Stats & Info: MLB
Marathon in the Midwest
The Cardinals beat the Brewers 3-2 in 13 innings on Thursday night, the longest game between the two teams since 2012. The hero for the Cardinals was Tony Cruz, who got his second career walk-off hit and his first since 2011. St. Louis won the season series over Milwaukee 12-7 and they have 26 wins against the Brewers over the past two seasons, most against any team in the majors. These are two teams that continue to head in opposite directions, as Milwaukee is a majors-worst 8-19 since Aug. 20, while the Cardinals are a league-best 14-5 over their past 19 games.
Oakland loses again
Oakland’s nightmare skid since the trade deadline continued on Thursday with a 7-2 loss to the Texas Rangers to complete a three-game sweep. Oakland is 17-28 since the trade deadline, tied for third-worst record in the majors in that time, and has not posted a winning streak longer than three games during the stretch. The Athletics offense has been abysmal since the start of August, down nearly 1.5 runs per game with a batting average and OPS that is worst in the American League. Where the Athletics have really struggled is through the heart of the order. The Athletics' 3-4-5 hitters have posted a batting average, slugging percentage and OPS that is among the worst in baseball since the trade deadline and have combined for only 11 HRs. The Athletics' 3-4-5 hitters hit 65 HRs ahead of the trade deadline, second-most in the majors.
Jeter snaps skid
Derek Jeter hit his first home run at Yankee Stadium this season on Thursday night, snapping a career-high 75-game streak without hitting one at home. Jeter’s last home run at home prior to Thursday night was July 28, 2013, off Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore, his only home run last season. The home run also snapped a 39-game homerless streak overall, the fourth-longest streak of his career and the longest since a 46-game stretch in 2006.
But the Royals managed to get to the Cy Young candidate in a big way for a big win, slicing the Detroit Tigers lead to a half game in the AL Central.
How did they manage to do that?
Left-handed hitters were 17-for-115 against Sale this season, but that was of little consequence to red-hot Norichika Aoki.
The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Aoki set the Royals' record for most hits in a three-game series with 11, one better than the previous mark shared by Royals legends George Brett and Willie Wilson.
What was surprising about this game was that Sale didn’t go after Aoki with his slider. Only one of the eight pitches Aoki saw from him was one. Aoki has seen 70 sliders from lefties this season. They’ve resulted in him making 16 outs without recording a hit.
Cain can do
Lorenzo Cain has 17 career home runs. The only pitcher against whom he has more than one is Sale, against whom he hit a three-run shot on Wednesday night.
Cain had three more hits on Wednesday, giving him 12 in 32 at-bats (a .375 batting average) in his past eight games.
Ventura sharp again
Rookie starter Yordano Ventura was sharp again, allowing only one run and three hits in seven innings.
This was Ventura’s 10th straight quality start (six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer), the longest streak by a Royals starter since Kevin Appier had an 11-game streak in 1993.
Ventura averaged 98 mph on the 74 fastballs he threw on Wednesday, the third time this season (and second this month) that his heater has averaged 98 in a game.
That set up his curveball (which averaged 83 mph) and changeup (which averaged 88) as his putaway pitch, against which White Sox hitters were 0-for-8 with six strikeouts (and one walk).
The six offspeed strikeouts tied for his second-most in a game this season, trailing only the nine he had versus the San Diego Padres on May 5.
The Nationals have been the best team in the National League for much of the second half of the season. The high expectations from last season that went unfulfilled were met under first-year manager Matt Williams.
Story of the season
The Nationals have won with consistent starting pitching. Five starters have combined to make all but 10 starts for the team this season. Three of their top five starters have ERAs below 3.00.
The Nationals survived injuries to Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman thanks to a very deep lineup. They entered the day ranked second in the National League in runs scored. Four regulars have hit at least 15 home runs.
Most valuable player
Second-year infielder Anthony Rendon has developed into a star. He entered the day ranked sixth among NL position players in wins above replacement. He also leads the league in runs scored.
Rendon has been consistent throughout the season, but he has excelled in the latter part, hitting .300 with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases in his past 81 games.
He has made significant improvements to his defensive work from a year ago as well. He ranks sixth among third basemen this season with nine defensive runs saved.
Circle these games
What were the best wins for the Nationals this season?
April 2: The Nationals rallied from multiple deficits against the Mets, battling back to tie on Denard Span’s two-out hit, right after Danny Espinosa worked an eight-pitch walk. Washington would score four runs in the 10th to win on Opening Day.
June 8: Jordan Zimmermann pitched the best game of the season for the Nationals, a two-hit, 12-strikeout shutout against the Padres, in which he retired the first 16 hitters he faced.
June 24: The longest game for the Nationals since they moved to Washington, D.C., was won on Ryan Zimmerman’s 16th-inning home run.
Aug. 16-21: The Nationals had an amazing 10-game winning streak in which five of six wins (two against the Pirates, three against the Diamondbacks) were via walk-off. Rendon had the last two, on back-to-back days against the same pitcher, Evan Marshall.
Sept. 3: An epic game between the Nationals and Dodgers ended with Washington winning in 14 innings. The Nationals rallied from 2-0 down in the ninth to go up 3-2, but the Dodgers tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Each team would score twice in the 12th before the Nationals scored two in the 14th to win.
After a loss on June 27, the Nationals were 41-38 and tied for first place in the NL East with the Braves. Since then, they are 46-25, the best record in the National League over the span.
The Orioles are in the postseason for the second time in three years following a run of losing seasons that stretched from 1998 to 2011.
Story of the Season
The Orioles have won with a combination of power (they lead the major leagues in home runs) and pitching depth (they entered the day with the third-best ERA in the American League). Though none of their starters has an ERA below 3.00, each pitcher in their current rotation has an ERA below 4.00.
Most Valuable Player
Amazingly, the Orioles' leader in wins above replacement is 31-year-old first baseman and outfielder Steve Pearce (5.5), who hit his 18th home run in Tuesday’s clinching win. Pearce had 17 home runs in 290 games entering this season. He’s excelled both offensively and defensively (18 defensive runs saved) this season.
Baltimore’s big boppers have been Nelson Cruz, who leads the majors with 39 home runs, and Adam Jones, who is having a year typical for him with 25 homers.
The Orioles got unexpected contributions in a number of areas. Zach Britton stepped into the closer role and excelled when Tommy Hunter was ineffective. Caleb Joseph has been a capable replacement for injured catcher Matt Wieters.
Circle These Games
What were the most memorable Orioles wins of the season?
May 26 -- With the Orioles trailing by two with two outs and nobody on in the ninth inning against the Brewers' Francisco Rodriguez, this game looked like a sure defeat. But Baltimore would tie on a home run by Jonathan Schoop and a double by Nick Markakis. After escaping a situation in which the Brewers had a man on third with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles won in the 10th on Nick Hundley’s RBI single.
June 25-- The Orioles come back from four runs down to tie the White Sox in the eighth on a Cruz grand slam andwin in extra innings on a walk-off wild pitch.
July 7 -- The Orioles exploded for six runs in the 11th inning to beat the Nationals 8-2 in what could be a World Series preview. Chris Davis hit the go-ahead home run in the 11th inning.
September 7 -- Cruz beat the Tampa Bay Rays by himself with a four-hit, seven-RBI game that accounted for all of the team's runs. He hit a three-run go-ahead triple in the ninth inning and then delivered a two-run go-ahead homer in the 11th.
September 12/14 -- The Orioles bookended a series in which they took three of four from the Yankees by winning in walk-off fashion. They rallied from 1-0 down in the 11th inning to win on a two-run single by pinch hitter Jimmy Paredes. In the series finale, they strung together three doubles in a four-batter span to score twice to win against Yankees closer David Robertson.
The Orioles have had their share of ‘Orioles Magic’ with 10 walk-off wins this season. They’ve also prevented their opponents from magical victories. They have only 21 losses in which they blew a lead, the fewest blown leads in the majors.
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsMatt Holliday has seen a decline in his power production over the past four years.
Here are some stats to know for Tuesday night’s game.
Going in opposite directions
After play on June 28, the Brewers were an NL-best 51-32 and held a 6½ game lead over the Cardinals in the division.
However, from June 29 to Aug. 25, the Brewers went 22-26 and saw their lead shrink to a game and a half. But things got worse from there.
Since Aug. 26, Milwaukee has won only five of 19 games, while the Cardinals (who have made postseason play each of the past three seasons, including two World Series appearances) have surged forward, winning 12 of 20 games to move into first place in the division.
Peralta struggling lately, but strong vs. Cardinals
Wily Peralta started off the season 15-7 with a 3.27 ERA in his first 25 starts. But he’s 1-3 with a 7.40 ERA over his past four starts.
However, he likes facing the Cardinals this season. Before losing to them Sept. 4, Peralta won his first three starts against St. Louis in 2014, pitching into the seventh inning every start.
What has been different against the Cardinals in 2014 from 2013?
• The Cardinals hit .524 (11-for-21) off Peralta with runners in scoring position last season; they are hitting .222 (4-for-18) this season.
• He has been much better at getting ground balls -- 60 percent ground ball rate in four starts against the Cardinals this season, 42 percent last season.
• Left-handed batters hit .286 with a 7-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season; they are hitting .184 with an 11-2 ratio this season.
Matt Holliday's power production has been in a steady decline since 2010, with his slugging percentage dropping each year (from .532 in 2010 to his current .439 this season).
One reason for this lack of power could be his inability to hit pitches on the outer half of the plate.
He’s hitting almost 100 points lower on such pitches this season compared to 2013.
• No player to play at least half of his games at catcher in the modern era (since 1900) has produced as many doubles in a season as Jonathan Lucroy this year (51).
• The Cardinals have hit 99 home runs this season, 29th in the majors. The last time St. Louis finished last in MLB in home runs was 1991.
• St. Louis ranked 22nd last season in defensive runs saved (minus-39). This season, they lead all of baseball (plus-59).
The Kansas City Royals did that and then some in coming from three runs down to beat the Chicago White Sox on Monday night.
It was an epic comeback, one that will be circled to be remembered should the Royals make the postseason.
Run, run, run
The Royals tied the game on a play in which Jarrod Dyson stole third, then scampered home on Jake Petricka’s wild pitch. They won it when Terrance Gore went from second to home on an infield hit by Lorenzo Cain, whose second career walk-off hit was his first since the 2010 season.
Talk from baseball fans on Twitter was that this was a very Royals kind of win. What did they mean by that?
The Royals rank second in the “Ultimate Baserunning” stat (UBR) tracked by Fangraphs.com, trailing only the Washington Nationals. This stat combines elements of baserunning; its components include base-stealing efficiency, the success rate taking extra bases on hits and outs, and the avoidance of baserunning mistakes.
With that in mind, it’s worth noting that:
• Dyson improved to 21-of-24 on steal attempts of third base for his career. He atoned for getting caught stealing by Joe Nathan in a key moment in a game against the Tigers last week.
• Gore was someone brought up from the minors for situations just like this one. He’d stolen 47 bases in 54 attempts in his time in the minor leagues this season. His first steal on Sept. 3 led to a run when he scored on a throwing error.
Moustakas beats the shift
The comeback was set up by Mike Moustakas’ one-out opposite-field double in the ninth inning. Moustakas has struggled for much of the season against shifted defenses but has shown more of a willingness to hit the ball the other way lately.
In Moustakas’ first 350 at-bats, he had only nine opposite-field hits. He has had eight in 69 at-bats since Aug. 24.
Aoki’s four-hit day
Norichika Aoki kept things going for the Royals with his fourth hit of the game after the tying run had scored.
Aoki’s offensive contributions have been minimal this season, but he’s now hitting .333 (21-for-63) in his past 17 games.
And let’s not forget the bullpen
Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis each pitched a scoreless inning in relief of James Shields.
Davis has now thrown 31 2/3 straight innings without allowing an earned run. Herrera has a similar streak, only one inning behind him.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Davis and Herrera have the third- and fourth-longest streaks in the majors this season, trailing a 41-inning streak by Clayton Kershaw and a 32 1/3 innings streak by Boston Red Sox reliever Burke Badenhop.
This was the first time in five starts that he hadn’t lowered that already paper-thin number. Here's some more perspective on yet another dominant performance.
Shrinking the Giants
With his fifth-straight win Kershaw improved to 19-3 on the season and 13-5 all-time against the Giants.
His career ERA against San Francisco rose to 1.44, dropping him to a tie for first with fellow Dodgers southpaw Sandy Koufax for a pitcher with at least 20 starts against any one opponent since ERA has been tracked (1912).
Kershaw’s numbers against the Giants are boosted by an incredible 0.84 ERA at AT&T Park.
Inside the numbers
Kershaw's success on Sunday continued a trend for him in September -- keeping opposing teams hitless on ground balls. All 10 ground balls he induced out of the Giants turned into outs, bringing opponents' totals on grounders to 0-for-29 on the month.
A fad that seems to be building momentum is teams' first-pitch swinging frequency when facing the ace. Over the past two games, batters have swung at Kershaw's intial offering 55 percent of the time, compared to 41 percent for the season.
This has helped pierce the armour slightly, as they are 4-for-12 (.333) with this approach compared to 6-for-45 (.133) on all subsequent pitches.
Other standout Kershaw nuggets
Kershaw is now 67-5 in his career when his team scores at least four runs.
The 26-year-old held his opponent to three runs or fewer for the 24th time in 25 starts this season.
He did this for the 21st straight outing, a streak bested by only two pitchers in the past 15 years -- 22 by Johan Santana in 2004 and Mat Latos in 2010.
Kershaw is the fifth pitcher in the divisional era (since 1969) to win 19 of his first 25 starts in a season, and he's the first since Pedro Martinez in 1999.
• The Los Angeles Angels put together a 10-game win streak that was finally snapped Sunday. It tied for the longest in the majors this season and was one shy of the longest win streak in franchise history, done way back in June 1964. (Shortstop and future manager Jim Fregosi led that team in most offensive categories among qualified players.) Embedded in this week's wins was a streak of eight straight games where the Angels scored at least seven runs.
That was the longest such streak in the majors since the Rangers did it across July-August 2003, and it tied the franchise record set in June 1979 (the Angels lost three of those eight games!).
Albert Pujols went single-double-triple on Wednesday, just the third time in his career he's had all three of those hits in a game (last in 2007). On Thursday he struck out four times-- all swinging-- to record his first career "sombrero" in his 2,102nd game. That leaves only one active player to have appeared in 2,000 games without a four-strikeout outing: Ichiro Suzuki.
• Cincinnati Reds pitcher Alfredo Simon helped his own cause with two doubles on Wednesday. The Reds have eight extra-base hits from their pitchers this season, all by Simon or Mike Leake.
The Dodgers' Josh Beckett is the only other pitcher this year with two doubles in a game (July 1). Simon's feat, however, hadn't been done by a Reds hurler in nearly two decades. Pete Schourek had a pair of doubles in a 7-4 win over the Expos on September 18, 1995.
• Carl Crawford posted his 35th career four-hit game in the Dodgers' win over San Diego on Wednesday. He included three doubles, the first Dodger to have three doubles while batting sixth or lower since catcher Chad Kreuter did it batting eighth on June 30, 2001 (also against the Padres). And the last Dodger with three doubles and two RBIs from so low in the order was shortstop Alfredo Griffin on April 18, 1989.
• Josh Donaldson of the Oakland Athletics posted his first career five-hit game on Tuesday. Donaldson had a double and four singles, drove in four runs, and thus became the first Oakland player with five hits and four RBIs since Mark Ellis did it on the same combination of hits on August 10, 2009.
• Donaldson wasn't the only Bay Area hitter to lay down five hits on Tuesday. Giants rookie Joe Panik also did it in a win over Arizona. Panik's line featured five singles, and he neither scored a run nor drove one in.
The last player with five hits, zero scored, and zero driven in, was Oakland's Adam Kennedy on August 15, 2009 (8-1 loss to White Sox), and Panik was the first to do it in Giants history.
Now about that Dodgers game...
• The 17 runs were the team's most since 2009, and their most scored against the Giants since a 19-3 win on May 26, 1970. The Giants had not allowed 17 runs since another 19-3 game, against Montreal in May 1997.
• The 24 hits were an MLB season high for any team, and the most ever posted at AT&T Park. The Dodgers hadn't accumulated 24 hits against the Giants since August 13, 1932, in an 18-9 win at the Polo Grounds.
• Dee Gordon became the first Dodgers hitter ever to have seven at-bats in a nine-inning game. Starting pitcher Zack Greinke not only hit his fourth career homer, he also doubled, walked, and scored twice. He's the first pitcher in the majors with a homer, a double, and a walk since fellow Dodger Chad Billingsley posted that line against the Reds on June 5, 2011.
• Giants starter Tim Hudson faced 11 batters and got just three of them out; he was charged with eight hits and six runs. Tim Lincecum made a three-inning relief appearance and gave up five runs. Mike Kickham pitched parts of two innings and gave up four runs. They are the first trio of pitchers this season to each give up at least four runs in no more than three innings, and the first Giants to do it since the last time the team allowed 24 hits-- to Oakland on June 26, 2005.
• Saturday's 17-0 score came on the heels of the Giants blanking the Dodgers 9-0 on Friday. That marked their largest home shutout of Los Angeles since June 25, 1968. And the 26-run swing in back-to-back shutouts? That was the most in the live-ball era, surpassing the 24-run swing done three times, most recently done on July 6-7, 1996, between the Blue Jays and Tigers (15-0 and 0-9). According to some number-crunching by SweetSpot contributor Diane Firstman, it's one shy of the all-time record... set in 1886!
Here’s a look at some of the things our broadcast crew will be talking about tonight.
Player to Watch: Adam Jones
The Orioles have been the premier homer-hitting team in baseball this season, but one of their best players is in a little bit of a homer-hitting rut. Jones has only one home run in 84 at-bats in his last 22 games. He has been even more aggressive than usual since September started, swinging at nearly 60 percent of the pitches he’s seen (leads the AL with a 55 percent swing rate) and chasing 46 percent of pitches that were thrown out of the strike zone (season rate of 39 percent).
Figure on Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda taking note of that. Jones is 10-for-31 against Kuroda in his career (including postseason), 4-for-9 this season. Jones has figured out how to make good contact against Kuroda. He has missed only 16 percent of his swings against Kuroda while missing nearly 28 percent against other pitchers over the past three seasons.
One thing Jones has done even in this slump: He’s played good defense. He has nine defensive runs saved since Aug. 22, the most in the majors in that span.
Speaking of defense …
The Orioles Way: Win with defense
The Orioles rank second in the majors this season with 63 defensive runs saved.
Part of what makes the Orioles defense so effective is that it doesn’t really have a weak link. Of the 15 AL teams, the Orioles rank in the top half in defensive runs saved at every non-catcher infield position and every outfield position, with infield being the strength of the team.
The chart on the right offers a breakdown of Baltimore’s defensive performance this season.
Chris Tillman’s improvements
Tillman has made gradual improvement as a pitcher throughout his major league career. The most notable one is how he has minimized the damage against his fastball. Two seasons ago, he was allowing 2.5 fly balls for every ground ball against his heater, and he paid the price, as opponents slugged .545 against the pitch.
This season, his ground balls and fly balls are nearly identical (139 to 146), and his slugging percentage allowed with the pitch has dropped to .337.
The struggles of the Yankees
The Yankees are averaging only 3.91 runs per game, which if maintained would be their worst season average since scoring only 3.72 runs per game in 1990.
They are 4-10 against the Orioles this season. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that, entering this season, the Yankees had 16 straight non-losing season series against the Orioles from 1998 to 2013 (14-0-2), the longest current streak of its kind for any team against one opponent.
Jeter Watch: He’s in a slump
Derek Jeter is really struggling. He has gone hitless in five straight starts, something he’s done only two other times in his career. He is two games away from his worst hitless drought -- a seven-gamer in 2004.
For those wondering, Jeter’s career numbers on "Sunday Night Baseball" are a .307/.362/.459 slashline with nine home runs, 29 RBIs and 41 runs scored in 70 games.
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesGiancarlo Stanton has slugged his way to the short list for NL MVP consideration
As he layed on the ground at home plate bleeding profusely, the crowd was hushed as medical personnel attended to and eventually carted Stanton off via stretcher and ambulance.
According to manager Mike Redmond, the injury could prematurely bring to a screeching halt what was the best offensive season in the National League this year. Hopefully that’s not the case, but since Stanton is in the midst of the best season of his young career and the best of any offensive player in the NL, we decided to take a retrospective look at his accomplishments to date.
Stanton's calling card has been long home runs.
According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, Stanton has hit seven round-trippers of 450 feet or more. To put that in perspective, no other player has more than two.
His 37 home runs are seven more than second-place Anthony Rizzo in the NL and just two behind Nelson Cruz for the major league lead.
Stanton also leads the senior circuit in slugging percentage (.555), OPS (.950), total bases (299), extra-base hits (99), RBI (105), walks (94), at-bats per HR (14.5), Runs Created (115.6), Isolated power (.267) while placing second in WAR among position players (6.4) and third overall.
The Royals met the challenge of the Detroit Tigers head-on thanks to the work of James Shields, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.
Shields lives up to 'Big Game James' moniker
Shields has now thrown 18 1/3 straight scoreless innings, and this marked his second straight scoreless start.
This is the first time Shields has had consecutive scoreless starts since June 5 and 11, 2006. If that seems like a long time ago, it was. Those were the second and third starts of Shields’ career.
Over the past four seasons, Shields has 19 scoreless starts of at least seven innings. Only Clayton Kershaw (27) and Hiroki Kuroda (21) have more such starts in that span.
Shields has been really good in the season’s final month the past four seasons. His September and October record in that timeframe is 12-5 with a 2.30 ERA.
Herrera the flamethrower
Herrera has thrown 29 2/3 straight scoreless innings over 29 appearances. The most recent run he was charged with came June 24 against the Dodgers (He has allowed 2 of 17 inherited runners since then to score).
The best thing for Herrera of late is he’s throwing nothing but strikes. He hasn’t walked anyone in his past nine appearances, a span of 8 2/3 innings. Prior to that, he was walking batters at a rate of almost four every nine innings.
No one better than Davis
Davis extended his scoreless streak to 30 2/3 innings by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth. He’s recorded three saves in the past six days while filling in for injured closer Greg Holland. In those three games, he has faced nine batters and retired eight, six by strikeout.
The temporary move to closer has come with a little extra oomph on his fastball. In the past three games, his heater has averaged 97.2 mph, nearly 2 mph better than his season average of 95.4.
Davis is nearing the finish line for one of the best seasons by a reliever in the history of the sport. He has a 0.70 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP with 96 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings.
Davis and Herrera also have combined on an amazing stat: Neither has allowed a home run this season.
If that holds, they will be the first pair of teammates in 79 years to throw at least 60 innings in a season without allowing a home run. The latest pair to do that was Fritz Ostermueller and Jack Wilson of the 1935 Red Sox.
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesJames Shields will try to continue his September success tonight against the Tigers.
On Tuesday, the Tigers beat the Royals 4-2 to pull into a tie atop the division. Detroit, seeking its fourth straight AL Central title, is 11-4 against Kansas City this season and has a 60 percent chance to win the division (Kansas City has a 38 percent chance), according to numberFire.
Since their previous playoff appearance, in 1985, the Royals have played eight games in September or October after entering the day with at least a share of first place (all this month), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Detroit, on the other hand, has played 137 such games in that span.
Kansas City pitchers have struggled all season against Detroit, with an ERA more than two runs higher and an opponents' batting average 52 points worse than when they face other teams.
The Royals have outscored all other opponents by 50 runs this season, but the Tigers have outscored Kansas City by 30 runs.
Hoping to reverse all this for the Royals is James Shields, one of the best pitchers in September in recent years.
However, Shields is 0-2 with a 5.49 ERA in three starts against the Tigers this season. But in seven career starts at Comerica Park, he’s 4-0 with a 2.64 ERA.
Opposing Shields will be Rick Porcello, who’s 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts against the Royals this season.
In seven career home starts against the Royals, he is 5-2 but with an ERA of 5.10.
The Tigers' offense has helped Porcello in his home outings against Kansas City, averaging 6.1 runs per game and scoring five or more runs in six of those games (43 total runs scored).
What’s wrong with Miguel Cabrera?
Cabrera is having a good season (.311 BA, 22 HRs, 101 RBIs), but he has failed to perform at the same level as his 2012 and 2013 run. What specifically has caused him to struggle?
One key issue is that he’s struggling against pitches on the inner half.
• He has hit two home runs against 93+ mph pitches on the inner half this season, compared to seven last season and 10 in 2012.
• He has hit 12 home runs against pitches on the inner half -- regardless of velocity -– compared to 27 last season and 32 in 2012.
• Kansas City’s bullpen has just 10 blown saves this season, fewest in the AL. Only San Diego (seven) has fewer in all of baseball.
• The Royals have hit only 89 home runs this season, fewest in the majors.
• Detroit leads the majors in batting average (.277) and ranks second in runs scored (685), behind only the Angels (697).
Nathan has converted 11 of his last 12 save chances after finishing the Detroit Tigers' win over the Kansas City Royals Tuesday night. He's pitched the last two days after dealing with some elbow tenderness that kept him out a week.
Nathan has allowed four runs in 17 1/3 innings in his last 18 appearances, good for a 2.08 ERA in that span. He hasn’t allowed a home run since June 28 (after allowing five in the first three months of the season). He’s now made five straight scoreless appearances, something he’d done only twice previously this season.
That said, his entrance into a game still makes Tigers fans nervous, given his season of struggles and the lack of clean innings.
Tuesday, Nathan helped his own cause by picking off Jarrod Dyson at second base. Given his track record with runners in scoring position (opponents are 19-for-56 with 14 walks and six extra-base hits), that was a pretty significant out, one that upped the Tigers' win probability from 83 percent to 96 percent.
The other big concern for this season with Nathan has been an unusual number of walks (25 in 52 innings). But on the positive side, he’s now gone six straight appearances without one.
Nathan’s slider is a pitch worth keeping an eye on for the rest of the season. Nathan’s ratio of outs to baserunners with that pitch is down from seasons past and stands at 64 to 25 this season.
But it’s also the pitch he’s going to take with him into the biggest of situations. He used it to get strikeouts of Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez in the ninth inning to close Tuesday’s win.
It also gave Flowers his second career multihomer game. Both of those have come in the past week. The other was against the Twins on Sept. 2. He’s 12-for-30 with five home runs and seven RBIs in his past eight games.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Flowers is the fourth player in the expansion era to hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning and a walk-off home run later in the game, the first since Brian McCann against the Astros in 2011.
The other two were Flowers’ manager, Robin Ventura, for the White Sox against the Cardinals in 1998 and Raul Mondesi for the Dodgers against the Diamondbacks in 1999.
Both of Flowers’ home runs came against breaking balls, the first a hanging slider from Eric O’Flaherty and the second a curveball from Jesse Chavez.
Flowers has 14 home runs this season, eight of which have come on breaking pitches.
There are 144 players with at least 10 home runs this season. Of those, Flowers has the highest percentage of home runs on breaking balls (57 percent).
It’s a nice turnaround for Flowers, who in the past has been more noteworthy due to his penchant for swinging-and-missing. He has missed on 35 percent of his swings this season, fourth highest among players with at least 400 plate appearances.
On Monday, he saw 23 pitches and had as many home runs as he did missed swings.
Cruz is unlikely to win the award, but he has been extremely important to the Baltimore Orioles in 2014. He became the fifth player in the past 20 seasons to have at least seven RBIs and account for all of his team’s RBIs in a win, the first since Jason Giambi did so for the 2011 Colorado Rockies.
Cruz also became the second player in Orioles history with two home runs, a triple and seven RBIs in the same game. The other is Cal Ripken Jr., who did so against the Texas Rangers in 1991. The last player to have such a game in the major leagues was Ryan Howard for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006.
When Cruz signed with the Orioles this past offseason, it was thought that he would thrive because Camden Yards is friendly to power hitters. But Cruz has been far better in road games (24 home runs, 66 RBIs) than in home games (15 home runs, 35 RBIs) this season. He ranks first in the majors in road home runs and is tied for 10th in home runs in his home ballpark.
What makes Cruz so dangerous as a power hitter is that he can hit home runs on pitches located almost anywhere within reach. He has 19 home runs against pitches on the inner half of the plate or off the inside corner. He has 20 home runs versus pitches on the outer half of the plate or off the outside corner.
His splits on pitch height are similarly balanced -- 18 home runs against pitches in the upper half of the strike zone, 21 in the lower half of the zone.
His two home runs Sunday came on pitches that were up-and-away and down-and-in, as shown in the image below.