Stats & Info: James Shields

Top things to know: Tigers vs Athletics

October, 4, 2013

Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsMax Scherzer has the second lowest road ERA among AL starting pitchers this season.
The Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics begin their ALDS tonight (9:37 ET/ESPN Radio) in Oakland. Here are some storylines to follow.

1. This is the fourth all-time meeting in the postseason (1972 ALCS, 2006 ALCS and 2012 ALDS). The Tigers have won nine of the 14 all-time postseason meetings, including seven of the last nine.

Oakland won the regular season series this year, taking four of the seven games, including three of the last four, in which they outscored the Tigers 34-20.

2. These two teams have not had much success in the postseason lately. Detroit has lost four straight postseason games. They have not lost at least five straight since 1907-08, when they lost six in a row. In addition, the Tigers have lost 11 of their last 16 road postseason games.

Oakland comes into this postseason having lost seven of its last nine playoff games.

The A’s have made the playoffs seven times since 2000 (including this year) and only once have they advanced to the ALCS (2006, lost to Detroit).

3. Max Scherzer is 2-1 with a 3.82 ERA in seven postseason appearances (six starts). In his only postseason appearance against the Athletics (Game 4 of the 2012 ALDS), Scherzer went 5⅓ innings, allowing one run while striking out eight in a no-decision.

This season, Scherzer went 9-2 with a 2.28 ERA in 16 road starts. He only allowed more than three earned runs once in his 16 road starts. James Shields is the only AL starter who had a lower ERA away from home (2.07).

4. Bartolo Colon will take the ball for Oakland tonight. He is starting the first game of a postseason series for a third different team (he started twice for Cleveland and once for the Angels).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, five other pitchers made Game 1 starts for three different teams – Roger Clemens (Red Sox, Yankees, Astros), Tommy John (Angels, Dodgers, Yankees), Randy Johnson (Diamondbacks, Astros, Mariners), Jack Morris (Tigers, Twins, Blue Jays) and Curt Schilling (Phillies, Red Sox, Diamondbacks).

The only other 40-year-old to start a postseason game for the Athletics was Jack Quinn (46 years old) in the 1929 World Series.

5. What sort of impact will Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder make? The 2012 Triple Crown winner hit over .350 with 43 home runs over the first five months of the season, but all but disappeared in September.

Fielder is hitting .183 (19-for-104) in 28 career postseason games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his average is the third lowest among active players with at least 50 postseason at-bats.

Only Alex Avila (.129) and Nick Swisher (.165) have worse averages.

Sweep keys: Long-distance power, pitching

August, 16, 2013
It was less than a week ago that we told you that the Kansas City Royals arms were in their finest form, as part of a 16-3 run that got them back into the AL Central and AL wild-card races.

Then came a three-game losing streak. But Friday served as a bounce-back day, with the team’s second-ever doubleheader sweep in Detroit and its first since 1984.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that the six hits allowed by the Royals were the second-fewest they’ve ever allowed in a doubleheader (the fewest was five against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1977).

Elias also noted that it’s the fewest hits by the Tigers in a doubleheader in nearly 47 years. The last time they had six hits or fewer was Sept. 10, 1967, against the White Sox, a day in which they were no-hit in the opener by Joe Horlen.

With that bit of history out of the way, let’s take a look at the key performances for the Royals on Friday.

Hosmer with a little pop
Eric Hosmer became the first Royals player to homer in both ends of a doubleheader since Dean Palmer in 1998.

Hosmer’s homer in Game 1 was his first against Justin Verlander. His 29 at-bats against Verlander were his most against any pitcher without hitting a homer.

His homer in Game 2 was calculated at 424 feet by ESPN’s Home Run Tracker team.

The Royals' first baseman is averaging 422.2 feet per homer this season, the longest average home-run distance for anyone with at least 10 homers this season.

Hosmer has taken greater aim at hitting the ball in the air in the second half of the season. His ground-ball rate before the All-Star break was 55 percent. It’s 48 percent since then.

How they won: Danny Duffy
Making his second start after recovering from Tommy John surgery, lefty Danny Duffy allowed only one hit in six innings in Game 1.

Duffy averaged 93 mph with his fastball, down about one mile-per-hour from what it registered in his season debut. But the pitch was much more effective. He used it to retire 11 of 13 hitters, compared to his first start, in which his fastball yielded eight baserunners and netted seven outs.

How they won: James Shields
Shields continues to pitch at a high level. He threw seven scoreless innings and improved to 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his past eight road starts. He’s pitched at least seven innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his four starts against the Tigers this season. The Royals have won three of those four games.

Tigers hitters were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against Shields, with two ground outs, two pop outs and two fly outs fielded by a Royals defense that ranks second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved.

Opponents are 3-for-32 against Shields with runners in scoring position over his past five starts.

Royals starters have now made seven straight starts of at least six innings. In those seven starts, they have combined to allow only nine earned runs in 46 innings.

Royals streaking, flush with strong arms

August, 11, 2013
For the first time in a decade, the Kansas City Royals are making noise in August and threatening to make the AL Central a three-team race for first place.

Following their 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, the Royals have won 16 of their last 19 games since July 23, the best record in the AL in that span.

It is the first time the Royals have won at least 16 games in a 19-game span since they won 16 of their first 19 games in 2003, but it’s the first time they’ve had a run like this in August or later since 1989.

During this stretch they have gone from 10 games back in the Wild Card standings following a loss on July 22 to 4 games back in the Wild Card race, leapfrogging the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees.

The Royals one-run win on Sunday was no fluke for this team, which has won its last 10 games that have been decided by one run, including five during this 16-wins-in-19-games stretch.

According to Elias, that ties the second-longest such streak in team history (record is 11 in 1973), and is the second-longest streak in MLB this season behind the Dodgers (11 games).

What has fueled this recent surge?
The pitching staff has allowed more than three runs just four times in 19 games. Their 2.27 ERA since July 23 is the third-best in the majors behind the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers (entering Sunday night’s game).

The bullpen, which tossed three hitless innings on Sunday, has been nearly unhittable the last three weeks. Since July 23, their ERA of 1.21 is behind only the Braves, and they have allowed only one run in 20 innings on this homestand.

Alex Gordon was the sparkplug in Sunday’s win, going 3-for-4 and driving in two runs. All three of his hits on Sunday came on fastballs, marking just the second time this season he’s had three hits off fastballs in a game and the first time since May 15.

James Shields won his first home game since April 30, snapping a streak of nine straight winless home starts during which he posted a 4.70 ERA.

On Sunday he relied on his changeup to get both lefties and righties out. He threw 26 changeups (15 to lefties, 11 to righties) vs the Red Sox, which netted him a season-high-tying nine outs and only two baserunners allowed.

Did you know?
By taking three of four games from the Red Sox, the Royals have now won seven straight series since the All-Star break.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that it is the team's longest series win streak since 1991, and the fifth-longest streak in team history.

Shields, Davis bring nasty stuff to KC

December, 10, 2012
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJames Shields has been one of the AL's top pitchers the last two seasons.
The Kansas City Royals continued their “win-now” approach to the 2012-13 offseason making a blockbuster trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in which they received two MLB veteran pitchers -- James Shields and Wade Davis -- for a haul of prospects that included one of the top minor leaguers in baseball, outfielder Wil Myers.

Let’s take a stat-based look at the trade in terms of what the Royals received in return.

James Shields
Shields leaves the Rays as their all-time leader in just about every pitching stat, most notably wins, strikeouts, starts and innings pitched.

Over the past two seasons, Shields ranks first in the majors with 14 complete games and tied for first with six shutouts. He also ranks second in innings pitched (477) and third in strikeouts (448).

Shields may not have the best memories of Kauffman Stadium due to his 6.35 ERA and .353 opponents’ batting average in four starts there against the Royals. That’s his worst ERA and opponents’ batting average in any AL ballpark.

He’ll be going to a ballpark that is not as pitcher-friendly as Tropicana Field, which ranked second-friendliest to pitchers in the majors in terms of runs scored over the past three seasons by Bill James Ballpark Factors.

Kauffman ranked seventh-friendliest among the 14 AL parks (not counting Minute Maid Park, which becomes an AL park in 2013). The one benefit for Shields: Kauffman has bigger power alleys. Its fence is 29 feet deeper than Tropicana Field in right center, 15 feet deeper in left-center.

How does Shields win?

His past success has come with a very effective changeup, which he throws 29 percent of the time, the most often of any starting pitcher in the majors last season.

Shields throws four pitches regularly, pairing the changeup with a fastball, curve and slider. It is the changeup that fools hitters, netting a 48 percent "chase rate" (how often a hitter swung at a pitch out of the strike zone). That was just shy of Tom Milone and Felix Hernandez’s AL-leading 50 percent rate.

Shields had the second-most strikeouts with his changeup in the majors last season, his 109 trailing only the 112 by Philadelphia Phillies starter Cole Hamels.

Wade Davis
Converted from starter to reliever last season, Davis thrived in his new role, striking out better than 11 hitters per 9 innings, the ninth-best rate in the AL.

Davis cranked up his fastball for shorter outings. It averaged 93.4 mph, up 1.6 from its average when he started from 2009 to 2011.

Davis’ strikeout-per-9 rate nearly doubled what it was in that three-season span (5.9 per 9) and his ERA nearly dropped by half (from 4.22 to 2.43).

Finishing what they started
Shields and Davis share a common thread.

They both finished 2012 on very high notes.

Shields had a 1.99 ERA in his last 12 starts. He struck out 15 and pitched a two-hitter in a complete game 1-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in his final start with the Rays.

His Bill James Game Score (a stat that rates pitcher's starts, usually on a scale of 0 to 100) of 94 was the highest in a nine-inning loss by any pitcher since 1920.

Davis closed 2012 strong as well, holding opponents scoreless in 13 of his last 15 appearances. He struck out 29 and allowed only six hits in his last 17 2/3 innings pitched.

The Royals could use the help. The chart above shows their starting pitching struggles in 2012.

Stat of the Trade
The stat that sums up why the Royals made this trade is a pretty simple one.

The last time the Royals made the playoffs was in 1985 when they won the World Series. Since then, every team in the majors, except the Royals, has made the postseason at least once.

O's defy history with another one-run win

October, 3, 2012
Just how good have the Baltimore Orioles been in one-run games? Well, you’d have to go back 122 years to find a better team.

With Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore improved to 29-9 in one-run games. That .763 win percentage is the third best in MLB history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only the 1883 Cleveland Blues (16-3) and 1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms (14-4) have posted higher winning percentages in one-run games.
Facing a stellar pitching performance, Tuesday exemplified Baltimore’s ability to win the close ones. James Shields took the loss despite 15 strikeouts, zero walks and one earned run.

In the Live Ball Era (since 1920), only one other pitcher drew a loss despite 15 K, 0 BB and 1 ER. That was Dwight Gooden on September 17, 1984 against the Philadelphia Phillies.

But if you go by the Bill James Game Score, Shields’ loss is without precedent.

His game score of 94 is the highest by a losing pitcher in a 9-inning game in the Live Ball Era. That distinction previously went to Ken Johnson, who lost 1-0 despite throwing a no-hitter back in 1964.

Mr. Early October?
Chris Davis provided the Orioles’ lone run with a 445-foot, solo home run in the fourth inning. That’s now six-straight games with a home run for Davis, trying a franchise single-season record shared by Reggie Jackson (1976) and Ken Williams (1922).

All seven of Davis’ home runs over the past six games have come on offspeed pitches. He’s hit 19 home runs on offspeed pitches this season, trailing only Josh Hamilton’s 25.

Raul’s Big Night
The New York Yankees maintained their one-game lead in the AL East courtesy of an extra-inning win over the Boston Red Sox and a huge performance for Raul Ibanez.

Trailing 3-1 in the ninth inning, Ibanez tied the game up with a two-run home run. He then won the game with a walk-off single in the 12th inning.

According to Elias, he’s the first Yankees hitter since 1920 (when RBI became official) to hit a game-tying HR in the 9th and a walk-off RBI of any sort in extra-innings. You have to go back to Graig Nettles in 1973 to find the last to provide an extra-inning walk-off RBI after tying the game in the 9th.

Elias also notes that Ibanez is the first Yankees hitter over 40 with a walk-off RBI since Enos Slaughter on August 4, 1957 against the Indians.

Game 162 Drama
The AL East title boils down to Game 162, with the possibility of a one-game playoff looming.

The Yankees led by 10 games on July 18. According to Elias, their largest blown lead was six games in 1933.

Only twice in the Divisional Era (since 1969) has New York failed to win the AL East when leading outright at any point in September: 1974 and 2010.

Baltimore once trailed by 13 games in the division. If they end up taking the AL East, that would tie the third largest comeback ever by an eventual first-place finisher.

What's behind the logjam in the AL East?

September, 3, 2012

As the graphic atop this article shows, the AL East race has tightened up dramatically, with the New York Yankees lead being trimmed to one game over the Orioles and 2 games over the Rays after Monday afternoon’s contests.

Let’s take a closer look at a key for each team over the past few weeks.

Rays rolling
Rays starter James Shields gave Tampa Bay another solid performance, allowing three runs in eight innings in their win over the Yankees.

Shields is in the midst of a nine-start run, the results of which can be seen in the chart on the right.

Shields had gotten away from throwing his fastball often early in the season, but has upped the rate by which he’s thrown it over his last nine starts by nearly 50 percent.

Shields has also gotten better defensive support recently, something that the Rays had trouble providing earlier this season.

In his last seven starts, opponents have hit 63 ground balls against him. The Rays have gotten at least one out on 56 of them (89 percent), well above the major-league average rate of 75 percent.

Orioles surging
After a hiccup in Saturday’s loss to the Yankees, the Orioles bullpen, which has been immensely valuable, got back on track the last two days.

Baltimore’s relievers have allowed one run in 8 2/3 innings in wins over the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.

That dropped the Orioles bullpen ERA to 3.02 this season. Jim Johnson and Pedro Strop have been especially good at protecting leads, as they did with a scoreless inning apiece on Monday.

The other key to the second half for the Orioles has been Nick Markakis, who continued a stellar second half with an RBI double in Monday’s win.

There has been a lot of attention on how much better the Rays offense has been since Evan Longoria returned, but check out the improvement of the Orioles’ hitters since Markakis returned from injury at the All-Star Break.

He’s led that with a .343 batting average and .902 OPS, which rank seventh-best and 14th-best among AL hitters since the All-Star Break.

Yankees struggling
The Yankees are 19-24 since July 19. They’ve lost nine of their their last 13 games, matching their worst 13-game stretch of the season.

Who has been slumping on offense since July 19?

Curtis Granderson, who struck out to end Monday’s game, has seen his OPS drop 200 points (it was .868, but is .668 since), Raul Ibanez’s OPS has slipped 101 points, and Andruw Jones’ has plummeted from .851 to .428.

Robinson Cano, who suffered an injury late in Monday’s game, also has gone through a couple of slumps. His most recent is a 4-for-25 drought.

The Yankees did not homer on Monday, making them 4-20 when not homering this season. Those four wins are the fewest for any team in the majors in homerless games.

The other issue for the Yankees is that since August 1, their only reliable relievers have been David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. The two of them have a 2.31 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in that span. The other Yankees relievers have a 5.18 ERA and 1.66 WHIP.

Robertson is not as near-perfect as he was last season. His Batting Average on Balls in Play has jumped from .291 to .315, as a few extra hits have snuck through, including Thursday’s game-winner.

What’s left
The graphic on the right shows the remaining schedules for each of the three teams. The Rays have the toughest schedule remaining, but have the best balance of home and road games.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the Yankees have never blown a division/league lead of more than 6 games. The largest blown lead was six games in 1933.

Justin Havens, Katie Sharp, and Mark Simon contributed research to this article

Aces abound in trade deadline market

July, 23, 2012

Getty ImagesZack Greinke and Cole Hamels are two of the pitchers that could be traded before the deadline.
The major league baseball trade deadline is just eight days away (July 31 at 4 ET). We get you ready for all the rumors and deals that will dominate the watercooler talk this week, starting with a preview of the pitchers likely to be moved before the deadline.

Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster
Why trade him?
Dempster is a free agent at the end of the season, and at 35 years old is not part of the Chicago Cubs rebuilding plan. His stock has never been higher.

Why acquire him?
Dempster is having the best season of his career (MLB-best 2.11 ERA), though his performance may not be sustainable with a .245 BABIP and 84 percent strand rate. However, he has significantly reduced his walk rate (career-best 6.9 percent) and had a 33-inning scoreless streak this season.

Matt Garza
Why trade him?
Garza is young and a good pitcher, but there’s the possibility he will become expensive before the Cubs are relevant again. He could help jumpstart the rebuilding process by infusing the organization with much-needed youth and upside.

Why acquire him?
Not only is Garza effective, but he’s one of the few starters on the market a team could control beyond 2012. Garza is also well-tested against the toughest division in baseball, with a 23-15 record and 3.34 ERA in 56 games vs the AL East.

Zack Greinke
Why trade him?
Greinke is a free-agent at season’s end, and will likely be too expensive for the Milwaukee Brewers to retain. He is having his best season since his Cy Young campaign of 2009, and could be the premier pitcher on the market.

Why acquire him?
Though his ERA has fluctuated between a high of 4.17 and a low of 2.16 since 2009, Greinke’s underlying performance has been much more consistent. Over the last four seasons, his FIP of 2.82 is surpassed only by Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.

Cole Hamels
Why trade him?
Hamels is a free agent at the end of the season and could cost north of $125 million to re-sign. That could be a burden for the Philadelphia Phillies, who have a total of $104 million committed to six players in 2013.

Why acquire him?
Hamels has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since 2010. No pitcher on the market has been more productive than Hamels over the last two-plus seasons.

James Shields
James Shields
Why trade him?
The Tampa Bay Rays are always watching their payroll and Shields has club options of $9 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. He would be a pitcher with two years of team control left in a market where most of the attractive options will be free agents at season’s end.

Why acquire him?
Shields has been among the most durable pitchers in baseball with the sixth-most innings pitched among major-league pitchers since 2009. Though his 4.39 ERA this season is nearly two runs worst than last year (2.82), he has been hurt by a poor Rays defense behind him. His BABIP of .339 is the third-highest in the AL and well above his career mark of .302.

AL East features pivotal matchups

June, 5, 2012
The battle in the AL East is closer than ever with all five teams separated by just three games. Each team is at least two games over .500 and no team has a negative run differential. That's impressive, considering that according to Elias, the last time prior to this season that an American League division had all of its teams at least two games above .500 at least 50 games into the season was in 2000 (AL West).

A look at some key matchups within the division tonight:

Rays at Yankees, 7:05 ET

James Shields looks to get revenge against a New York Yankees team that has owned him in his career. Shields is 5-12 with a 4.39 ERA in 22 starts against the Yankees, including 2-7 with a 5.00 ERA in 11 starts at Yankee Stadium. This season New York has tagged him for nine ER in 11 innings (7.36 ERA) over two starts. The Yankee lefties feasted, going 9-for-29 (.310), and he struck out only 9.4 percent of those batters.

Andy Pettitte faces a Tampa Bay Rays team that gave him trouble in 2010. He gave up nine ER in 7 1/3 innings (11.05 ERA) in two starts against them, and is coming off his worst start of the season (five runs, nine hits) versus the Los Angeles Angels. Pettitte tried to work away from the Angels batters, with little success, as they were 4-for-9 (.444) and missed on 2 of 19 swings (10.5 percent) against pitches on the outer third of the plate.

Orioles at Red Sox, 7:10 ET

Jason Hammel takes the mound for the Baltimore Orioles, looking to avoid losing consecutive starts for the first time since May 10th and 15th of last season. Hammel beat the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on May 5th, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings. The Red Sox struggled to make good contact against Hammel last month, fouling off a season-high 30 of 55 swings (54.5 percent).

Jon Lester gets the start for the Red Sox. Since his one-run, complete game on May 14th, Lester has allowed 15 ER in 16 2/3 innings (8.10 ERA). But the Orioles are the perfect team for him to break out of his slump against, considering he is 14-0 in 19 career starts against Baltimore. According to Elias, only three other pitchers won each of their first 14 decisions against a particular team in the Expansion Era (since 1961).

Rangers Reeling

The Texas Rangers, once the hottest team in baseball, are in a slump right now with five losses in their last six games. The offense has slipped, with three runs or fewer in four of those six games, and Monday night Texas was held hitless through the first seven innings of the game by Jarrod Parker.

However, the pitching has been even worse, as the Rangers have allowed 10+ runs in three games during this six-game slide. In their first 49 games, they gave up at least 10 runs just once.

Shields changes it up in Rays win

May, 23, 2012
The Tampa Bay Rays inched closer to the top of the AL East standings with a dramatic 5-4, extra-inning walk-off win against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays victory coupled with the Orioles’ loss earlier means Tampa Bay is just a game back in the division after Wednesday’s games.

This was the Rays’ fourth walk-off win of the season, which is the most among AL teams. B.J. Upton delivered the game-winning hit with an RBI double in the bottom of the 11th inning.

It was his fifth career walk-off hit, and four of those have now come against the Blue Jays. The only other Rays player with a walk-off double in the 11th inning or later was Greg Vaughn against the A’s in 2002.

James Shields held Toronto to three runs in seven innings while striking out 10 batters for his second 10-strikeout game this season.

He was effective getting the Blue Jays to chase his pitches, recording 26 swings on 50 pitches out of the strike zone (52 percent), his highest chase rate since 2009.

All 10 of his strikeouts were swinging, and nine came in at-bats ending in a changeup, his most with that pitch over the last four seasons. The Blue Jays went 1-for-13 in at-bats ending in Shields’ changeup and missed on more than half of their swings at the pitch.

The Blue Jays probably wish they didn’t have to play the Rays 10 more times this season. Toronto is now 2-6 versus Tampa Bay and 22-15 versus all other teams this season.

Elsewhere Around The Majors
•  The offensive struggles continued for both the Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates this season. The two teams have been held to one run or fewer in 14 games, the most among all teams.

The last time the A’s had 14 games of one run or fewer in their first 45 games was 1979 (18), and the last time the Pirates had 14 games of one run or fewer in their first 44 games was 1918 (14).

• Jonathon Niese helped the New York Mets beat the Pirates, 3-1, allowing one run in 7⅔ innings. Niese threw 29 pitches on the inner-third of the plate, netting 11 outs and allowing just one hit in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location.

• Alex Liddi hit his first career grand slam in the Seattle Mariners’ 5-3 win over the Texas Rangers. It was the first grand slam at home by a Mariners player since July 2010. Liddi is the second Italian-born player to hit a grand slam, joining Reno Bertoia, who had one in 1958.

• The Milwaukee Brewers scored six runs in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants and held on for an 8-5 win. The six runs are the most in the first inning for any NL team this season and the most first-inning runs for the Brewers since a 10-run frame on April 18, 2010.

Hamilton hammers way into record book

May, 8, 2012
ESPN Stats & InformationEntering Tuesday's game, all 10 of Josh Hamilton's home runs this season were on pitches from the middle of the plate in. Against the Orioles, all four of his record-tying homers came on pitches on the outer third or away.
Josh Hamilton became the 16th player in major-league history to hit four home runs in a game as the Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles 10-3.

The first quarter of the 2012 MLB season has been a good one for historians, with Hamilton’s four-homer game and Philip Humber’s perfect game. This is the first year in MLB history when there has been a perfect game and four-homer game in the season.

Hamilton became the first American League player to go 5-for-5 with four home runs. His 18 total bases are an AL record, surpassing the previous mark of 16 that was done eight times. He fell one base short of Shawn Green’s major-league record of 19 during his four-homer game in 2002.

Hamilton and Matt Kemp each have at least 12 home runs within their team’s first 30 games. It is the first time since 2006 that at least two players did that in the same season. In the 13 seasons from 1994 to 2006, it happened in nine seasons. Prior to that, it hadn’t happened since 1971, when Hank Aaron and Willie Stargell both pulled it off.

With 14 home runs in the Rangers' first 30 games, Hamilton broke the franchise record for homers at this point in the season. Frank Howard hit 12 home runs in the first 30 games in 1968, when the franchise was still the Washington Senators. Since the franchise moved to Texas in 1972, no other player had hit more than 11 homers in the team’s first 30 games.

Hamilton is already more than halfway to his total of 25 home runs from last season. His third-inning home run was his first of the season to the opposite field. He had 13 opposite-field home runs over the previous three seasons.

All four of Hamilton’s homers came with Elvis Andrus on base, netting a total of eight RBI for the game. That is tied for the third-most RBI in a four-homer game, trailing Mark Whiten’s 12 in 1993 and Gil Hodges’ nine in 1950.

It is often said that baseball's glamor position is centerfield, and the best hitters bat third in the order. During the live-ball era (since 1920), only two players have been 4-for-4 or better with three homers and four extra-base hits while playing center and batting third. Hamilton joins Ty Cobb, who went 6-for-6 with three home runs and a double on May 5, 1925.

Around the diamond
• Before he left the game with left hamstring tightness, Will Middlebrooks became the second player since 1900 with an extra-base hit in each of his first five career games. Elias reports that Enos Slaughter also had a five-game streak to start his career in 1938.

• Andrew McCutchen hit his first home run of the season in his 95th at-bat. Last season he had five home runs at the same point in the season.

• Curtis Granderson has reached base in 28 consecutive games, the longest streak in the majors this season. He extended the streak today against James Shields. Granderson entered the game 3-for-46 against Shields; according to Elias, that .065 average was the lowest career mark in any batter-pitcher matchup between active players (minimum 35 at-bats).

Verlander brings heat, crowns Royals

April, 17, 2012

AP Photo/Reed HoffmannJustin Verlander and Alex Avila celebrate following the Tigers 3-2 win over the Royals Monday night.
Justin Verlander found himself in a familiar position after the eighth inning with a two-run lead on Monday night against the Kansas City Royals.

Unlike his two previous starts when he and the Detroit Tigers bullpen blew leads in the ninth inning, Verlander went the distance this time and made sure he got his first win of the season. Verlander threw 131 pitches, one shy of his career high, and now has an MLB-best 33 120-pitch games since 2010.

Verlander this season has allowed one earned run in the first eight innings of his three starts, and five earned runs in the ninth inning. Prior to this year, he had allowed just one earned run in the ninth inning in his first seven seasons combined.

Verlander cranked up the heat in the final frame, averaging 97.5 mph with his fastball. He threw four heaters to Alex Gordon in the last at-bat, and each one hit 100 on the radar gun. Those were the four fastest pitches he threw the entire game.

Since 2009, Justin Verlander has the highest average fastball velocity for any starter in the ninth inning. He is the only starter in that time frame to throw a pitch over 100 mph in the ninth inning.

Verlander also had success getting ahead and finishing off the Royals batters. He allowed just one hit in 17 at-bats that reached a two-strike count, and this season opponents are now hitting .073 (3-41) with two strikes against Verlander.

Big Game shuts out Red Sox
James “Big Game” Shields lived up to his nickname on Patriots Day in Boston, tossing 8⅓ scoreless innings as the Tampa Bay Rays avoided the sweep against the Boston Red Sox with a 1-0 win this afternoon.

James Shields
Shields allowed just four hits – all singles – as he shut down a Red Sox offense that had averaged more than 10 runs per game in the first three games of the series. This was just the third 1-0 shutout by the Rays over the Red Sox and all three have come at Fenway Park.

Shields heavily featured his slider against Boston, throwing it 41 times, and using it to get 10 outs. Both of those are his most in any start over the last three seasons. He had thrown just 28 sliders in his first two outings this season and recorded only five outs in nine at-bats with the pitch.

Around the Diamond
• The Minnesota Twins beat the New York Yankees for just the sixth time in 34 regular-season games in the Bronx since Ron Gardenhire’s first season as Twins manager in 2002. Justin Morneau homered and now has five home runs in 11 career games at the new Yankee Stadium. He has five homers in 80 games at Target Field.

• Dillon Gee pitched seven innings of one-run ball as the New York Mets beat the Atlanta Braves 6-1. Gee recorded 11 groundball outs, one shy of his career-best, and induced grounders on 65 percent of balls hit into play, the highest groundball rate in a game in his career.

Rays attendance leading to financial issues

October, 6, 2011

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Despite making the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and advancing to the World Series in 2008, Tampa Bay's attendance has been at or near the bottom in the majors.

Shortly after the team’s loss to the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series -- which saw only 28,299 fans show -- Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg launched into the troubling financial situation of his franchise:

"The rubber has got to hit the road at some point. We're four years into winning. We're getting to the point where we don't control our own destiny. This is untenable as a model…When I came in here in '05 and '06, I saw the stars, and I was confident that we could put a winning product on the field -- and I was told by you guys and others that all we needed was a winning team. Well, we won. We won. We won. And we won. And it didn't do it."

Sternberg acquired control of the franchise in 2005. Since that point, the Rays have arguably developed into the model organization in the sport, allowing them to compete year after year over the last four years despite a limited payroll.

The team’s success has not translated to sufficient attendance. One would have expected at least a noticeable uptick in attendance with the team routinely winning 30 more games per season than it used to, but that has simply not been the case.

It appears the preseason warnings of a down season and the huge departures via free agency may have kept the fans away.

The Rays have two AL East titles, a World Series appearance and three postseason appearances in four seasons, but have averaged exactly 1,748 more fans per game than they did in 2007, when they lost 96 games.

Unfortunately, the lack of attendance has a direct effect on the Rays’ ability to spend money. After attendance issues last year both in the regular season and postseason, the Rays slashed payroll by around $30 million.

While at first glance it might appear as though the Rays’ 2011 spending situation is actually a non-trivial improvement over the spending from 2005-07, it is actually just a case of context. The team ranked 29th in 2011 and ranked 30th, 29th, 30th, 29th from 2005-08. Payrolls across baseball have risen since 2005 as a whole, so in reality the Rays are still spending at the same fractional amount of competitors. For example, in 2005 the Rays payroll accounted for 24 percent of the Boston Red Sox payroll. In 2011, the Rays payroll increased 38 percent over its 2005 payroll -- was barely more than 25 percent of the Red Sox 2011 payroll, essentially no difference from 2005.

Over the years the team has lost Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Kazmir, Rafael Soriano, either due to unmatchable free agent offers or trades made necessary by salary obligations. It’s entirely possible that the team could once again leak talent this offseason, with James Shields getting more expensive and B.J. Upton due a raise from the nearly $5 million he made in 2011 in the arbitration process.

An organization can only churn out Matt Moores and Jeremy Hellicksons and Desmond Jennings for so long in an effort to paper over holes created from departures. At some point, perhaps the Rays can find themselves a better situation, allowing their on-field success to overshadow their off-field issues.

What seemed so unlikely just a few weeks ago has now become a reality –- the Tampa Bay Rays have tied the Boston Red Sox for the AL Wild Card lead with just two games remaining in the regular season.

The Rays have risen to the top of the Wild Card standings for the first time since May 23, when they had a half-game lead over the Red Sox (and were tied for first with the New York Yankees).

Tampa Bay beat the Yankees 5-2 as James Shields fell one out short of his 12th complete game. He went at least eight innings for the 15th time this season, which is the most in MLB and one more than Justin Verlander.

B.J. Upton continued his hot hitting, with two doubles and two game-tying RBI. Upton has been a sparkplug for the Rays offense during their September run, batting .381 with 19 RBI in his last 22 games.

The Rays, who were nine games out of a playoff spot on September 2, are trying to become the first team in major-league history to overcome a deficit of nine games-or-more in September and make the postseason.

Boston’s September collapse continued with a 6-3 loss to the Orioles. The Red Sox are now 6-19 in September, which is tied for their second-most losses in the month in franchise history.

The Red Sox still have not won back-to-back games since August 27. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this stretch of 27 games is Boston’s longest since a 28-game run in 1994.

Josh Beckett allowed six earned runs in six innings for the second straight start, as the Red Sox starting pitching woes deepened. The rotation now has a 7.26 ERA in September, which would be the worst in any month by a Red Sox team (min. 20 games).

The St. Louis Cardinals remain one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL Wild Card race, following their 5-4 walk-off loss to the Astros in the 10th inning. It was the 13th walk-off loss for the Cardinals this season, the most in the NL and tied with the Angels and Mariners for the most in the majors.

Jaime Garcia struggled on the mound for the Redbirds, allowing four runs in four innings. The Cardinals had won his previous four starts and Garcia had a 1.74 ERA since September 6 before Monday night’s poor outing.

The Braves couldn’t widen their lead in the NL Wild Card race despite the Cardinals' loss, as they also lost 4-2 to the Phillies. The Braves are now 9-16 overall in September, the worst record among NL teams.

The Braves offense continued to flounder, as they scored three runs or fewer for the 13th time this month. They went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and are 1-for-16 in their last three games, all losses. They entered the month hitting .261 with RISP through August.
In their last 14 games, Tampa Bay Rays' starting pitchers have put up great numbers: they are 6-5 with a 2.55 ERA and 105 innings pitched. They have also allowed only 80 hits and garnered 101 strikeouts.

The Rays starting pitchers are challenging the Philadelphia Phillies starting pitchers for the title of best rotation in the majors. The Rays and Phillies are the only two major league teams to have four pitchers who have made at least 15 starts, and who all have ERAs of 3.50 or lower.

Here are some notes on the adjustments each Rays starter has made this season to reach this point:
David Price
David Price has increased the use of his changeup in his last four starts, nearly doubling its usage. He’s thrown it about 21 pitches per start over his last four starts.

This came after a seven-start slump in which Price had an ERA of 5.18.

With the changeup added to his arsenal, Price has now beaten the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, and lost 2-1 to the Detroit Tigers. In those four starts, he’s allowed three runs in 31 innings.

• In his last start, James Shields pitched his 10th complete game of the season, becoming the second pitcher since 2000 to throw 10 complete games in a season (CC Sabathia had 10 in 2008).

As we noted earlier this season, Shields changed his pitching pattern this season. He’s gone from throwing first-pitch fastballs 65 percent of the time (2010) to just 51 percent of the time in 2011. It’s worked.

He’s pitched nearly the same number of innings as last season, but decreased his runs allowed from 128 to 71 and home runs allowed from 34 to 22.
Jeff Niemann
Jeff Niemann is 8-1 with a 2.57 ERA since returning to the rotation on June 20, averaging eight strikeouts per nine innings in that stretch. That’s a significant jump from the 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings he’s averaged in the first three seasons of his career.

Niemann has changed the pattern of breaking balls he throws. He’s gone from throwing his curveball one in seven pitches to one in four. He’s already got more strikeouts with his curveball this season (40) than last season (37) despite having thrown 62 fewer innings.

Jeremy Hellickson is 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA in his last eight starts. That followed a four-start slump in which he was 0-4 with a 4.74 ERA.

Hellickson has succeeded recently by coming further inside to right-handed hitters. During his slump (heat map on left), right-handed hitters were 7-for-13 with three home runs against inside fastballs.

During his hot streak (heat map on right), righty hitters are 5-for-32 against inside pitches. They’ve increased the rate by which they’ve chased such pitches from 27 percent to 40 percent.

On left: Hellickson's struggles with his fastball during his four-game slump.
On right: Hellickson's success with his fastball over his last eight starts.

Dan Braunstein, Mark Simon and Lee Singer contributed to this story.
David Price set a single-game Tampa Bay Rays record with 14 strikeouts in a 12-0 victory Sunday over the Toronto Blue Jays.

David Price

Price's 14 strikeouts passed the previous Rays record of 13 set by James Shields earlier this season and first done by Scott Kazmir in 2007. Price's strikeout total finished one shy of the most by an American League pitcher this season. Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels struck out 15 -- also against the Blue Jays -- on April 10.

The most strikeouts in a game this season belongs to Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies, who struck out 16 against the Atlanta Braves in seven innings on May 6.

Price, who just turned 26 years old on Friday, flirted with the possibility of nearing the MLB record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game of 20 held by Roger Clemens (done twice in 1986 and 1996) and Kerry Wood in 1998.

Price struck out 10 batters through four innings, which was one more than what Clemens had in his two 20-strikeout games and was two more than what Wood had.

Price proceeded to strike out two more batters in the fifth, which kept him on pace with what Clemens had and was one ahead of Wood's pace. However, Price did not strike out a batter in the sixth inning, the only frame in which a batter did not go down on strikes.

But the left-hander finished with two more in his seventh and final inning of the game. He became the fourth pitcher this season to record 14 strikeouts in seven or fewer innings.

Price became the fourth pitcher to record at least 14 strikeouts on the road against the Blue Jays and the first since Bartolo Colon on May 29, 1998. The first to do it was Mark Langston in 1988 at Exhibition Stadium, the Blue Jays original home from 1977 until 1989.

So how was Price able to rack up so many strikeouts? He relied on what he always does, the fastball. He picked up 10 of his 14 strikeouts on pitches ending on the fastball. It's his third start this season in which he had 10 strikeouts with his fastball. No other starter in baseball even has one. This season, Price has 128 strikeouts ending on the fastball, 30 more than Colon, who is second with 98.

Blue Jays hitters swung 32 times against the pitch and put only four in play, the fewest fastballs ever put in play in a start against Price with a minimum of 20 swings.