Stats & Info: Philadelphia Phillies

Is this the end for Ryan Howard?

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29

AP Photo/Alex BrandonRyan Howard has struggled to find a consistent role in the Phillies' starting lineup.
Last week Ryan Howard sat four games in a six-game stretch, including three in a row. Two of those three straight were against left-handed starting pitchers, but Thursday he sat against Tim Hudson, the pitcher he’s faced the most in his career. Howard holds a .328 career BA (22-67) with 7 HR and a 1.112 OPS against Hudson.

Howard is having the worst full season of his career including a career-low .380 slugging percentage. He turns 36-years-old in November, he’s still owed $60 million after this season and he can block trades to 21 teams.

Could this be the end of the line for the former National League MVP?

Howard Can't Hit Righties
The biggest reason behind Howard’s disappointing season is his performance against right-handed pitchers, which has always been better than his performance against lefties.

In 2009, Howard hit .320 and slugged .693 against righties. This season he's hitting .221 and slugging .356 against them.

In 2011, his last full season, he hit 30 HR in 387 AB against righties. In the past 3 seasons combined, he's hit 26 HR in 656 AB against righties.

He Can't Handle Fastballs
The book on Howard used to be a steady diet of offspeed pitches that he would chase, especially if he was behind in the count.

In 2011, Howard saw 41% fastballs, the lowest figure of any qualified hitter in baseball. But after he tore his Achilles in that year’s playoffs, pitchers haven’t been afraid to throw him heaters or pitches in the strike zone anymore.

From 2009-2011 Howard ranked 11th in MLB in slugging percentage against fastballs and 10th against pitches in the strike zone. From 2012 on he ranks 130th in slugging percentage against fastballs and 110th against pitches in the strike zone.

He’s not even punishing the slower fastballs that he used to crush. In 2010, he slugged .851 and only missed 16% of his swings against fastballs from righties that were 91 MPH or slower. This season, he’s slugging .405 and missing 22% of his swings against those fastballs.

No Power at a Power Position
Howard is giving the Phillies almost nothing at a power position. The list of first basemen with similar slugging percentages this season have never been in Howard’s class as a slugger. He currently ranks 22nd in slugging percentage among 25 players with 100 plate appearances at first base.

He’s had plenty of opportunities to produce, tied with Albert Pujols and Casey McGehee for the MLB lead at 234 plate appearances with runners on base, but his .255 batting average with runners on has him in a tie for 107th in MLB this season.

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.

Beckett adds to Dodgers' no-no history

May, 25, 2014
May 25
The Los Angeles Dodgers entered Sunday with 20 no-hitters, the most for any team in major league history.

But it had been awhile since they threw one and since the team they faced Sunday, the Philadelphia Phillies, had been no-hit.

Josh Beckett added another to the Dodgers’ ledger, as he no-hit the Phillies on Sunday.

The Dodgers not only have the most no-hitters all time, but the Phillies also have been no-hit the most: 19 times.

The history
Beckett became the first Dodgers pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Hideo Nomo no-hit the Colorado Rockies in 1996.

Beckett is the first pitcher to no-hit the Phillies since Bob Forsch threw one for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978.

The Phillies had gone the second-longest without being no-hit. The team with the current longest streak of not being no-hit is the Cubs, who were last no-hit by Sandy Koufax in 1965 (a perfect game).

The Dodgers have thrown five no-hitters against the Phillies (including Koufax in 1964). The Elias Sports Bureau notes that only one franchise has thrown more no-hitters against an opponent than that: The Dodgers hold that distinction with six no-hitters against the Giants.

It was the second no-hitter to be thrown in Citizens Bank Park, joining Roy Halladay, who threw one against the Reds in the 2010 National League Division Series.

How Beckett won
Beckett threw a career-high 128 pitches. His previous longest no-hit bid was 6 2/3 innings in 2009 against the Detroit Tigers. Beckett had previously thrown a one-hitter in 2011 against the Tampa Bay Rays, the last time he threw a shutout.

He won with a combination of an effective fastball and good secondary stuff. He threw 68 fastballs and cutters, which accounted for 18 outs. Beckett got nine outs on the 60 off-speed pitches he threw (40 curveballs and 20 changeups).

Beckett succeeded at keeping the ball down, throwing 52 percent of his pitches in the lower third of the strike zone or below, his highest rate throwing to that location in any start in the last three seasons.

He averaged 91.6 mph with his fastball for the game but threw a little harder as the game went on. He averaged 92 mph with the fastball in the last three innings.

Beckett succeeded against a lefty-heavy lineup. Phillies lefties were 0-for-20 against him, one start after Mets lefties went 5-for-13 with two home runs against him.

Did you know?
The last five no-hitters have been thrown by National League teams.

The last time the NL threw the five most recent no-hitters in the major leagues was from 1978 to 1981 (also five straight). The pitchers were Bob Forsch (1978), Tom Seaver (1978), Ken Forsch (1979), Jerry Reuss (1980) and Charlie Lea (1981).

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Day
Josh Beckett has a no-hitter with the Dodgers and World Series wins with the Marlins and Red Sox.

The only other pitcher in major league history to win World Series games with multiple franchises and throw a no-hitter with another franchise is Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven.

Kershaw's trouble with the curve

May, 23, 2014
May 23

Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw is coming off one of the worst starts of his career.
The Los Angeles Dodgers visit the Philadelphia Phillies tonight, with Clayton Kershaw returning to the mound after arguably the worst start of his career.

Kershaw is 1-4 with a 3.70 ERA in nine career starts against the Phillies, his worst record against any team he’s had more than one decision against. He is also 1-2 with a 4.40 ERA in five starts at Citizens Bank Park, his second-worst ERA in any currently used NL ballpark.

Kershaw’s curve
Kershaw noted earlier this week that he’s had trouble with his curveball in his last two starts and the numbers bear that out.

In those two games, he’s thrown 18 curveballs and netted three outs, while giving up four hits (a single, double, triple and homer) with it. Kershaw has allowed more extra-base hits on curveballs in those two games (3) than the previous two seasons combined (2).

Last year, he threw 429 curves and got 132 outs with the pitch, while giving up only 14 hits (all singles). Prior to this year, the last time he allowed a home run off a curveball was when Allen Craig took him deep on April 16, 2011.

He’s given up four hard-hit balls on the 18 curves he’s thrown over the last two starts. That’s as many hard-hit balls as he allowed among the 429 curveballs he threw all of last season.

Three of the four hits he’s allowed on his curve over the last two starts have come with two strikes, a situation in which the batter facing Kershaw is usually almost guaranteed to go back to the dugout without reaching base.

Last year, 124 of the 136 plate appearances (91%) that ended with a two-strike curveball from Kershaw resulted in outs – including 80 via strikeout.

However, Kershaw has found trouble with his curve in a small sample before. Last September in consecutive starts against the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants, opponents were 5 for 12 in at-bats ending in a curve, and four of eight curves put in play were line drives.

Matchup to watch: Kershaw vs Byrd and Ruz
Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz each have good numbers against Kershaw, going a combined 12 for 26 against him, though much of that damage was done before Kershaw became an elite pitcher.

Byrd has feasted on left-handed pitching this season, hitting .372 with three home runs and three doubles in 43 at-bats. Ruiz has hit .314 against lefties dating back to the start of the 2012 season, including 8 for 24 with four extra-base hits this season.

Will the Phillies use their lefty bats?
Left-handed hitters such as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown have previously been integral to the Phillies success. But the recent trend for Kershaw’s opponents is to load their lineups with right-handed hitters. Kershaw did not face a left-handed batter in either of his last two starts.

Lefties are 3 for 16 against Kershaw this season and hitting .175 over the last four seasons. Righties are having much more success, hitting .324 and slugging .500 versus Kershaw this season. These struggles against righties are unusual for him -- he has not allowed a batting average over .220 against right-handed batters in a season since his rookie year.

Against all odds: HR for Uggla, W for Avilan

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
The reports of Dan Uggla’s baseball departure were perhaps a tad premature.

One of the kookiest games of the 2014 season had a goofy conclusion, with Uggla hitting a grand slam in the ninth inning against fill-in closer Jake Diekman to give the Atlanta Braves a 9-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.

Dan Uggla
This is the same Uggla whom’s David Schoenfield was suggesting the Braves cut earlier in the afternoon, one who closed the 2013 season by going 13-for-his-last-120 and then opened 2014 with a slight upgrade to 8-for-41, giving him a .130 batting average over a 52-game stretch.

But Uggla has done this sort of thing against the Phillies before. Phillies fans remember well another go-ahead grand slam he hit -- this one a walk-off shot against Tom Gordon on June 11, 2008.

The odds were a little longer for this one against Diekmann. Uggla was 1-for-his-past-45 against left-handed pitching entering that at-bat.

The home run increased the Braves chances of winning by 51 percent (per historical data available at, making it the second-most-valuable home run of the season, trailing only Alexei Ramirez's walk-off home run on Sunday (a 71 percent increase).

What else made this such a weird game?

The one thing stranger than Uggla’s homer was the line for winning pitcher Luis Avilan, who allowed five earned runs in one inning, an eighth inning in which the Phillies got a clutch three-run home run from Domonic Brown (who hadn’t hit a homer against a lefty since Aug. 7, 2013).

Avilan was awarded the win. He became the first pitcher to be credited with a win despite allowing at least five earned runs while pitching an inning or fewer since Jack Knott of the 1934 St. Louis Browns against the Philadelphia Athletics.

Knott got the win because the official scorer didn’t have a choice -- Knott allowed five runs to the Athletics in the top of the ninth and was the last man on the mound when the inning ended. The Browns scored six in their half of the ninth to win.
The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies kick off an ESPN doubleheader on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET with Ervin Santana pitching against Roberto Hernandez. Here are some of the statistical storylines we’ll be tracking from that matchup.

Santana coming off a gem
Santana threw eight scoreless innings against the New York Mets in his first game with the Braves, the third pitcher to do that since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966 (Greg Maddux in 1993 and Derek Lowe in 2009).

Santana was able to beat the Mets by pounding the strike zone. His first 20 pitches all went for strikes, and 74 percent of his pitches overall went for strikes, the highest percentage of his career.

Santana may want to bring that rate down against the Phillies though. The Phillies are batting .312 on pitches in the strike zone this season, fifth best in the majors.

Justin Upton is red hot
Justin Upton has four home runs in his last four games after hitting one in his first at-bat on Sunday.

Upton has four straight games with multiple hits and multiple runs scored, matching the Braves modern-era record previously set by Bobby Thomson (1956), Javy Lopez (2003) and Andruw Jones (2003).

There isn’t much you can throw past Upton these days. He has a pair of home runs on fastballs and a pair on changeups in the last four days (one vs Jenrry Mejia and one against Gio Gonzalez). He’s also a combined 9 for 10 against those pitches in that stretch.

Hernandez’s changeup could prove a challenge for Upton. He had eight strikeouts with his changeup in his last start. Only nine other pitchers have eight strikeouts with a changeup on the season.

So is Freddie Freeman
Freddie Freeman has been as hot for the whole season as Upton has been the last four days. Freeman enters this game hitting .443 with four home runs. He has as many home runs as he does strikeouts and enters with a nine-game hitting streak.

The Phillies have been able to keep Freeman in the ballpark for the most part. He has only five home runs and a .388 slugging percentage for his career against them.

And lest we forget Chase Utley
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is hitting .500 after going 3 for 4 with the go-ahead home run on Sunday afternoon.

Utley’s 15-game hitting streak dating back to last season is the third-longest of his career. He had a 35-gamer in 2006 and a 19-gamer in 2007.

Utley has been hitting the ball hard consistently. Inside Edge, which tracks how often balls are hard-hit, has Utley leading the majors with a .325 hard-hit average (13 of 40 balls classified as hard-hit).

Papelbon not what he used to be

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
The second appearance of the season was a troubling one for Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon.

For the first time in his career, Papelbon ended a game with a bases-loaded walk, blowing a two-run lead in a 4-3 loss to the Texas Rangers.

In one-third of an inning, Papelbon allowed three runs, four hits and two walks.

It marked the first time that Papelbon issued consecutive unintentional walks since an April 7, 2010 appearance against the Yankees. In 12 1/3 innings at Rangers Ballpark entering the day, Papelbon had an 0.73 ERA, 18 strikeouts and two walks.

Papelbon had all sorts of location issues on Wednesday, which was very unusual for him. He threw only six of 21 pitches in the strike zone. It marked the first time in the last four seasons that Papelbon threw at least 20 pitches in a game and threw fewer than 30 percent in the strike zone. And the last two Rangers hitters- Donnie Murphy and Shin-Soo-Choo, weren’t chasing the ones that were well wide.

Also problematic for Papelbon was his fastball velocity, which averaged 90.9 mph down from 91.6 in his season debut on Opening Day.

Papelbon’s velocity has trended downwards the last two seasons, from 93.8 in 2012 to 91.9 in 2013 to 91.2 in two outings so far this season. Papelbon has never had serious velocity issues to start a season. His fastball averaged 93 mph or faster in April of 2009, 2010 and 2011.

With the decline in fastball velocity has come a decline with the splitter as well. He averaged just under 86 mph with it on Wednesday, down from its usual 88 to 89 mph range, when Papelbon was in his prime.

NLDS Game 5 preview (Pirates-Cardinals)

October, 9, 2013

Getty ImagesGerrit Cole (left) and Adam Wainwright (right) take the mound tonight in Game 5 of the NLDS.
The Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals face off in a winner-take-all Game 5 tonight (8:07 ET, ESPN Radio) in St. Louis.

Let’s take a look at some of the storylines in this game.

Winner-Take-All History
The Pirates are playing a winner-take-all game in a best-of-5 or best-of-7 series for the first time since Francisco Cabrera beat them with a walk-off hit in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.

The last time the Pirates won a winner-take-all postseason game on the road was Game 7 of the 1979 World Series when they beat the Baltimore Orioles, 4-1 to win their last championship.

The Cardinals are well tested in winner-take-all games. They’ve played five of them in the last two seasons (including a wild-card one-game matchup), winning four, with the lone loss being in Game 7 of the 2012 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants.

The Cardinals are 7-1 in eight winner-take-alls played in their home ballpark, the lone loss coming to the Detroit Tigers in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series. They’ve won their last four such home games.

Gerrit Cole stats to know
It’s not often that a pitcher as young as 23-year-old Gerrit Cole gets a chance to start a winner-take-all game.

The last pitcher that young to win such a game was Jaret Wright of the 1997 Cleveland Indians, who beat the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the ALDS.

The last pitcher that young to go on the road and win one was Fernando Valenzuela of the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers, who beat the Montreal Expos in Game 5 of the NLCS, thanks to Rick Monday’s ninth-inning home run.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cole is the third No. 1 pick to start a winner-take-all game. The others were David Price (2010 ALDS) and Andy Benes (1995 ALDS).

Cole is 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 38 innings in his last six starts. This stretch has been fueled by his offspeed success. Opposing batters are 1-for-58 (.017 BA) in this span against Cole’s offspeed pitches.

He pitched six innings of one-run ball to beat the Cardinals in Game 2. His fastball got stronger as the game went on. He averaged 96 mph with it in the first three innings and 97 mph in his next three innings, with nine pitches reaching at least 98 mph.

Adam Wainwright stats to know
Wainwright is 3-0 for his career in postseason play, though that’s slightly misleading since he got a no-decision in Game 5 of the NLDS when he got routed for six runs by the Nationals in a game the Cardinals rallied to win.

Wainwright’s four postseason starts other than that one have been really good as he’s allowed exactly one run in each.

In the NLDS opener, Wainwright struck out nine in 7 innings in the Cardinals’ 9-1 win.

Hitter to Watch: Carlos Beltran
Beltran hit his 16th career postseason home run Sunday, passing Babe Ruth for eighth-most in MLB history. Only Albert Pujols (18) has more in NL history (Manny Ramirez leads with 29 postseason home runs).

Beltran is hitting a home run every 8.6 at-bats (16 HR in 138 AB), tied with Babe Ruth for the fewest at-bats per home run in baseball history.

Justin Havens also contributed to this article

Cliff Lee can do everything

September, 17, 2013
Cliff Lee's pitching and hitting combination was a unique one in this sport.

Lee is the first pitcher in major-league history to have a three-hit, four-RBI game and strike out more than eight hitters in a game.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Lee was only the second pitcher to have 14 strikeouts and four RBI in a game, joining Dwight Gooden of the 1990 New York Mets.

Lee was the first pitcher to have three hits and four RBI in a game, regardless of strikeout total, since Micah Owings of the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks did so against the Atlanta Braves. He's the first with such a game for the Phillies since Phil Collins against the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1930.

Lee became the second NL pitcher to strike out at least 14 hitters in a game this season, joining Jose Fernandez. He's the first Phillies pitcher with a 14-strikeout, no-walk game since Curt Schilling in 1997.

With the 14 strikeouts, Lee again cleared 200 whiffs for the season, the third straight season he's done so. He joins Hall-of-Famers Jim Bunning and Steve Carlton as the only pitchers in Phillies history with at least three straight 200-strikeout seasons.

Halladay's hard stuff charms the 'snakes'

August, 25, 2013
Roy Halladay, who had not pitched to major-league hitters in nearly four months since shoulder surgery in early May, was called upon to make the start Sunday for the Philadelphia Phillies, who used 11 pitchers (including two position players) in Saturday night’s epic 18-inning loss.

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesRoy Halladay pitches for the first time since May 5.

The last time Halladay was on the mound for the Phillies was May 5 when he got shelled for nine runs in 2⅓ innings vs the Miami Marlins, the fourth time in seven starts this season he had allowed at least five runs in a game.

Although Halladay did not flash his vintage Cy Young form today against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he did throw a solid six innings, giving up two runs on four hits and getting his first win since April 19.

How Halladay Won
Halladay’s hard pitches (cutter and sinker) averaged only 86.9 MPH, his lowest combined average velocity with those two pitches in any start over the last five seasons, but they were still effective offerings for him.

His 59 cutters and sinkers netted him 12 outs with just one hit allowed against the Diamondbacks; in his first seven starts this season, batters hit .329 and slugged .671 off his cutter and sinker.

Halladay was also effective in getting batters to expand their strike zone, with the Diamondbacks chasing 27 percent of pitches thrown outside the zone, his highest chase rate in his eight starts this year.

Halladay didn’t have swing-and-miss stuff today with just six swinging strikes, matching his fewest in a start this season. But he did get a season-high 21 called strikes, including both of his strikeouts.

He also had trouble finishing off batters with two strikes, allowing four of the 12 batters to reach base that went to two-strike counts. Entering this game, opponents were just 8-for-65 (.123) with two strikes against Halladay this season.

Halladay the Snake Charmer
Ryne Sandberg made a wise choice in calling for Halladay to start against Arizona. Halladay is now 5-1 with a 2.32 ERA in six career starts versus the Diamondbacks and hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any outing.

The outcome was also likely decided by the fourth inning when the Phillies took a 6-2 lead. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Halladay is now 113-0 in his career when given a lead of four-or-more runs and Halladay’s teams are 116-9 (.928) in those games.

Looking Ahead
Halladay’s start on Sunday was encouraging but may not foretell a complete comeback for the 36-year-old righthander. It has been a boom-or-bust season for him this year, with a 13.97 ERA in his four losses and 2.00 ERA in his four other starts.

Kershaw dominant as Dodgers win again

August, 18, 2013

AP Photo/Tom Mihalek
Clayton Kershaw shut down the Phillies as he recorded his first career win against Philadelphia.
At 42-8, the Los Angeles Dodgers join the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals & 1941 New York Yankees for the most wins over a 50-game stretch in the last 100 years.

Their current 10-game winning streak is their longest since 2006 when they won 11 straight.

A large part of their success is because of great pitching. Since their run started on June 22, the Dodgers lead MLB in team ERA (2.45) and are second in opponent batting average (.229) and shutouts (8).

Saturday marked their 16th shutout of the season, which is the most in MLB.

Clayton Kershaw pitched another gem as he recorded his sixth start of eight-or-more scoreless innings this season. No other pitcher in MLB has more than three such starts.

Kershaw had a lot of success staying outside as 32-of-48 pitches on the outer half went for strikes, and he recorded six of eight strikeouts on pitches in that zone.

On the season, Kershaw's .172 Opp BA on pitches in the outer half is tied for best in the National League with Matt Cain.

He also had outstanding offspeed stuff as batters were just 2-for-12 and accounted for seven of his eight strikeouts against offspeed pitches. The seven strikeouts (against offspeed pitches) are tied for his second-most in a start this season.

The win also marked his first career victory over the Philadelphia Phillies after entering 0-4 in eight previous starts. That leaves the Atlanta Braves as the only National League team that Kershaw has not defeated.

DID YOU KNOW: The last time the Dodgers shut out the Phillies in consecutive games was May 23 and 24, 1983 in Philadelphia. The winning pitchers those days were Fernando Valenzuela and Alejandro Pena who each threw complete game shutouts against the eventual National League pennant winners.

5 stats to know: Braves at Phillies

August, 4, 2013

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
After a tough stretch of starts, Cliff Lee looks to turn things around against the Braves on Sunday.

The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies finish off their three-game series at Citizens Bank Park tonight at 8 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN.

Here are five stats to know going into Sunday Night Baseball action.

1. The Braves are riding the league’s best active win streak right now at nine games. Saturday night’s comeback win against the Phillies was their league-leading 35th of the year. Atlanta has won 16 of the past 23 meetings with the Phillies and 10 of the past 14 at Citizens Bank Park.

The Braves enter Sunday’s action with a season-high 11.5-game lead in the NL East. It marks the first time since Sept. 21, 2003, that the Braves have had a lead of 11.5 games in their division. The 2003 Braves finished the year with a 10.0-game lead in the NL East.

2. At 10 games under .500, the Phillies are trying to avoid their first losing season since 2002. Philadelphia is averaging 3.8 runs per game this season. This season could be the first since 1991 that the Phillies fail to score at least four runs per game.

3. Rookie lefty Alex Wood makes his fourth career start for the Braves on Sunday, and for the second time in his career, it will be on regular rest. The hard-thrower has posted a well-above-average strikeout rate of 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings (average: 7.5) and walked 3.0 batters per nine innings (avg. 3.0). Wood has allowed one home run in 33 1/3 IP, due in part to a very good ground ball rate (55 percent).

Although Wood’s average fastball of 92.3 mph isn’t incredible, it ranks fourth among NL lefties with at least three starts this season, behind some pretty significant names.

4. Cliff Lee returns to the mound after missing a start with neck stiffness. He’ll look to shake off a tough stretch in his past four starts when he went 1-2 with a 5.47 ERA.

Lee has shown amazing command throughout his career, and this year has been no different. He leads the NL in strike rate (71 percent), percent of pitches in the zone (60 percent) and strikeouts looking this season (54 percent). Lee is 5-1 with a 1.38 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 0.5 BB/9 in his past seven starts against the Braves.

5. Jason Heyward moved into the leadoff spot for the Braves on July 27. Prior to that, he saw 57 percent fastballs. Since then, he’s seen 65 percent fastballs.

Through July 26, Atlanta’s leadoff hitters had an OBP of .296 and were scoring an average of 0.6 runs per game. Since Heyward took over at the top of the order, the Braves’ leadoff spot has a .425 OBP and is contributing 1.5 runs per game.

5 stats to know: Yankees at Red Sox

July, 21, 2013
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will meet Sunday night in the rubber game of a three-game series at 8 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN.

Here are five stats our broadcast crew will likely be talking about a lot during Sunday night’s contest.

1. The Yankees' first four series out of the All-Star break are against the division-leading Red Sox, the team with the fifth-best record in the AL (Texas Rangers), a Tampa Bay Rays team that entered Sunday having won 19 of 23 and a Los Angeles Dodgers team that entered Sunday with 19 wins in their last 24 games.

The Yankees are averaging 3.9 runs per game and have a .243 batting average, .307 on-base percentage and .376 slugging percentage. Each of those stats, if they hold through to season’s end, would be their worst in those categories since 1990.

2. Red Sox hitters have had a very sound approach this season. They lead the majors in pitches seen per at-bat (4.04).

Thirty percent of the balls they’ve hit this season have been to the opposite field, the highest rate in the majors.

The Red Sox are hitting .196 in two-strike counts, ranking third in the majors. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia leads the AL with a .294 batting average in two-strike counts in 2013.

3. CC Sabathia has thrown more than 42,000 pitches since 2001, the most of anyone in the major leagues. He’s thrown 1,637.1 innings since 2007 (including the postseason), more than 100 more than any other pitcher.

Sabathia’s fastball is averaging 90.6 mph, down 1.6 mph from last season, and down more than 3 mph from 2011. Opponents are hitting .300 against the pitch this season

He enters with a 5.44 ERA in seven starts at Fenway Park with the Yankees, his highest ERA in any ballpark since joining the team.

Sabathia will be trying to be the first Yankees starter to win a game on his birthday (he turns 33 today) since Joe Cowley in 1984. Before Cowley, Ron Guidry did it in 1977 and 1981.

4. Ryan Dempster enters this start with an 0-5 record, a 7.29 ERA and a 1.050 opponents’ OPS in six career starts against the Yankees. Since posting a 2.93 ERA in his first seven starts, Dempster has a 5.08 ERA. He’s gone six straight starts with fewer than five strikeouts. He hasn’t had a stretch of seven straight starts since 2002-03.

5. New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera earned his 57th regular-season save against the Red Sox on Saturday, giving him 30 more than the pitcher with the next-highest total against the Sox (Rick Aguilera).

Rivera has a 2.58 ERA and 35 regular-season saves at Fenway Park. There are only two visiting ballparks at which he’s had more saves: Camden Yards (41) and Tropicana Field (36).

5 stats to know: Nationals at Phillies

July, 8, 2013

Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesDan Haren looks for his 1st win since May 9 when he takes on the Phillies tonight.
The Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies open a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park at 7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN. Here are five stats that will surely be talked about tonight on tonight's telecast.

1. Bryce Harper is starting to heat up after coming off the DL on July 1. He is 4-for-6 with four RBI in the last two games after going 1-for-19 in his first five games back. He has hits in all three games against the Phillies this season.

2. The Nationals are 13-10 against left-handed starters this season, but the offense has struggled against southpaws.

Washington hitters have a .218 batting average and .626 OPS against lefties, both the lowest in the majors.

The acquisition of Scott Hairston from the Cubs on Sunday should help; he has a .818 career OPS against southpaws.

3. Dan Haren will be activated off the DL for the Nationals and take the place of Ross Detwiler (who was placed on the DL).

Haren hasn’t won since May 9, and with a loss, he would be the fifth 10-game loser in the National League.

Over his last eight starts, Haren is 0-6 with a 7.01 ERA. He has allowed at least one home run in 11 of his 15 starts this season. His 19 homers allowed are tied for the second-most in the majors (Jeremy Guthrie has allowed 20).

Eleven of the 19 home runs Haren has allowed this season have come off his slider, one of his best out pitches during his three seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

4. Domonic Brown is second in the NL with 23 home runs, 20 of them coming since the calendar flipped to May (most in the National League).

Brown has been especially productive at home. He leads the majors with home runs on 34% of his flyballs at home; compared to only 15% away from Citizens Bank Park.

5. For the second straight season, the Phillies placed Ryan Howard in the DL. After playing at least 140 games every year from 2006 to 2011, he’s played only 151 games over the last two years combined.

Howard signed a 5-year, $125-million contract in 2010 that runs through 2016 (with a club option in 2017). As for platooning, Howard has hit below .200 against left-handed pitchers in each of the last two seasons.

Kernels: One heck of a holiday

July, 7, 2013
Last week it was Friday that brought us a day full of oddities. July 4 historically provides some bizarre notes about the national pastime, so we should have known that this week, it would be Thursday.

Among the highlights:

• The Mets and Diamondbacks played a 15-inning epic in their series finale. The Diamondbacks had go-ahead RBI in three separate innings from the 13th on, the first to do that since the 1986 Cardinals.

• The loss was the Mets' third defeat of 15 innings or longer this season. In the expansion era (1961), only 13 teams have lost at least three 15-or-more-inning games in a single season, and five of those also won at least one along the way. The 2007 Astros were the last, losing a 15-, a 16-, and a 17-inning contest that season. The 1968 Mets (1-3 in games of 15 or more innings) were among the other squads to do it.

• The Reds and Giants had the 33rd postponed game of the season. There were only 20 postponed games in 2012. It was the first rainout of a July 4 game since 1994.

• The Athletics won their game over the Cubs 1-0 with the only run scoring on a passed ball by Welington Castillo.

If that seems unusual, it is. You might have heard on the Sunday morning Baseball Tonight that It hadn't happened in 20 years... exactly 20 years. The last time the only run of a game scored on a passed ball was another July 4 game, between the Dodgers and Expos on July 4, 1993.

• The White Sox walked off against Baltimore on Thursday when Adam Dunn launched his 23rd homer in the bottom of the 9th. It was Dunn's first walk-off anything since he homered for Washington in the final week of the 2010 season.

However, it was the third consecutive year that the White Sox had won their July 4 game on a walk-off.

The last team to win three consecutive Independence Day games via walk-off is somewhat of a statistical technicality. It happened for the Cleveland Indians, who played a doubleheader with the Tigers on July 4, 1962, and won both in extra innings. They then beat the Red Sox in 14 innings in the first game of a '63 double-dip.

But winning three straight years on July 4 via walk-off?

Since 1900, no team had ever done it. Until this week.

• The Pirates and Phillies finished their cross-commonwealth series on Thursday with an interesting pitching matchup. Pittsburgh starter: Gerrit Cole. Philadelphia starter: Cole Hamels. "Cole" ended up with both the win and the loss as the Phillies won 6-4.

There was one such "name game" matchup last season: June 16 when Oakland's Tyson Ross faced the Padres' Ross Ohlendorf in interleague play. But before that you have to go back more than 20 years to find an exact match. On April 13, 1991, Mike Scott of the Astros faced Scott Garrelts of the Giants. It didn't go well; San Francisco won 16-2. Darryl Kile also pitched for Houston in that game; 10 years later he would face Kyle Lohse on July 17, 2001.

• Thanks to eight walks and a hit batter, the Royals scored 10 runs on only six base hits in Thursday's 10-7 win over Cleveland. They're just the second team in the past 10 years to reach double digits on as few as six hits. The Twins also received eight free passes from the Tigers in a 10-2 win on September 5, 2008.

In Royals franchise history, they'd never before had a game-- of any linescore-- where their number of runs exceeded their number of hits by at least four.

• Erick Aybar's walk-off single capped a three-run Angels comeback in the ninth inning on Thursday as they downed the Cardinals 6-5. The Angels had been 1-38 when trailing after eight innings this season, and then they pulled off two wins in three days.

On Saturday night, they trailed the Red Sox 7-3 before piecing together four singles, a hit batter, and a Boston error to score four two-out runs to tie the game. Josh Hamilton eventually won it with a walk-off homer in the 11th.