Stats & Info: Minnesota Twins

Kernels: Capitol Gains

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
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Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesThe Nationals won via walk-off five times this week.
Congress always takes an extra-long recess in August because Washington gets really hot in the summer. Our weekly look at the interesting and unusual in Major League Baseball concurs: Washington has been pretty hot in August.

After walk-off wins last weekend against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Washington Nationals ran that streak to three with Adam LaRoche's 11th-inning homer on Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. That gave the franchise just its second streak of three straight walk-offs, the other being July 26-28, 1988, against the Cubs and Cardinals (Mike Fitzgerald had two of those, one a pinch-hit grand slam). It was the team's first set of back-to-back walk-offs in the 11th or later since June 2009.

They weren't done. The Nats walked off twice more to close the Arizona series, with both game-ending hits by Anthony Rendon. In the process they became the first team with four walk-offs in five days since the Kansas City Royals did it from April 10-13, 2000 (Johnny Damon, Brian Johnson, Rey Sanchez, Carlos Beltran); and the first team with five in six days since the Houston Astros won five straight via walk-off from July 19-23, 1986.

Thursday's game was the franchise's first 1-0 win via walk-off since June 2011, and the first time they had won a game without an RBI since August 27, 1995. It was also the last in a 10-game win streak, tying the longest in the majors this year (Royals in June) and the longest in franchise history (last done in 2005).


"(R, Minnesota)"

No, not Republicans... runs. The Minnesota Twins piled up an MLB-season-high 20 in Friday's thumping of the Detroit Tigers. It was the team's highest run total since May 2009, and just the second time any team had scored 20 runs outdoors in Minneapolis. The Twins won a 20-11 slugfest with Oakland on April 27, 1980, at Metropolitan Stadium.

Five players scored three runs on Friday, the first time that's happened since the Cleveland Indians did it on April 18, 2009 (that's the game where they had a 14-run inning against the Yankees). The 20-6 game also came on the seventh anniversary of the Rangers' famous 30-3 win over the Orioles. (We predict a 10-9 game on August 22, 2021.)

Eduardo Escobar had five hits including a homer and a triple, the first player in the majors to do that this season, and just the second ever for Minnesota. Tim Teufel had two homers and a triple against Toronto on September 16, 1983. At the same time, Escobar committed two errors in the field, becoming (via Elias) the first player with five hits and two errors since Angel Berroa did it for the Royals in 2003.

Second baseman Andrew Romine pitched the ninth inning for Detroit, joining Danny Worth as Tigers position players to pitch this season. The last time the Tigers had two position players throw in the same year was in 1918. Player-manager Ty Cobb frequently put himself on the mound in the final game of the season if it didn't mean anything, and in that particular finale, left fielder Donny Veach relieved him.

Romine, for his part, gave up three runs including longballs by Oswaldo Arcia and Trevor Plouffe. He's the first position player to give up two homers in a game since outfielder Dane Iorg of the Padres did it in an 18-1 loss against the Giants on June 23, 1986.

The Twins added 12 more in the day game of Saturday's doubleheader, their first time scoring 12+ in consecutive games since September 13, 2008, when they swept a doubleheader in Baltimore. The 32 combined runs in two games were three shy of the franchise record. The Tigers then won 13-4 on Sunday, their most runs scored in Minnesota since July 4, 1999 (won 15-5). The 73 total runs were the most in any four-game series in over two years.

"(d, New York)"

The New York Mets have cornered the market on small "D"s over the last couple years, with Travis d'Arnaud, Jacob deGrom, and Matt den Dekker all on the 25-man roster at some point this season. That already made the Mets the first team with three "lowercase" players on the roster at once, but thanks to callups, injuries, and deGrom being a pitcher who only plays every five days, the three had never appeared in a game together. That changed Saturday when all of them started against the Dodgers, the first trio of lowercase players ever to appear in the same boxscore.

Top stats to know: Yankees at Twins

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
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Andrew Fielding/USA TODAY SportsDerek Jeter has 24 career hits on July 4, most among active players.
The New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins play the second game of their four-game series this afternoon (3 ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN). We take a look at some of the things the broadcast crew will talk about.

The Shift Report
New York has shifted 503 times so far this season, trailing only the Houston Astros, who have shifted 764 times.

Last season, the Yankees shifted a total of 475 times. In fact, since 2010, the Yankees have increased their use of the shift.

As for Minnesota, it has used the shift 202 times this season. While that’s near the middle of the pack (16th overall), it’s already more shifts than they had in the last four seasons combined (189).

Pitching Matchup
The Twins are the second team that Chase Whitley will face for the second time this season.

When he faced the Toronto Blue Jays for a second time (June 23), he allowed 8 runs in 3⅓ innings.

Whitley has thrown five or fewer innings in seven of his nine starts this season.

That has helped tax the bullpen - only two teams – Tampa Bay (4,883) and Miami (4,800) - have had more pitches thrown by relievers this season than the Yankees (4,706).

For Minnesota, Kyle Gibson will take the mound at Target Field, a place he has enjoyed pitching. This season, Gibson is 4-1 with a 1.54 ERA at home, compared to 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA on the road.

Among qualified starters this season, Gibson’s home ERA is the second-lowest in the majors, trailing only Julio Teheran (1.22).

Gibson has been able to get opposing hitters to chase nearly a third of the pitches he throws outside the strike zone.

That’s fourth best among qualified starters in the American League.

Misc.
• Derek Jeter is 24-for-69 (.348) in his career on July 4. That’s the most Independence Day hits by any active player.

• Brian Dozier has 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases in the Twins first 84 games, putting him just off pace for a 30-30 season. He’s the only player in the majors to reach 15-15 so far this season. No Twins player has ever recorded a 30-30 season.

Nolasco's best nets a big payday

November, 28, 2013
11/28/13
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Rob Leiter/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesRicky Nolasco profited off a strong 2013 season.
The Minnesota Twins made one of the boldest free agent moves they've ever made, reportedly agreeing to a deal with free agent starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco.

Media reports put the value of the deal at four years and $49 million.

In 2013, Nolasco had his best season since 2008, his first full year as a full-time starter, with a 3.70 ERA and 1.21 WHIP (down from an average of 4.42 and 1.28 over the previous five seasons).

The Twins are hoping for the version of Nolasco that was 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA in his first 12 starts after being traded from the Miami Marlins to the Los Angeles Dodgers, rather than the one who went 0-3 with a 10.59 ERA over his final five appearances (including a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS).

The Twins ranked 26th, 29th and 30th in the major leagues in starting pitcher ERA over the last three seasons. The latter two are among the nine worst in franchise history.

The contract
The contract will be the largest the Twins have ever given to a free agent in terms of total value and average annual value.

The previous high for total value was a five-year $30-million deal given to Kirby Puckett, who re-signed with the team in the 1992-93 offseason (the second-largest free agent deal that offseason).

The largest given to someone who was not with the team was a three-year, $21-million deal given to Josh Willingham in the 2011-12 offseason.

He's the first free agent to sign a deal with the Twins averaging more than $9 million per season. Brad Radke had the previous highest average annual value, a two-year deal worth $18 million in the 2004-05 offseason.

What made Nolasco better in 2013?
Advanced metrics have usually projected Nolasco to be a better pitcher than his basic numbers indicated because of his strikeouts, walks and ERA.

This was actually Nolasco’s best season in terms of those three stats, relative to the rest of the league.

He finished with 165 strikeouts, 46 walks and 17 home runs allowed in 199 1/3 innings, his third straight season pitching more than 190 innings.

One of the things that led to Nolasco’s ERA being lower was that in addition to the numbers just cited, the Dodgers and Marlins turned ground balls into outs for him at a higher rate than the Marlins had from 2010 to 2012.

In that three-season span, about 29 percent of the ground balls against him resulted in a batter reaching base. In 2013, that dipped to 23 percent.

The difference is about 15 baserunners over the course of a season.

What went wrong at the end of 2013?
Nolasco got roughed up at the end of the season in two starts against the Giants, and once against the Diamondbacks and Cardinals.

The issue appeared to be one of too many hittable heaters.

Nolasco’s rate of fastballs thrown in the strike zone was nine percentage points above his 48 percent rate through the rest of the regular season.

In turn those pitches were rapped around quite a bit, as noted in the chart on the right.

Morneau carrying a potent bat of late

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
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Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsJustin Morneau will be getting his high-fives elsewhere after 11 seasons in Minnesota.
The Pittsburgh Pirates made another big move on the final day teams can acquire players in order to use them on their postseason roster, obtaining Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named later.

Let’s take a look at some of the notable statistical storylines related to this trade.

Power surge
Morneau has bumped his slugging percentage to .543 in August, thanks largely to nine homers this month, one more than he hit from April through the end of July.

The nine homers have come off a mix of fastballs (four) and offspeed pitches (five). The power increase has come even as Morneau’s miss rate against hard stuff (fastballs, cutters, sinkers, splitters) has jumped from 17 percent to 21 percent.

But Morneau has done a good job taking advantage of pitcher’s mistakes. He had one home run on 109 pitches that were defined as being in the middle of the strike zone, both width-wise and height-wise through the end of July. In August, he’s seen 37 pitches to that area and has four home runs.

Filling a need
Entering the day, Pirates left-handed hitters had a .229 batting average, .296 on-base percentage and .694 OPS. The former two ranked worst in the majors. The latter ranked seventh-worst.

Morneau is a particularly potent bat against right-handed pitching, with a .281/.343/.488 slashline.

He also provides slightly better defense at first base than the Pirates had been getting. He has four Defensive Runs Saved this season. The Pirates first basemen have combined for -3 Defensive Runs Saved.

A popular Twin says goodbye
Morneau’s Twins career has likely come to an end after 11 seasons. His 221 career home runs rank third on the team’s all-time list, behind Harmon Killebrew (475) and Kent Hrbek (293) and his 860 RBI rank fifth-best. He has the second and third-best single-season RBI totals in Twins history, with 130 in 2006 and 129 in 2008, trailing only Harmon Killebrew’s 140 in 1969.

Did You Know?
Morneau is 10-for-13 with two sacrifice flies with the bases loaded this season. That .769 batting average is best in baseball and a sharp turnaround from 2012, when he was 2-for-20 with the bases loaded.

Sanchez's no-hit bid has familiar ring to it

May, 25, 2013
5/25/13
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There have been a bunch of times that it seemed like we were going to see the first no-hitter in the major leagues this season.

But Anibal Sanchez’s bid came up just short against the Minnesota Twins. It gets added to the list of really good pitching performances this season.

Let’s run through some of the statistical highlights.

Nothing new for Sanchez
Sanchez has thrown five complete games in which he has allowed one hit or fewer, the most of any active pitcher (with the complete games being a minimum of nine innings). In the past 40 seasons, only Nolan Ryan (14), Dave Stieb (6) and Randy Johnson (6) have more.

This was also the second time Sanchez had a no-hitter broken up in the ninth inning in the past three seasons. On April 22, 2011, he had one against the Colorado Rockies, broken up by Dexter Fowler leading off the ninth inning.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted Sanchez is the first pitcher to have two no-hit bids broken up that late within a three-year span since Pedro Martinez did in 1994 and 1995.

Elias also noted Sanchez became the third pitcher in Tigers history to throw a shutout in which he allowed one hit or fewer and struck out at least 12. Justin Verlander and Jim Bunning each did that in no-hitters, and Verlander also did it in a one-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates last season.

This was Sanchez's third 10-strikeout game in 22 starts with the Tigers.

He had three in 132 starts with the Marlins.

Nothing new for the Tigers
This was the third time the Tigers had a no-hit bid broken up in the ninth inning in the past four seasons. The others were by Armando Galarraga against the Cleveland Indians (which would have been a perfect game if not for a blown call at first base)and Verlander in that start against the Pirates.

And nothing new for Mauer, either
This was the third time Joe Mauer broke up a no-hit bid in the ninth inning. He also did so against Gavin Floyd and the White Sox in 2008, and a combined effort by the Texas Rangers in 2010.

Elias noted that in the expansion era (since 1961), Mauer and former Yankee Horace Clarke are the only players to break up three no-hit bids in the ninth inning.

What made Sanchez so good?
This game was a little different from Sanchez’s 17-strikeout game against the Atlanta Braves on April 26. That day, he recorded 28 swings-and-misses, twice as many as he had against the Twins on Friday night.

What stood out for Sanchez was that his called-strike rate was a season-high 42 percent (32 strikes on 77 takes).

Sanchez got to two strikes on 20 hitters and retired all 20, striking out 12. He struck out six with his fastball, three with his slider, two with his changeup and one with his curveball. The six strikeouts with his fastball were his most in more than a year (he had seven against the Arizona Diamondbacks last April 28).

The Tigers' defense, which has had trouble converting batted balls into outs all season, came through for Sanchez in this one. Sanchez entered the game with a .361 opponents batting average on balls in play, the fifth-highest in the majors among ERA-title qualifiers.

Great games, no no-nos
Sanchez posted a 94 on the Bill James Game Score metric, the fourth-best start this season. The only ones it trailed were Shelby Miller’s one-hit shutout against the Rockies (98), Matt Harvey’s one-hit no-decision against the Chicago White Sox (97) and Yu Darvish’s near-perfecto versus the Houston Astros (96).

It tied for the third-best by a Tigers pitcher since 2000, trailing only a Verlander no-hitter and one-hitter.

Had he gotten it
Had he completed the no-hit bid, Sanchez would have become the fourth active pitcher to throw a pair of no-hitters, joining Verlander, Roy Halladay and Mark Buehrle.

He also would have become the seventh pitcher to throw no-hitters for multiple teams in major league history, joining a list that includes Cy Young, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan.

To pitch or not to pitch to Miguel Cabrera?

May, 24, 2013
5/24/13
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Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown season was clearly not a fluke.

Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera
Cabrera has been even more dominant thus far this season.

After going 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBI in the Detroit Tigers’ 7-6 win over the Minnesota Twins, Cabrera now has 14 homers and 55 RBI in 45 games this season.

Cabrera is on pace for 198 RBI, which would break Hack Wilson’s single-season RBI record of 191 in 1930.

Cabrera is the first player with at least 55 RBI in his team's first 45 games of a season since Manny Ramirez in 2001.

Cabrera joins Ramirez (2001), Jimmie Foxx (1932) and Chuck Klein (1930) as the only players in MLB history with at least 14 home runs and 55 RBI with a .390 or better batting average through their team’s first 45 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Entering Thursday, Cabrera had seen only five inside fastballs that were 86 MPH or slower this season.

Scott Diamond threw Cabrera four of those pitches in his first at-bat Thursday (four consecutive pitches), the last of which he hit for a home run (86 MPH fastball).

Cabrera’s homer came on a two-strike fastball. He’s hitting an MLB-best .432 this season on two-strike fastballs. His on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS also lead the league against those pitches.

With a runner on second base and one out and the game tied 6-6 in the eighth inning, the Twins intentionally walked Cabrera with a base open to get to Fielder.

That perhaps was a mistake.

Prince Fielder
Fielder
Fielder hit an RBI single to give the Tigers the lead and ultimately the win.

Over the last two seasons -- since joining the Tigers -- Fielder is 8-for-16 (.500 BA) with 11 RBI following a Cabrera intentional walk.

This season alone, he's 3-for-4 with five RBI in those situations.

If you can’t walk him and he hits nearly everything, what is the best solution when facing Cabrera?

There’s probably no answer for that question.


Twins' Hernandez struggles against righties

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
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(The Boston Red Sox host the Minnesota Twins, Wednesday at 7 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN.)

A pair of rookie starting pitchers take the mound at Fenway Park. Pedro Hernandez and Allen Webster were acquired by the Twins and Red Sox, respectively, in midseason trades.

Hernandez came to Minnesota in the deal that sent Francisco Liriano to the Chicago White Sox, and Webster was part of the blockbuster deal that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Hernandez will be making his fifth career start, and he can expect to see a heavy dose of right-handed bats in the Red Sox lineup. Left-handed hitters are 4-for-29 against Hernandez, but right-handed batters are hitting .353, with three home runs, and twice as many walks as strikeouts.

Webster has even less experience than Hernandez. He’s making his second major-league start. In his only other start of 2013 (April 21 against the Kansas City Royals), Webster’s fastball averaged 94.5 mph – the seventh-fastest average in a start this season by a pitcher who threw at least 40 fastballs.

Ortiz 27 And Counting
David Ortiz is riding a 27-game hit streak that dates back to July 2, 2012. Among hit streaks since 1900 of at least 20 games, Ortiz’s streak is the second-longest in terms of days (309), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Only Nomar Garciaparra's 21-game streak that spanned 322 days from September 2000 to July 2001 was longer.

The only designated hitters who have had longer hit streaks are Paul Molitor (39 games in 1987) and Juan Gonzalez (30 games spanning the 1998-99 seasons). Ortiz is also seven games shy of the longest hit streak in franchise history. Dom DiMaggio hit safely in 34 straight games in 1949.

Ortiz is also just 63 hits shy of Harold Baines’ record for the most hits by a designated hitter. Baines had 1,688 hits as a DH.

Mauer looks to stay hot
As for the Twins, Joe Mauer has hit in six straight games and is 4-for-9 with three doubles in the first two games of this series. Minnesota's No. 3 hitter Josh Willingham, has the highest walk rate in baseball this season at 20.0 percent.

However, the Twins aren’t receiving much production behind Mauer and Willingham.

Minnesota’s No. 4 and 5 hitters -- primarily Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmelee -- have hit just .217 with three home runs and a .597 OPS.

Beltre looks low, aims high

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
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ESPN Stats & InformationTake a look at the heat map to see where Adrian Beltre’s hits came in his three-homer game on Wednesday and his cycle on Friday.
A three-homer game one day, a cycle two days later? Adrian Beltre is channeling his inner-2004 self right now.

Adrian Beltre
Beltre
After hitting three home runs against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday, Beltre hit his second career cycle against the Minnesota Twins.

Beltre is the second player in Major League history with a three-home run game and a cycle in a seven-day span. The only other one to do so was Joe DiMaggio in 1948, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But nobody has done it in a shorter span than Beltre.

Only three other players in the last 25 seasons have had a three-homer game and a cycle in the same season, according to Elias: Jose Reyes in 2006, Miguel Tejada in 2001 and Dave Winfield in 1991.

All four of his hits on Friday and four of his five homers over the last three games came in the lower half of the strike zone. Beltre has 12 hits in his last 15 at-bats against pitches in the lower half of the strike zone.

Beltre’s only other career cycle came in 2008 for the Seattle Mariners against the Rangers. Elias says Beltre is just the second player since 1900 to hit for the cycle for and against the same team. The other is Joe Cronin, who hit a cycle for the Boston Red Sox in 1940 against the Detroit Tigers, and against the Red Sox 11 years earlier in 1929 while with the Washington Senators.

Beltre's triple and home run both came against two-strike breaking pitches. He now has five home runs this season against such pitches, more than his total from 2009 to 2011.

CHRIS DAVIS

Beltre wasn’t the only player with a hot night at the plate on Friday. Orioles designated hitter Chris Davis homered three times.

Elias tells us the Orioles are the first team in MLB history to be involved in two straight games in which a player has hit at least three home runs. Beltre hit three against them Wednesday and Davis did it for them in their next game.

Earlier this season, Davis earned a win on the mound in a 17-inning game at the Boston Red Sox. He’s just the third player with a three-homer game in a season in which he won a game as a pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900). The other two to do so are Babe Ruth (1930 Yankees) and Jim Tobin (1942 Braves).

Chris Davis
Davis
Davis' three homers came on pitches of very different speeds.

His first homer came on an 86-MPH fastball from Carlos Villanueva. He followed that up with a homer off a curveball Villanueva threw at 75 MPH, the slowest pitch against which Davis has homered this season. Against reliever Steve Delabar, Davis hit the third homer on a 95-MPH fastball, the fastest pitch against which Davis has homered this season.

Davis is the first player this year to homer on a pitch 75 MPH or slower and a pitch 95 MPH or faster in the same game.

Getty ImagesThe Oakland A's celebrate their walk-off win against the Giants on Sunday.
Plenty of action on this busy Sunday in June with several late-inning dramatic comebacks to keep fans in their seats until the final pitch.

NO SWEEP BY THE BAY
Out west, the Oakland Athletics trailed 2-1 and were down to their last strike before Derek Norris’s first career home run sent the fans home happy with a 4-2 walk-off win over the San Francisco Giants.

This is just the second time in Athletics history that they've won a regular-season game against the Giants on a walk-off home run. The other came in 1999, and in both instances the Athletics were trailing and down to their last out at the time of the home run.

The last Athletics walk-off home run to come when trailing was by Marco Scutaro against Mariano Rivera on April 15, 2007.

SOUTH SIDE HEROICS
The Chicago White Sox got a pinch-hit 10th inning single from Eduardo Escobar to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 1-0, and move past the Cleveland Indians into first place in the AL Central.

It was the first career walk-off hit for Escobar and the first extra-inning, pinch-hit walk-off hit by a White Sox player since Mario Valdez’s 10th inning single beat the Kansas City Royals on June 25, 1997.

Rookie Jose Quintana spun another gem, tossing eight scoreless innings with no walks. Quintana held the Brewers hitless in 10 at-bats ending in a slider; opponents are hitting .177 against the pitch this season.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT
The Tampa Bay Rays rallied for a 3-2 win in the first game of their doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies thanks to Carlos Pena’s eighth inning three-run homer. It was Pena’s sixth go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later with the Rays, the second-most such homers in team history.

David Price earned his 10th win of the season with seven innings of one-run ball. Price's fastball averaged 96.7 MPH, matching his fastest this year. With two strikes, he upped it to 97.5 MPH, and the Phillies went hitless in seven two-strike at-bats ending in a heater.

VERLANDER HOOKS PIRATES
The Detroit Tigers avoided a sweep by the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 3-2 win as Delmon Young singled home Quintin Berry in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie. Justin Verlander went the distance, notching his MLB-best fourth complete game this season.

Verlander relied on his hook to put away batters, throwing 27 curveballs, his second-highest total of the season. The Pirates were hitless with four strikeouts in seven at-bats ending with the pitch.

ELSEWHERE AROUND THE DIAMOND
• Matt Wieters’ two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning gave the Baltimore Orioles a 2-1 comeback win over the Washington Nationals. The Orioles have an MLB-leading eight go-ahead homers in the eighth inning or later this season.

• The Minnesota Twins rallied to beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 thanks to a ninth inning, game-winning two-run home run from Josh Willingham. This was Willingham’s second go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later this season; only Adam Jones (3) has more.

Elite young lefties in national spotlight

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
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Howard Smith/US PresswireClayton Kershaw will try to end the Dodgers' two-game skid this afternoon in Oakland.
There are just six major-league games on the schedule today, but still plenty of intriguing games and ace pitching matchups.

Los Angeles Dodgers at Oakland Athletics, 3:35 ET
Clayton Kershaw is coming off one of his worst starts of the season, when he allowed five runs (four earned) on a season-high-tying eight hits in a six-inning no-decision against the White Sox.

Kershaw, who won the pitching Triple Crown last year, ranking first in the NL in ERA, wins and strikeouts, has not been able to replicate those numbers this year.

One problem is that his slider has been hit hard. He has allowed five homers on sliders this year, after giving up just three on the pitch all of last year. His percentage of at-bats ending in a well-hit slider has also more than doubled this season compared to 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays at Washington Nationals, 7:05 ET
A pair of elite young lefties square off in Washington tonight as Matt Moore faces Gio Gonzalez. Moore and Gonzalez both are two of the best in the majors at missing bats, each ranking in the top 10 this season among southpaws in strikeout rate and miss percentage.

Gonzalez, who is allowing a tiny .071 batting average with two strikes, is putting up historic numbers. Only one lefty starter in major-league history has matched or bettered his rate of 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings – Randy Johnson did it an amazing seven times.

Gonzalez has also given up just one home run in 13 starts this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one other pitcher in the last 20 seasons gave up no more than one homer through his first 13 starts: Jake Peavy for the 2007 Padres.

Minnesota Twins at Pittsburgh Pirates, 7:05 ET
The Pirates put the NL’s second-best home record and the major’s best home ERA on the line tonight in their rubber match with the Twins. The Pirates' 2.37 home ERA would be the lowest in a single season since the 1988 Mets had a 2.31 ERA at Shea Stadium.

James McDonald, who was roughed up in his most recent home start, still owns a 1.75 ERA at PNC Park this season and had pitched a quality start in his first six home outings before giving up three runs in four innings against the Royals on June 9.

McDonald’s breaking pitches have been nearly unhittable at home this season. Opponents are 8-for-58 (.138) with 23 strikeouts in at-bats ending in a slider or curveball at PNC Park. Lefties have fared even worse; they have just one hit in 23 at-bats (.043) ending in a breaking pitch at home.

McDonald will be challenged by Trevor Plouffe, who has nine home runs this month, second only to Jose Bautista. Plouffe, however, has struggled mightily against breaking pitches from righties this season, hitting .167 (6-for-36) with just one home run.

Standing tall for Marlins, Mets, others

June, 4, 2012
6/04/12
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As we enter the third month of the season, here are some notes on the current major-league baseball standings that struck us as interesting:

• There are 19 teams with a .500 or better record right now. That sounds more impressive than it actually is. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time 19 teams were .500 or better at this point in a season was after games were finished on July 31, 2010.

• There are eight teams with 30 or 31 wins, but only two (Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers) with more than 31 wins.

• There are 14 teams either in the Wild Card lead or within 3 games of a wild card spot (not including the six division leaders).

• There are three teams on pace to lose at least 100 games this season: Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres.

The only time in the last 25 seasons that three-or-more teams finished with at least 100 losses in a season was 2002, when a record four teams had 100-plus losses.

• All of the teams in the AL East and NL East are .500 or better. According to Elias, this is the latest into a season that every team is .500 or better in those divisions.

• It’s not how you start, but how you do after you start. Want proof?
- The Detroit Tigers started 9-3. They have since gone 16-26.
- The Kansas City Royals started 3-14. They have since gone 20-15
- The Boston Red Sox started 12-19. They have since gone 16-7

• The Miami Marlins have more wins since May 1 than Cubs, Padres and Twins do all season. The Marlins also have as many wins since May 1 (23) as Royals, Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies do all season.

• The Pittsburgh Pirates are over .500 at 27-26. Their last winning season was 1992. They were over .500 as late as August 1 last year (54-53).

• The Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, and Pirates are above .500 but are being outscored on the season. Last year, the only team to finish with a winning record and a negative run differential was the San Francisco Giants (86-76, -8).

• The Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Rangers are the only AL teams over .500 at home and on road. Last year, six AL teams had winning records both at home and on the road.

For more debate on the best divisions in baseball, read our Divisional Rankings from last week

Greinke extends historic home streak

May, 20, 2012
5/20/12
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Zack Greinke
Greinke
No team could use a stretch of favorable pitching matchups more than the Minnesota Twins, who entered Sunday with the worst record in the majors at 14-26. But, as teams far better than the Twins have learned the hard way, facing Zack Greinke at Miller Park is anything but favorable for opposing hitters.

Greinke won again at home Sunday, allowing just one run and striking out six as the Milwaukee Brewers smashed the Twins 16-4. It was Greinke’s 18th straight win in a home decision, with the last 14 coming since he arrived in Milwaukee from Kansas City.

With the win, Greinke became the first pitcher to win 18 straight home decisions since Kenny Rogers won 19 consecutive decisions at home with four different teams from 1997 to 2000.

Greinke and Rogers are two of the six pitchers with a win streak of at least 18 in home decisions in the live-ball era (since 1920). They’re joined by Roy Face, Frank Viola, Ray Kremer and Lefty Grove, who had two separate streaks of at least 18 wins in home decisions (18 from 1932-33, 20 from 1938-40).

Greinke hasn’t lost a home start since July 26, 2010, when he allowed eight runs over four innings in a 19-1 loss to the Twins.

Greinke wasn’t the only Brewer to make history Sunday. Jonathan Lucroy drove in seven runs, tying a franchise record. He joined Carlos Ruiz (May 2, 2012) as the only catchers to have at least seven RBI in a game in the last two seasons.

Elsewhere in the majors Sunday, Max Scherzer had a career-high 15 strikeouts, one shy of a Detroit Tigers franchise record, in a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Scherzer induced 26 swings-and-misses, the most by any pitcher this season and the most since Brandon Morrow had 26 on May 5, 2010 vs the Cleveland Indians.

Scherzer became the second AL pitcher to strike out at least 15 in seven or fewer innings in the last 90 years. Baltimore Orioles starter Mike Mussina struck out 15 in seven innings against the Boston Red Sox on September 24, 2000.

In other MLB action Sunday:

" Stephen Strasburg hit his first career home run and earned the win in the Washington Nationals 9-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Strasburg is now hitting .375 this season and has an extra-base hit in four of his last five games.

" Josh Beckett allowed one run on seven hits as the Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1. Beckett has now won consecutive starts for the first time since August 2011 and has allowed one run in his last 14T innings.

" The Phillies fell to 1-5 in Cliff Lee’s starts this season after he allowed five runs, his most since July 2011, to the Red Sox. The Phillies were 22-10 in Lee’s 32 starts last season.

Breaking down Hamilton's homer barrage

May, 12, 2012
5/12/12
10:31
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AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJosh Hamilton tied an MLB record with his 18th homer in the Rangers' 34th game Saturday.
Josh Hamilton homered for the ninth time in his past six games Saturday, sending C.J. Wilson’s 80 mph curveball into the right-field seats in the sixth inning of the Texas Rangers' 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

One key to Hamilton’s power surge has been his ability hit breaking balls out of the yard. After Saturday, Hamilton now has seven home runs on breaking balls this season, already his most in any season since joining the Rangers in 2008.

Hamilton is hitting .420 against breaking balls in 2012, a dramatic increase over his .260 average against such pitches a year ago. And his slugging percentage against curveballs and sliders is .860, dwarfing his 2011 mark of .468.

Hamilton’s sudden ability to smash breaking balls has helped him get off to one of the best starts to a season in major league history.

His 18 homers have tied Cy Williams of the 1923 Phillies for the most all-time through 34 team games. And with nine home runs in his past six games, Hamilton is just one shy of the MLB record for homers in a six-game span set by Frank Howard with 10 in 1968, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Hamilton’s 18 home runs this season are five more than the entire San Diego Padres team and one fewer than the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins.

Hamilton will look to continue his record run Sunday night against Jered Weaver and the Angels on ESPN. Hamilton has 34 career at-bats against Weaver, his second most against any pitcher, but just one home run.

Elsewhere in the majors Saturday:

• 2011 home run champ Jose Bautista hit his 10th career home run at Target Field in just his 10th game at the park. Only four players, all Twins, have more HR at Target Field since it opened in 2010. According to Elias, Bautista is the first player to hit 10 HR in his first 10 games in a ballpark since Shawn Green at Miller Park from 2001 to 2004.

• Roy Halladay took the loss after allowing seven hits and two runs in seven innings as the Philadelphia Phillies lost to the Padres. The Phillies have now lost each of Halladay’s past five starts. That ties the longest losing streak for a team in Roy Halladay starts, matching the Toronto Blue Jays' five-game losing streak in Halladay starts in 1999.

• The Boston Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians 4-1 for their second straight home win following a six-game losing streak at Fenway Park. It’s the first time the Red Sox have won back-to-back home games since April 13-15.

Price, Rays keep rolling at Tropicana Field

May, 5, 2012
5/05/12
12:21
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Kim Klement/US PresswireDavid Price helped the Rays win their 10th straight game at Tropicana Field.
The Tampa Bay Rays scored seven runs in the first four innings to roll past the Oakland Athletics for their 10th straight win at Tropicana Field. That’s the second-longest single-season home winning streak in franchise history, trailing only an 11-game run in 2008.

The Rays are the first American League team to start 13-1 at home since the Minnesota Twins won 14 of their first 15 home games in 2002. In 2009, the Los Angeles Dodgers were the last MLB team to start 13-1.

David Price was able to shut down the Athletics with the combination of his fastball and slider.

Sixty-three percent of Price’s pitches were fastballs, and the A’s went 0-for-11 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with the heater.

With two strikes, Price went with his slider to end the at-bat. He threw 11 of his 15 sliders with two strikes and recorded six strikeouts. That’s his most whiffs with the slider since 2009.

He didn’t even need to stay in the zone to retire the opposing hitters. Over half of his pitches (56 of 106) were outside the strike zone. The Athletics swung and missed on 58 percent of pitches outside the zone, including six strikeouts. Price hadn’t induced as many chases on pitches outside the zone in a start since his rookie season.

With the win, Price improves to 30-3 at home in his career when getting at least three runs of support.

Around the Diamond
• Albert Pujols went four at-bats without a home run on Friday. His 108 at-bats without a home run this season are his longest single-season streak in his career, passing a 105 at-bat streak last season. Two long homer droughts were snapped Friday, as Shin-Soo Choo (67 at-bats) and Mark Reynolds (66 at-bats) hit their first of the season.

• Also in Anaheim, the Los Angeles Angels were shut out with Ervin Santana on the hill for the fifth straight time. Thanks to our friends at Elias, we know that this is the first time in major-league history that a starting pitcher has received no run support over five straight starts (11 pitchers had gone four straight starts without a run scored on their behalf).

• Wilson Ramos hit a bases-loaded single in the 10th inning as the Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies to pick up their MLB-leading fifth walk-off win of the season.

• Mark Teixeira went 2-for-3 with a home run against Bruce Chen, improving to 11-for-22 with seven homers in his career against Chen. That is the most home runs he has hit against any pitcher in the majors.

• Stephen Strasburg allowed two home runs to right-handed hitters; entering the game, he had only allowed one homer to a righty in his career.

• Jerry Hairston Jr. went deep for the Dodgers, and has now hit a home run for six different teams since 2009. No other player has hit homers for as many teams in the same span.

• The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the New York Mets 5-4, snapping a nine-game losing streak in one-run games. According to Elias, that was the second longest streak in franchise history; the Diamondbacks lost 13 consecutive one-run games in 2004.

• Jamey Carroll singled in the first inning to snap a streak of 47 hitless at-bats for the Twins. Elias reports that it was the longest hitless at-bat streak by a team in a season since the San Diego Padres also went 47 at-bats between hits in June 1995.

Andrew Davis contributed to this post.

AL East dominates divisional rankings

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
10:24
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After one month of baseball, the American League East sits atop ESPN Stats & Info’s MLB Divisional Power Rankings by a wide margin.

Dating to last season, the AL East has never held a larger lead than its current 25.6-point lead over the National League East. Strong starts by the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays have given the AL East five of the top 12 teams in baseball, according to ESPN.com’s most recent power rankings.

Additionally, the AL East has been close to unstoppable outside of the division, posting a 44-25 (.637 win percentage) record in games against non-divisional opponents. No other division has a win percentage above .515 in non-divisional games.

What may be most surprising about the AL East is that unheralded names are making an impact for their teams. Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion and Kelly Johnson rank fourth and 20th, respectively, in ESPN’s Player Rating system, combining for 15 of Toronto’s 32 home runs through May 2.

The AL West has its share of players off to fast starts with Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish and Jered Weaver all ranking in the top 10 of ESPN’s batter and pitcher ratings. Five players from the AL West is the most from one division.

The Los Angeles Angels play 17 more games in May against teams that currently do not have a winning record. If the Angels can turn things around and live up to preseason expectations, the AL West has a chance to close the gap on the AL East.

The AL Central currently sits at the bottom of the divisional rankings with only one team above .500. Against non-divisional opponents, the AL Central is 29-48 (.377 win percent), by far the worst win percentage of any division.

The Minnesota Twins have been the worst team in baseball outside their division, winning five of 17 games against non-divisional opponents.

The weekend of May 18 presents several opportunities to shake up the rankings.

Divisional leaders clash in the National League, with the St. Louis Cardinals visiting the Los Angeles Dodgers. Interleague highlights include the Philadelphia Phillies hosting the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds visiting the New York Yankees.

For a brief recap of how we rank the divisions, click here.

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