Stats & Info: Jake Westbrook

AP Photo/David J. PhillipCarlos Beltran has been getting plenty of positive receptions from teammates recently.

Five stats you’ll likely hear quite a bit more about on tonight’s telecast of the St. Louis Cardinals-Philadelphia Phillies game at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

1-- Expect to hear a lot of pontificating from Orel Hershiser on the art of getting the ground ball. Both of Sunday’s starters ranked in the top 10 in the majors in number of sinkers thrown last season.

2-- Jake Westbrook (99-96) is going for his 100th career win. He’d be the 26th active pitcher with 100 or more. Westbrook hasn’t allowed an earned run in his first 15 2/3 innings.

Only three Cardinals pitchers in the last 50 years have had a streak of 20 innings without allowing an earned run to start a season- Al Jackson (22 in 1966), Woody Williams (24 2/3 in 2003) and Chris Carpenter (24 in 2009).

3-- Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick averages only 4.68 strikeouts per 9 innings. Entering Sunday that ranked second-lowest among active pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched. But Kendrick has become more of a strikeout pitcher the last two seasons, averaging 6.5 whiffs per 9.

4-- Carlos Beltran has hit a home run in three straight games for the first time since July 19-21, 2007. He last did so in four straight games in August 2004 when he actually had a home run in five straight games from Aug. 23-27.

Beltran has passed a number of interesting names on baseball’s all-time home run list recently. He’s currently tied for 95th with Don Baylor and Mark Teixeira (338 homers). His next longball will tie him with the trio of Tino Martinez, Dave Parker, and Boog Powell.

5-- Phillies hitters have shown an overwhelming penchant for swinging the bat recently. On Friday, they snapped a streak of 137 straight plate appearances without receiving a walk. The Phillies are averaging 16.5 plate appearances per walk, the second-worst rate in the NL, trailing the Chicago Cubs (17.2).

The Phillies are coming off of their worst offensive season in 15 years. In 2012 they averaged 4.2 runs per game, the team’s lowest total since averaging 4.1 per game in 1997. This season, the team is averaging 3.8 runs per game.

John Grieshop/Getty ImagesWith a league-leading 35 doubles, Reds All-Star Joey Votto is on pace to become the seventh player to hit 60 two-baggers in a season.
The Reds and Cardinals meet for the ninth time this season (8 ET on ESPN) with Cincinnati trying to sweep St. Louis for the first time since May 2011. If the Reds are to do that, they'll need a quality start from Homer Bailey. Bailey, who is replacing originally scheduled starter Johnny Cueto, is just 1-4 with a 5.86 ERA at home this season. That’s the highest home ERA in the NL this season. Twelve of the 16 home runs he’s allowed have come at home. Bailey's last win at the Great American Ball Park was nearly two months ago when he beat the Braves.

Despite Cueto being replaced, the Reds have still only used five starting pitchers this season. Only the Marlins have also only used five. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us the Reds’ 29 players used and 20 different starters are both the fewest for any club in the majors this year.

Cardinals notes

The Cardinals have struggled against the league's better teams this season going 16-25 against teams with a .500 or better win pct and 30-17 against teams with losing records. They won three of the first four games vs the Reds this season, but have lost three of the last four. St. Louis has not been swept since May 18-20 vs the Dodgers and the final game of that series was also on Sunday Night Baseball.

Despite being just four games over .500 heading into Sunday's game, the Cardinals offense hasn’t missed a beat without Albert Pujols.

Jake Westbrook takes the mound for the Cardinals looking to improve to 2-0 vs the Reds this season. In his last outing against Cincinnati back in April, Westbrook went seven innings allowing just one unearned run for his first win.

Westbrook has the second-highest groundball percentage (60%) among NL starters and the third highest percentage of pitches down in or below the strike zone (53%) in the NL this season.

Reds notes

Joey Votto has been a big reason for the Reds' success. Since 2010, Votto ranks in the top three in the NL in several major categories.

Votto is on pace for 65 doubles. Earl Webb holds the single-season record with 67. Votto led the NL with 40 doubles in 2011. He’s already five shy of that total.

Even if he doesn’t get to 67, Votto could become just the seventh player to hit 60 doubles in a season, and the first since Charlie Gehringer and Joe Medwick in 1936.

The Reds need more production from the top of their order. Their leadoff hitters have a combined batting average of .200 and a .244 on-base percentage, which ranks last in the NL. They are also near the bottom in slugging percentage, runs and walks.

Westbrook looks to reverse negative trend

June, 20, 2012

Howard Smith/US PresswireCardinals P Jake Westbrook has a 7.05 ERA in his last seven starts.
The St. Louis Cardinals have had no trouble scoring runs this season, but lately, it has not translated into a winning record. They will look to change that trend when they play the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night (ESPN2, 7 ET).

The Cardinals, who are tied for the best run differential in the National League at plus-50, sit in third place in the NL Central, 4.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds. After a hot April, the Cardinals’ winning percentage has decreased in each month since. They are also struggling in close contests (6-11 in one-run games), in large part because of a bullpen that has struggled to hold leads.

St. Louis dropped the series opener to the Tigers, who suddenly are right back in the AL Central picture. While Detroit hasn’t been the contender many expected, it has reeled off three straight wins and has taken seven of its last nine games to pull within two games of the Cleveland Indians in the division. That is despite the Tigers having the third-worst winning percentage in the AL since April 19.

The Tigers, who are a victory away from tying their longest streak of the season, have had St. Louis’ number in interleague play, going 18-9. They also have won all four interleague series they have played this season. And although nowhere near as good in one-run games as last season, the Tigers are 11-12 in such games this year and have not been shut out.

Jake Westbrook will take the hill for the Cardinals aiming to turn around a season that started promising. Westbrook was nearly lights out in his first six starts, but since then has struggled mightily. One of the main reasons is his inability to keep his sinker low in the zone. He has left it up over his last seven starts, when have the Cards have gone 1-6.

Westbrook is 6-8 with a 5.89 ERA in 20 career starts against the Tigers. Keep an eye on his matchup with Miguel Cabrera, who is 6-for-10 with a home run, double and walk in 11 career plate appearances against him.

Detroit will throw Rick Porcello, who has been one of the most hittable pitchers in the league this season. His .315 opponent batting average is the worst in the major leagues among qualifying pitchers this season.

Porcello won his last start June 13 against the Cubs, but it was his first win since May 6. However, he has pitched well at home as of late, going 2-0 with a 2.59 ERA in last four home starts.
Five things to know on the Sunday Night Baseball game at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2 as the New York Mets look to make it three straight wins over the St. Louis Cardinals

1. Mets starting pitchers have thrown shutouts in consecutive games, the first time their starting pitchers pitched consecutive shutouts since the same two starters did so August 12-13, 2010 -- Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey, against the Rockies and Phillies.

The Mets have never shut out the Cardinals three times in a three-game sweep. The fewest runs they’ve allowed against the Cardinals in a series of three or more games was two runs, from April 1-4 2007 (three-game series).

2. The Cardinals, with one of the best offenses in the National League, have been shut out in consecutive games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first time in MLB history the reigning World Series champion had back-to-back shutout losses where one of those losses was a no-hitter.

3. There have been 17 home runs hit at Citi Field that would NOT have been home runs there last year, due to the more spacious outfield dimensions, including FIVE homers that have traveled at least 408 feet that would NOT have left the park last season.

It’s been evenly distributed among teams: the Mets have racked up eight such home runs and their opponents have totaled nine.

4. Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook had a good start to the season, going 4-2 with a 1.76 ERA in his first six starts, allowing two earned or fewer in five of those six starts.

Over his past four starts, he’s 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA and the Cardinals have lost all four games. His sinker has been the issue -- he’s allowed a .353 batting average off sinkers in the past four starts after allowing just a .189 batting average in his first six.

His mound counterpart, Mets starter Jonathon Niese was 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in his first four starts this season and the Mets went 3-1 in those games. In his past six starts, Niese is 1-2 with a 6.07 ERA and the Mets have gone just 2-4.

Niese can’t find the strike zone -- his walk rate has nearly doubled from seven percent during his first four starts to 13 percent in his last six.

5. Mets third baseman David Wright is hitting .365 and much of his improvement has come against pitches on the inner-third of the plate or closer to him. He has a .397 batting average and 1.113 OPS against pitches on the inner-third of the plate or closer to him, a jump of nearly 200 points in batting average and 500 points in OPS from last season.

Jesse Johnson/US Presswire Dan Haren has lost four straight starts for the second time in his career.
Dan Haren of the Los Angeles Angels will be looking to change his fortunes around when he gets the nod tonight against the Seattle Mariners (10:10 ET). He enters having lost four straight starts for the second time in his career, having previously done it in 2005. While Haren does have a 5.79 ERA in that stretch, the Angels have managed a total of two runs in those four games.

The Angels are 1-8 in his nine starts, and only Haren and Chris Volstad of the Chicago Cubs have seen their team lose eight of their starts this season. In addition, only teammate Ervin Santana has received worse support in the AL. The Angels have scored more than three runs just once in Haren's nine starts.

Ike Davis Slumping
The New York Mets are four games over .500 despite Ike Davis having one of the worst seasons in the majors. Davis has the second-lowest batting average among qualifying players, including a .065 average at home, and based on WAR, Davis is the least valuable player in the majors.

When he is making contact this year, Davis has seen a very high percentage of his balls in play turn to outs. Among all players this season, Davis' .188 batting average on balls in play is the lowest.

Last year, Davis found considerable success against the fastball, batting .343 with an OPS of 1.100. This year, those numbers have dropped to .157 and .448.

Other Key Notes
- Ichiro Suzuki was just 2-18 vs Dan Haren last season. He's a .227 career batter vs Haren.
- Hunter Pence is 7-12 (.583) in his career vs Jake Westbrook.
- Philip Humber has a 7.86 ERA since his perfect game.
- Albert Pujols has 3 HR, 8 RBI in his last nine games.
- Cincinnati Reds have a season-high five-game win streak.

Sliders key on Monday Night Baseball

May, 13, 2012

Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireRyan Dempster brings a 1.02 ERA to St. Louis on "Monday Night Baseball," where he's looking to pick up his first win of the season.
The major league leader in ERA takes the hill Monday when Ryan Dempster and the Chicago Cubs visit the St. Louis Cardinals (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Dempster has allowed just four earned runs in five starts -- a 1.02 ERA -- but is 0-1. The Cubs have lost all of Dempster's starts, scoring a total of eight runs in the five games.

According to The Elias Sports Bureau, no pitcher in major league history has had an ERA as low as Dempster through five starts without a win.

He’s using his slider more often this season while decreasing the use of his fastball and splitter. That slider has been one of the best in baseball. Hitters are just 5-for-56 against Dempster’s slider this season, a paltry .094 batting average. (Last year through five starts, he allowed 11 hits against the slide piece.) Only one pitcher in baseball -- Matt Cain -- has a lower batting average against his slider (min. 50 PA ending with a slider).

Dempster’s opponent, Jake Westbrook, is off to a fine start of his own. He’s 4-2 with a 1.76 ERA and has pitched into the seventh inning in all six of his starts. Only Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay have pitched into the seventh inning more often this season.

Westbrook has improved his slider by keeping it out of the middle of the strike zone. Last season, more than 21 percent of his sliders were in the middle-third of the strike zone and just 52 percent were away. This season, fewer than 13 percent of his sliders are in the middle and more than 62 percent are away from hitters. As the chart to the right shows, hitters are swinging at the pitch less but are missing it nearly twice as often.

• Skip Schumaker is hitting .417 (20-for-48) against Dempster, the second-highest batting average by any hitter with 40 plate appearances against him.

• Rafael Furcal is hitting .154 (6-for-39) against Dempster, the lowest batting average by any player with 40 plate appearances against him.

• Alfonso Soriano is hitting .120 (3-for-25) against Westbrook, the third-lowest batting average by any player with 25 plate appearances against him.

• David DeJesus is 7-for-26 against Westbrook, just a .269 batting average, but he’s the only Cub who’s homered off the Cardinals righty. Plus, only two players have faced Westbrook more often without a strikeout.

These two teams first met in 1892, when the Chicago Colts beat the St. Louis Browns 14-10 on Opening Day. The Cubs lead the all-time series 1,169-1,107. Since the start of the 2002 season, the series is tied 86-86.
One of the sport’s fiercest rivalries takes center stage as the Chicago Cubs take on the St. Louis Cardinals in this week’s Sunday Night Baseball tilt (ESPN, 8 ET).

The Cubs probably would prefer the game take place on a different day of the week -- Chicago is 3-13 (.188) on Sundays and 39-52 (.429) during the rest of the week.

No matter the day, the Cubs’ starting pitchers have been awful. They rank last in the majors with a 5.13 ERA. Over the last 60 years, the highest ERA for Cubs starters was 5.33 in 1999.

Things weren’t helped by Rodrigo Lopez’s outing on Saturday (4⅓ IP, 6 ER) as the Cardinals turned a 5-0 deficit into a 13-5 win. Ryan Theriot’s sixth career four-hit game and Albert Pujols’ 24th home run paced the attack.

The Cardinals’ offensive explosion was fairly typical since they lead the National League in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS and Runs per game.
Albert Pujols

Pujols, who recorded his 2,000th hit on Friday, is hitting .327 with 7 HR and 14 RBI against Ryan Dempster, Chicago’s starter Sunday. In addition, in 61 plate appearances against Dempster, Pujols has struck out only once.

Pujols’ seven homers against Dempster are tied for the most he has against any pitcher.

Another player who has had a lot of success against Dempster is Skip Schumaker. He's a .419 career hitter against Dempster (18-for-43), including 18-for-36 when putting the ball in play. This season, however, Schumaker is 0-3 with two strikeouts against Dempster.

Schumaker’s .419 mark is third-best among players with at least 20 at-bats against Dempster, behind Placido Polanco (.450 BA) and Jeff Keppinger (.448).

One bit of good news for the Cubs is that they're facing Jake Westbrook. On May 11, Westbrook lost to the Cubs 11-4, allowing five runs in 2⅓ innings. Westbrook allowed five straight baserunners, all of whom scored.

Westbrook is unbeaten in his last seven starts (3-0, 4.32 ERA); however, the Cardinals are just 4-3 in those games.
How the St. Louis Cardinals handle two former Tampa Bay Rays will be one storyline worth watching as the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs play on Wednesday at Wrigley Field (8 ET on ESPN).

Carlos Pena -- who signed a one-year, $10 million contract in December -- is hitting just .213, but is showing signs of life. In his past six games, he's 8-for-19 (.421) with three home runs. And on Wednesday, he'll face Jake Westbrook, a pitcher he's had success against in his career.

Pena is 10-for-32 with five doubles and four home runs against Westbrook, but he's also struck out 10 times.

While Westbrook has struck out Pena once every 3.2 at-bats, he has not had similar strikeout success against the free-swinging Alfonso Soriano. Although he's just 3-for-21 (.143) against Westbrook, Soriano has struck out only twice. That means Soriano's batting average on balls in play against Westbrook is just .158 (3-for-19). A typical batting average on balls in play usually is around .295 to .300.

Opposing Westbrook will be Matt Garza, who's winless at Wrigley Field this season (0-2 in four starts) despite a 3.25 ERA. Garza has struck out 58 batters in his seven starts this season, and he's allowed only one home run. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other National League pitchers in the past 25 years had at least that many strikeouts while giving up no more than one home run in their first seven starts of a season: David Cone in 1992 with the Mets and Tim Lincecum in 2009 with the San Francisco Giants.

Garza, who came to Chicago in January in trade and is 1-4 overall, has not fared well against No. 4 and 5 hitters in his seven starts. He's allowed 18 hits in 43 at-bats (.419 BA), although the four-five hitters have yet to hit a home run off him.

And it would be somewhat of a surprise if the Cardinals' No. 4 hitter, Matt Holliday, took Garza deep. Holliday has three extra-base hits and just one home run -- which came in 2006 -- in 91 at-bats at Wrigley Field.

Lance Berkman, who hits behind Holliday, will be playing in his 162nd career game against the Cubs -- the equivalent of a full season. He's a .249 hitter against them with 30 HRs, 88 RBIs and 147 strikeouts. However, Berkman does have eight home runs on the road this season, after hitting just four in 57 road games in 2010.

As for Albert Pujols, who hits in front of Holliday, he's coming off his first four-hit game of the season on Tuesday. And although he hasn't hit a home run since April 23, Pujols has hit 47 home runs against the Cubs (25 at Wrigley), the most he's hit against any team.

Pujols, however, has had some struggles early this season.

He's accounted for almost 25 percent of the double plays that St. Louis has hit into this season. The Cardinals have hit into a major league-leading 45 double plays, including 11 by Pujols. (Only Torii Hunter has hit into more, with 12.)

He's also drawing fewer walks per at-bats (one every 9.8 plate appearances) compared to recent seasons, and is hitting just .238 on outside pitches. In 2009 and 2010, he hit .320 on those pitches.

-- Jon Kramer and Mark Simon contributed to this report.

The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals have split the first two games of a three-game series. On Sunday they’ll settle the score as Edinson Volquez takes the hill for the Reds against Jake Westbrook of the Cardinals.

Volquez has allowed two earned runs in two road starts this season, so if the Cardinals are going to get to him, they better do it early. Volquez has allowed 13 first-inning runs in his first four starts, the most in the majors. He has allowed just four earned runs in his other 18⅔ innings pitched. Opponents are 13-for-23 (.565) the first time facing Volquez in a game compared to 7-for-55 (.127) in all other plate appearances.

If the Cardinals don’t get to him early in the count, they’ll face a lethal pitcher with two strikes. Opponents are 4-for-40 (.100) with two strikes versus Volquez this season; his opponent batting average of .100 is fifth-lowest among NL pitchers (minimum 35 batters faced).

Keeping the ball in the yard could be an issue for Volquez. He is allowing the same percentage of fly balls (not including line drives) this season (27.6 percent) compared to last season (27.1). But this season, 37.5 percent (6-of-16) of his fly balls have been home runs. Last season, 13 percent (6-of-46) of his fly balls were home runs. The league average is 10 percent.

In case you were wondering, Albert Pujols is 3-for-7 with two home runs and four walks career versus Volquez; he is 3-for-5 (two HR) in his last seven plate appearances versus Volquez.

Here are a few more things we’re looking for on Sunday night.

Westbrook is 7-18 career in March and April. His .280 win percentage is the WORST among current major leaguers with at least 20 March/April decisions. Westbrook made his MLB debut in 2000. He’s never had a winning record in ANY season at the end of April.

Sunday will mark Albert Pujols’ 162nd career game against the Reds -- the equivalent of a full MLB season. His career numbers against them: .355 BA, 44 HR, 136 RBIs.

According to Elias, only three players who debuted in the last 80 years have gone
.350/40/130 against a team -- Ted Williams (versus Washington Senators, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles), Joe DiMaggio (versus Browns), and Pujols (versus Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates).

Other Pujols highlights:
• Four multi-HR games, including a three-HR game on April 16, 2006, a game he won with a walk-off HR
• Two walk-off HR
• He’s never hit below .300 in any season against them

No active player has more home runs against the Reds than Lance Berkman’s 49. Pujols is second with 44. Derrek Lee’s 33 are a distant third. But Berkman’s 49 don’t even crack the top 10 for most HR against the Reds all time. Hank Aaron leads with 97.

Matchup to watch -- Gomes versus Westbrook
Jonny Gomes
is 1-for-his-last-9 against Westbrook, but the one was a home run in his last at-bat against him (May 21, 2010).

Also of note on Westbrook matchups:
• The leadoff man has reached against Westbrook 11 times in 20 innings this season.
• The third inning has been Westbrook’s issue this season. Opponents are 10-for-21 with eight runs scored in the third inning against him (4-for-26, three runs scored in first two innings).

-- Mark Simon and Katie Sharp contributed to this post

Worse collapse: 2010 Cardinals or 2007 Mets?

September, 2, 2010
The infamous collapse of the 2007 New York Mets is one that very nearly every baseball fan knows about – the team blew a seven-game lead over the season's final 17 games, ceding the National League East to the Philadelphia Phillies and becoming the butt of jokes nationwide.

Fast forward three years, and here we are in 2010. While the St. Louis Cardinals’ collapse has occurred at a different time and in a different division, the net result is almost certainly the same – the loss of the division and any shot at the playoffs. The similarities between the two collapses are striking.

While both collapses are similar in magnitude, the reason behind the slump could not be more different. The Cardinals’ bats have gone silent during the collapse, this despite the presence of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. On the flip side, the 2007 Mets couldn’t have done much more on offense during their collapse – they averaged nearly six runs per game – but their pitching staff's 5.96 ERA down the stretch proved to be their undoing.

Another interesting angle to look at is the play of the team’s superstars during the respective collapses. In baseball, one player cannot carry a team (even if that player is Albert Pujols or David Wright).

What's even more puzzling about the Cardinals slump is that the team presumably sacrificed offense for pitching at the trade deadline, swapping out OF Ryan Ludwick and swapping in SP Jake Westbrook. Matt Holliday, St. Louis' big offseason signing, is batting just .268 with a paltry .303 OBP during these 18 games.

Mercifully, the Cardinals have Thursday off to try and collect themselves before opening a 3-game set against the division-leading Reds Friday in St. Louis.

1st Pitch: Manny Ramirez, this is your life

August, 30, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Trevor Hoffman has his first opportunity to nab save No. 600 tonight, so let’s take a look back at his career with a two-part trivia question.

You might not have realized that Hoffman’s first career save came not with the San Diego Padres but with the Florida Marlins. Hoffman played on that inaugural Marlin team in 1993 but was traded in the middle of the season to the Padres. Who was the big name on the other end of the deal that was traded for Hoffman?

In Hoffman’s career, only two closers have won Cy Young awards – Eric Gagne and Dennis Eckersley. But Hoffman TWICE finished as the runner-up in Cy voting. Who did he lose to? Bonus points if you know the year.

Quick Hits: If Sunday was Manny Ramirez’s last game and last plate appearance with the Los Angeles Dodgers, then he went out with an … extended thumb. Manny’s ejection, after arguing about a strike call that PitchFX had located 3.8 inches off the outside corner, was certainly a memorable and odd way to finish a stint with a team. Let’s take a look at some of Manny’s other openers and closers with the team’s he has played for in his 18-year career:

• His MLB debut, in 1993 with the Cleveland Indians, didn’t come until September as a call-up. In his first-ever game, Manny was the DH and went 0-for-4, though he didn’t strike out. It was the first of 268 times that Manny has gone 0-4 or worse in his career, though only 68 of them didn’t include a strikeout.

• He went out with a bang, or more appropriately, a bomb with the Indians, homering in his last game. In fact, Manny finished his Cleveland career by homering in each of his last three games. Manny has had 20 streaks of three-plus games with a home run in his career.

• There’s more: Manny also had two-plus hits in each of those last three games with the Indians. He’s only had seven streaks of three-plus games with two hits and a homer in his career, and his streak to finish his Indians career was one of them.

• In his first game with the Boston Red Sox, Manny went 1-3 and only lasted seven innings before being lifted for a pinch runner, Darren Lewis. Not a smart decision by Jimy Williams, then the Red Sox manager. The Sox ended up losing, 2-1 in extra innings, and Manny would have had two more at-bats in the game. Instead, Lewis took those at-bats and went 0-2.

• Manny’s last game with Boston was a lesson in bad breakups. Ramirez went 0-3, then gave this quote: "The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me," he said in an interview with "During my years here I've seen how they have mistreated other great players when they didn't want them to try to turn the fans against them."

• His first game as a Dodger had better numbers: 2-4 at the plate, the only Dodger in the lineup that day who got multiple hits against Diamondbacks starter Randy Johnson. But in the bottom of the ninth with the Dodgers down a run, Manny had a chance to have an extra-special debut and send Dodgers fans into a frenzy. Instead, he grounded into a double play with a runner on base, sealing the Dodgers’ loss.

Today’s Leaderboard: You’ll never guess where Manny’s new team is playing this week. They’re headed to Cleveland and then Boston – two locations pretty familiar to Ramirez. Thank the baseball scheduling gods for their sense of timing.

There are only two stadiums where Manny has not had a plate appearance - Target Field and the new Yankee Stadium. The White Sox don’t travel to either park the rest of the year, so Manny won’t be able to cross those off his list yet.

Key Matchups: Trevor Cahill enters tonight’s matchup with the New York Yankees on an absolute tear. He has a 1.00 ERA over his last seven starts, throwing a quality start every time. Cahill has faced the Yankees only once in his two-year career, and it came earlier this season. That start was one of the worst of the year for Cahill, allowing six ER in six innings. But it was Alex Rodriguez who did most of the damage, hitting two home runs. That won’t be the case this time around - A-Rod is on the DL, and the rest of the Yanks haven’t had much success against Cahill. All other Yankees are 3-22 (.136 BA).

• Something to keep an eye on when Pat Misch tries to limit the Atlanta Braves in tonight’s ESPN game: in his career Misch allows a .256 batting average when the bases are empty but that jumps to .322 when there are runners on. Pretty odd numbers for a former reliever that should be used to pitching out of the stretch. Those numbers are even more disparate this season: .222 opponents’ BA when the bases are empty, .379 with runners on.

• Among all active batters whom Jake Westbrook has faced more than 30 times, Carlos Lee is hitting them the hardest. Lee has a career .406 BA and .594 slugging percentage against Westbrook, whom he’ll face tonight in Houston. Lee and Westbrook spent most of their duels in AL Central play when Lee was on the White Sox and Westbrook an Indian.

Trivia Answer: On the other end of the deal was Gary Sheffield, who went to the Marlins in June. Just for fun, Sheffield batted just .150 (3-20) with seven strikeouts in his career against Hoffman.

Hoffman was runner-up for the Cy in 1998 to Tom Glavine. Hoffman’s Padres beat Glavine’s Braves that year in the NLCS. In 2006, Hoffman finished second to Brandon Webb.

1st Pitch: Grounds for Discussion

August, 16, 2010
Today’s Trivia: We’ve got a tremendous lefty showdown tonight in Tampa – Cliff Lee against David Price. Both will likely find their names on some Cy Young ballots at the end of the season. When was the last time that two left-handed pitchers finished 1st and 2nd in Cy voting in a season? When was the last time it happened in the AL?

Quick Hits: Pitchers love getting ground ball outs and pitching coaches love preaching to play to your defense. Let’s take a look at which hitters and pitchers have ratios at either end of the spectrum:

Derek Jeter has been beating the ball into the turf more than any other AL hitter. He has a 3.30 groundout-to-flyout ratio, which blows away second place on the list (Juan Pierre, at 2.28).

Meanwhile, the man who frequently bats behind Jeter in the order is a polar opposite. Nick Swisher’s 0.66 ratio is second-lowest on the list, narrowly behind Jhonny Peralta’s 0.65

Chalk up the Cleveland Indians as a team that pitches to the ground ball. Justin Masterson is the leader in groundout-to-flyout ratio among pitchers, and two other Indians (or former Indians) ranked in the top eight in that category – Fausto Carmona and the departed Jake Westbrook.

In the NL, a pair of Central division batters – Michael Bourn and Skip Schumaker – are the groundout-to-flyout frequenters. Maybe the biggest surprise comes at third on the list – Jason Heyward, with a 1.92 ratio.

Roger McDowell and Dave Duncan seem to be kindred spirits, with their pitching staffs following in tow. Of the top four groundout-to-flyout pitchers in the NL, two are Braves (Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe) and the other two are Cardinals (Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright).

On the other end of things, the San Francisco Giants have three starters in the top five of pitchers who get flyouts most frequently. Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito are all among the league leaders in that category.

Today’s Leaderboard: How would you like to be Jon Rauch on Sunday – entering the game trying to continue the dominance after Kevin Slowey pitches seven no-hit innings? It didn’t end well for Rauch, who allowed a double to the second batter he faced, ending the no-hitter and eventually the shutout.

Lucky for Rauch, it was a relatively low-leverage situation, at least numbers-wise: his team was up 4-0 with only nine outs needed to polish off the A’s. But which guys have entered games in high-leverage situations the most this season? Interesting to see two Boston Red Sox pitchers on this list:

High leverage is defined here as the first PA of a pitcher’s appearance having a leverage index of 1.5 or higher. A leverage index of 1.0 is considered average, with the greater index indicating the higher pressure. By the way, Rauch has 21 high leverage appearances this season.

Key Matchups: Max Scherzer has only faced four active New York Yankees batters in his career, but he’s made them look silly. Lance Berkman, Curtis Granderson, Austin Kearns and Mark Teixeira are a combined 3-16 (.188 BA) against Scherzer. Those batters have eight strikeouts in 18 AB.

You could see why Kevin Correia might not be thrilled about taking the mound at Wrigley Field tonight – Correia has a 17.47 ERA in five games there, including one start. That’s his worst ERA of any ballpark where he’s made a start. In his last outing, a start with the Giants, Correia didn’t make it out of the fourth inning and allowed seven earned runs.

More on the potentially epic lefty matchup tonight in Tampa. Let’s breakdown their Opp BA numbers, tale-of-the-tape style:

Moral of the story? It’s better to go lefty-lefty against Lee rather than Price. And while Lee excels in keeping runners off base in the first place, Price thrives once they do get on.

Trivia Answer: Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine finished 1-2 in 2000. The NL hasn’t seen a lefty Cy winner since the Big Unit won his last in 2002. To find two leftys that finished 1-2 in the AL, you have to go all the way back to 1979, when Mike Flanagan won and Tommy John took second.

1st Pitch: Who are the real contenders?

August, 3, 2010
Today’s Trivia: After pitching 1,198 innings in the American League (all with the Indians and Yankees), Jake Westbrook made his National League debut on Monday for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Can you name the active AL pitcher who has thrown the most career innings but never pitched for the NL? What about the active NL pitcher who has thrown the most innings but never pitched for the AL? We’ll give you the top 3 in each league at the bottom of this document.

Quick Hits on non-contenders who have owned contenders this season, on the heels of the Houston Astros improving to 5-2 in St. Louis this season (they’re 15-28 on the road against all other teams).

• The jury is still out on whether the Detroit Tigers are a contender, but they’re 3-1 against the Yankees this season. All other AL Central teams are 6-15 against the New York Yankees.

• The Tampa Bay Rays only have a losing record against one AL team this season (the Texas Rangers), but they have losing records against four different NL teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks (1-2) and Florida Marlins (2-4).

• The Cleveland Indians can claim dominance over the Chicago White Sox this season, going 8-4 against Ozzie Guillen’s club. Cleveland is 12-14 against the rest of the division.

• The Rangers need to stay away from AL East bottom-feeders. Texas is 3-9 against the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles this season.

• If the Philadelphia Phillies could beat the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, they’d be a lot closer to the Atlanta Braves in the standings. Philly is 4-8 against the Cubs and Pirates this season, but 6-0 against the other two NL Central non-contenders (Milwaukee Brewers and Astros).

Today’s Leaderboard: Today is Sid Bream’s 50th birthday, so let’s celebrate the player who memorably scored from 2nd base with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS to send the Braves to the World Series. Who, in Bream’s footsteps (pun not intended), has scored from 2nd base on a single most often this season?

It would be Martin Prado, who recently was placed on the disabled list.

And, since you’re wondering, which MLBers have a 100 percent success rate? It’s a tie among two guys who are 6-for-6: Asdrubal Cabrera and Kyle Blanks.

Key Matchups:
• Here’s the daily A-Rod vs Opposing Starter update: Rodriguez is 4-13 (.308 BA) in his career against Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero. But he has never homered off Romero and has only one extra-base hit (a double). And Romero really has Rodriguez’s number this season – A-Rod is 0-5 with 2 strikeouts and a double play in his last 5 AB’s against Romero.

Bud Norris has gained a reputation as a Cardinals-killer in his career (4-1 with a 1.60 ERA vs STL, 5-9 with a 6.35 ERA vs all other teams) despite getting knocked around by the Cardinals in his most recent start against them. But Norris still owns plenty of Cardinals individually. Felipe Lopez is 0-8, Matt Holliday is 4-16, Colby Rasmus is 2-13 and Skip Schumaker is 2-14. What about the Great Pujols? Not great either, just 3-14 and no home runs.

• In a battle of the newly-acquired players for NL West teams, give a strong edge to Ted Lilly when he pitches against Ryan Ludwick tonight. Ludwick is batting just .192 (5-28) with twice as many strikeouts (10) as hits (5) in his career against Lilly.

Pat Burrell hasn’t been an everyday player this season, but he should find himself starting tonight against the Rockies’ Aaron Cook. Pat the Bat is batting .591 (13-22) and slugging .773 against Cook. Of all the pitchers Burrell has faced at least 20 times, Cook is the pitcher Burrell has hit the best.

Trivia Answer: Your top AL guys who have never pitched for the NL: Mark Buehrle (2,193.1 IP), John Lackey (1,641.2) and Kelvim Escobar (1,507).

As for the other way around, it’s the recently-traded Roy Oswalt (1,938.1 IP), Randy Wolf (1,823.1) and Ryan Dempster (1,769.2).

1st Pitch: The importance of 599 and 59

August, 2, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Alex Rodriguez struck out as a pinch-hitter in Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, leaving him stuck on 599 home runs for another game. The strikeout dropped A-Rod to 0-10 as a pinch-hitter in his career. Only two active major leaguers have worse career numbers as a pinch hitter. Who are they?

(Hint: one was an All-Star last season for a team that currently leads its division. The other has a career BA of .224 and is a former teammate of Rodriguez’s with the Yankees.)

Quick Hits on the number 59 in baseball after golfer Stuart Appelby carded a 59 to win the Greenbrier Classic (thanks to researcher Paul Carr for several items)...

Only one team has exactly 59 games left this season: the San Diego Padres, who are 61-42 through 103 games. Every other team has fewer games left, some as few as 55.

Your MLB leader in games pitched this season is the oft-used Pedro Feliciano, who has appeared in 59.

Hall-of-Famer Satchel Paige pitched his final major-league game at age 59. He started for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965 and allowed just one hit in three shutout innings.

The active MLB player who has hit the most doubles in a season is Todd Helton, who hit 59 in 2000. Helton finished eight shy of the record 67 doubles by Earl Webb in 1931.

Only one player has ever hit exactly 59 home runs in a season. That was Babe Ruth, who broke his own single-season record in 1921 when he hit 59 homers, a record that stood for six years until Ruth broke it again.

No current MLB pitcher has exactly 59 career wins. One player has 58, but he might not get his 59th for a while. Oliver Perez is that player, and he’s 0-4 this season and hasn’t won since August of last season.

Today’s Leaderboard: After an intentional walk to the batter in front of him, Jason Kubel blew open a scoreless game in the sixth with a bases-loaded double against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday. Kubel had to feel comfortable at the plate in that situation – he’s among the league leaders in bases-loaded plate appearances this season.

Would you believe that two Minneosta Twins are on this list and neither are typical No. 4 batter Justin Morneau or No. 5 batter Michael Cuddyer?

Key Matchups: Here’s the daily A-Rod vs Opposing Starter update: Rodriguez is 4-15 (.267 BA) in his career against Brandon Morrow. He does have one career HR against Morrow, however, it came at a stadium that isn’t in use anymore. Rodriguez hit it in 2007 at old Yankee Stadium.

The first name Bobby Cox should write when he makes his lineup tonight against Johan Santana is Matt Diaz. Diaz is 14-26 (.538 BA) with a HR in his career against Santana. That’s the highest BA by any active player who has come to the plate at least 20 times against Santana (and there are 101 such players).

It’s probably for two reasons – the young Houston Astros roster and the fact that he has pitched his whole career in the AL until tonight – but Jake Westbrook has only faced one current Astro before. And he might want to stay away from that one tonight when he debuts for the Cardinals. Carlos Lee is batting .400 (12-30) and slugging .600 against Westbrook in his career. (Note: Westbrook has faced Geoff Blum before, but Blum is on the DL for the Astros)

Trivia Answer: Wil Nieves (A-Rod’s former teammate) is 0-16 in his career and Texas Rangers 2009 All-Star Nelson Cruz is 0-14.
Since starting the season 7-0, Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Silva has hit the wall in July. Silva is 1-2 with an 8.44 ERA in July and opposing hitters are hammering his fastball to a .438 BA (14-32).

After an up-and-down May and June, Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks 3-1 with a 2.51 ERA in July. The lefty has been especially tough on right-handed batters, holding them to a .127 BA (9-71) this month.

Monday starter Joel Pineiro lost to Boston earlier this season (May 5), with a David Ortiz home run proving to be the game-winning RBI. In his career, Ortiz has hit .440 (11-25) off Piñeiro, with three homers (only Manny Ramirez has more). Both hits in the earlier game came on 1-1 counts, which has proven to be Papi's favorite count this season (.474; 2-0 is next at .417).

The Angels are last in the majors at hitting split-finger fastballs (.067, 3-for-45), and their OPS on the pitch (.144) is less than half that of the 29th-place Tigers. That doesn't bode well against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who holds opponents to a lower-than-average .176 against splitters, and has gotten them to chase half the ones he throws outside the strike zone.

In 2010, with two strikes opponents are hitting .224 (15-67) and are slugging .403 (27 TB) against Javier Vazquez's curveball and slider. In 2009, with two strikes opponents hit .158 (29-184) and slugged .207 (38 TB) against his breaking balls.

This season his miss percentage with two strikes against his curveball and slider is 19.4 percent (98 swings, 19 misses, 34 fouls) In 2009, Vazquez's miss percentage with two strikes against his breaking balls was 33.8 percent (237 swings, 80 misses, 67 fouls).

Jake Westbrook faces the Yankees for the first time since the 2007 ALDS. In that game the Yankees only had one swing and miss versus the 79 pitches that Westbrook threw and the Bronx Bombers went 7-16 against his fastball.