion (without ties) and joins Woods and Raymond Floyd as the only players with multiple wire-to-wire major wins.

The last time consecutive majors were won in wire-to-wire fashion was in 2005, when Woods won the Open Championship at St Andrews and Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.

McIlroy finished the week at 17-under-par 271, one shot off the Royal Liverpool scoring record set by Woods in 2006 and two shots off the record for most strokes under par at a major (Woods at the 2000 Open Championship).

What made McIlroy so good?

He led the field with an average drive of 327.8 yards, shot 12-under on the par-5 holes and tied for the best in the field at 12-under on the back-nine holes.

McIlroy reached seven par-5s in two shots, creating frequent opportunities to two-putt for birdie.

Sergio Garcia, who finished tied for second, notched his first top-five finish since the 2008 PGA Championship -- 23 majors ago. He tied with Rickie Fowler, who became the first golfer to shoot four Open Championship rounds in the 60s and not win since Ernie Els in 2004.

Woods shot a final-round 75 to finish 69th. It’s his worst finish as a pro at a major where he made the cut.

There have now been 25 straight majors without a Woods victory. He falls behind Nicklaus’ major pace, as Nicklaus won his 15th major at The Open Championship at the age of 38.