Stats & Info: Jose Contreras

AP Photo/Jeff LewisAlbert Pujols represents a significant upgrade for the Angels at the No. 3 spot in the order.
Albert Pujols makes his Los Angeles Angels debut tonight against the Kansas City Royals (ESPN2, 10 ET). Pujols signed a 10-year, $254 million free agent deal with the Angels in the offseason after spending 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pujols is one of six players to hit 400 career home runs and bat at least .325. The others are Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial. Pujols’ 445 home runs through his first 11 seasons are the most all-time through a player’s initial 11 years in the majors.

Pujols represents a significant upgrade for the Angels at the No. 3 spot in the order. His .906 OPS last season was a career low, but stands as a huge improvement over the Angels’ .745 OPS out of the three hole last year.

Starting Pitchers
Bruce Chen – who will turn 35 in June - is making his first career opening day start. According to Elias, only one major-league pitcher in the last 10 years was older than Chen when he was making his first opening day start. That was Jose Contreras, who was 35 when he started the first game of the 2007 season for the Chicago White Sox.

Bruce Chen
Quick Hits on Chen
• Chen threw 2,518 pitches last season. Only nine of those reached 90 mph
• Last season, his fastball averaged 85.7 mph. In the AL, the only starters with a slower fastball were Mark Buehrle, Jeff Francis and Tim Wakefield.
• Held opposing No. 3 hitters to .224 BA and .674 OPS

Jered Weaver makes his fourth opening day start (and third straight) for the Angels. Weaver is 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA in three career opening day starts. Last year, Weaver became the first pitcher in MLB history with six wins by April 25, and just the sixth with six wins by the end of April.

Jered Weaver
Quick Hits on Weaver
• No starting pitcher had a higher fly ball percentage in 2011 (50 percent)
• In his seven no decisions last season, he allowed a total of seven earned runs
• Opposing 3-6 hitters combined for a .196 BA and .570 OPS
• There are three active pitchers who had double-digit wins in each of their first six seasons: Weaver, CC Sabathia and Tim Hudson. Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte would also qualify if active.

Stat of the Game
Pujols is a .379 lifetime hitter against the Royals, giving him the highest batting average against the Royals for any player – past or present – with at least 150 at-bats against them, according to our friends from the Elias Sports Bureau.

Opening Day Note
This is the first time in 37 years that the Angels and Royals have met on Opening Day. According to Elias, it last happened in 1975, as California’s Nolan Ryan threw a three-hitter and won, 3-2. Besides Ryan, two other Hall-of-Famers played in that game: George Brett and Harmon Killebrew of the Royals.

Bullpen sorrows start on South Side

April, 16, 2011
Thorn in Chicago’s Side
The White Sox finished 14 games over .500 last season thanks in part to a strong bullpen. Chicago relievers combined for a 3.73 ERA in 2010, which ranked fifth in the AL. The squad also blew only 14 saves, third fewest in the American League. But manager Ozzie Guillen’s all-too-public rant this week on the state of his bullpen has made it clear that this year has already gone very differently. Through 12 team games Chicago’s save percentage is a scant 14.3, worst in baseball. The six blown saves are already nearly half of the team’s total last year.

Which man is the biggest culprit? Closer Matt Thornton, who has four blown saves in as many opportunities. Thornton’s strength in 2010 has become his weakness in 2011, and that is eliminating batters with two strikes against them. Last year, the lefty converted 79 percent of two-strike at-bats into outs, six percent above the average player according to Inside Edge. So far in 2011 that number is hovering around 53 percent.

Of the seven hits Thornton has allowed in two-strike counts this season, six have come off of his fastball. It’s not certain who is the closer moving forward, but Sergio Santos is a likely candidate.

Other Staff Shining in Philly
Jose Contreras
The offseason was full of talk over the Phillies dominant starting staff. While that aspect is starting to come around this season, the bullpen has quietly posted the lowest ERA in baseball (1.93). Hitters have amassed just a .214 batting average and a miniscule .541 OPS, second lowest in MLB this season. The Philadelphia bullpen has kept at-bats economical as well (averaging 3.83 pitches per plate appearance which ranks among the top 10 in baseball). Jose Contreras has performed admirably as interim closer for Brad Lidge; he’s yet to allow a run in three appearances while collecting two saves.

He's Back
Brian Wilson has made a nice return this season. In a four-day span between April 12-15, Wilson earned three saves in as many appearances. He allowed no runs or walks, just a single hit and struck out four in those games. Wilson also utilized his fastball nearly 60 percent of the time and did not allow a hit off of that pitch. His velocity is a bit down, as in that stretch his fastball averaged 94.3 miles per hour (fastball averaged 95.7 miles per hour last season), but it hasn't seemed to hurt him.

Phillies should be fine without Lidge

March, 29, 2011
For the third time in four seasons, Brad Lidge will start the season on the disabled list. The Phillies announced their closer will miss between three and six weeks with a strained right shoulder. While Lidge is just one of several key Phillies contributors with injury concerns at the start of the season, the damage from his DL stint- whether his absence is brief or extended - should be limited.

Brad Lidge
After a perfect 2008 (literally, he converted all 41 of his save opportunities), Lidge has been far from flawless over the last two seasons. Lidge has an MLB-high 16 blown saves since 2009 and his save percentage of 78.4 over that span is the lowest for any pitcher with at least 50 save opportunities.

Even with a less-than-reliable closer, the Phillies have been the best team in the National League over the last two seasons, winning an NL-best 190 games (10 more than the second-place Giants). Philadelphia’s potent lineup often allows pitchers a greater margin of error. In six of Lidge’s 16 blown saves since 2009, the Phillies have gone on to win the game. Only Leo Nunez has had more blown saves (seven) in which team has won over that span.

Charlie Manuel said that Jose Contreras would likely start the season as the team’s closer, but setup man Ryan Madson could also see time in that role. Manuel might want to re-think having a closer by committee and instead give the job to Contreras on a full-time basis.

Contreras converted four of his five save opportunities in 2010 and was more effective in save situations than in other relief opportunities. In 18 save situations, Contreras had a 3.21 ERA and an opponents' OPS of .637. In non-save situations, he had a 3.38 ERA and an opponents' OPS of .720.

While Contreras thrived in the closer’s role in 2010, Madson struggled. We mentioned above that Lidge has the lowest save percentage in the majors since 2009 among pitchers with at least 50 save opportunities. When you consider all pitchers with 25 or more save opportunities, that dubious honor now belongs to Madson, who has 15 saves in 26 opportunities (57.7%) over the last two seasons.

If Lidge’s injury turns out to be more serious than anticipated, you don’t have to search hard to find a team that was able to overcome an injury to its All-Star closer in spring training. Minnesota Twins reliever Jon Rauch stepped into Joe Nathan’s rather large shoes after the latter was lost for the season with an elbow injury last March. Rauch saved 20 games prior to the All-Star Break before yielding to midseason acquisition Matt Capps, who was equally effective as the Twins won the AL Central for a second straight season.

NLCS Game 6 Preview: Giants at Phillies

October, 23, 2010
A quick preview of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Roy Oswalt and Jonathan Sanchez will take the mound Saturday in a rematch of Game 2. Oswalt is 10-0 in his career at Citizens Bank Ballpark, combining regular and postseason. The only other pitcher to win his first 10 decisions in that park is Clay Condrey (10 straight).

And Oswalt has won the only Game 6 he previously pitched in, beating the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS to clinch the series.

In Game 2 in Philadelphia, Oswalt went eight innings, allowing just three hits and striking out nine, including Andres Torres all four times he faced him. The only run he allowed came on a Cody Ross home run. Ross has a hit in six straight games, the longest in the postseason by a Giant since Kenny Lofton’s six-game streak in 2002. The last seven-game streak came that same year, courtesy of J.T. Snow.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORS BUREAU: Pat Burrell hit two home runs this season when the Giants played in Philly, giving him 76 during the regular season at Citizens Bank Park, the highest total for any right-handed batter.

The Phillies lost Game 4 when neither starter finished the fifth inning and it turned into a matchup of bullpens. With a day off yesterday, the Phils should be able to stick to their big guns. Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge are Charlie Manuel’s most trusted relievers, and they’ve shown up big time in the playoffs. In 13 2/3 innings combined this postseason, they’ve allowed only four hits and no runs, with almost four times as many strikeouts as walks (15/4).

Jonathan Sanchez
Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez gets the ball for the Giants tonight. Chase Utley (1-for-12 with a single) and Jayson Werth (0-for-9) are a combined 1-for-21 (.048) against left-handed pitching this postseason.

Utley had a .581 slugging percentage against lefties during the 2010 regular season, the highest of his career. But Werth's .287 batting average versus lefties in 2010 was his lowest in his four seasons with the Phillies.

In Game 2, Phillies lefties were 2-for-7 with two walks against Sanchez, while righties went 3-for-17 with a walk and four strikeouts.

After striking out three times in Game 5, Ryan Howard has eight career three-strikeout games in the postseason, the most in major league history. Next on the list is Reggie Sanders, the only other player with six such games.

However, in Game 2, Howard went 2-for-2 against the left-handed Sanchez, walking once and not striking out. Howard is 5-for-16 in his career against Sanchez with four extra-base hits.
The Philadelphia Phillies rally from a 4-0 deficit with seven unanswered runs and take a commanding 2-0 lead over the Cincinnati Reds in the best-of-five NLDS matchup. This is the fourth time the Phillies have taken a 2-0 lead in a postseason series and in each of the previous years (1980 and 2008) they have gone on to win the World Series.

Philadelphia took advantage of several miscues by the Reds, who became the first team in major-league history to make at least four errors and hit at least three batters in a postseason game. The four Reds errors tied a Division Series record, and the three Reds hit batsmen tied a postseason record.

How unlikely was the Phillies win?

• The Reds had won six straight Game 2s on the road dating back to 1961, which was the longest all-time road win streak in Game 2s

• The Phillies had lost four straight Game 2s dating back to 2008, two games shy of the NL record

• The Phillies are the sixth team to win a postseason game despite throwing two wild pitches and committing two errors. The last team to do it...the Phillies in Game 4 of the 2009 NLDS.

Here's what else you Need To Know:

Brandon Phillips is the second Reds player to lead off a postseason game with a home run, joining Pete Rose who did it in the 1972 World Series.

• This is the sixth time that a Reds second baseman hit a postseason homer - Joe Morgan has three of the longballs, while Phillips, Mariano Duncan and Bret Boone now have the others.

Jay Bruce, at the age of 23, is the second-youngest Red to homer in a postseason game, trailing only a 22-year-old Johnny Bench who homered in both the 1970 NLCS and World Series.

• Bruce, who committed the game-turning error in the seventh inning that gave the Phillies the lead for good, was tied for the major league lead in Defensive Runs Saved among right fielders. (Defensive Runs Saved is a metric that combines multiple aspects of an outfielder's defensive ability: to turn batted balls into outs, throw baserunners out and rob home runs.)

Roy Oswalt got a no-decision and is now unbeaten in eight starts to start his postseason career, the fourth-longest streak all-time.

• Oswalt also allowed the first leadoff home run by a Phillies pitcher in a postseason game when Phillips took him deep in the first inning.

Chase Utley is the first Phillies player to make two errors in a postseason game.

Brad Lidge converted his 11th straight postseason save, the second-longest streak all-time behind Mariano Rivera's 23 straight saves converted from 1998 to 2001.

• The winning pitcher was Jose Contreras and the losing pitcher was Aroldis Chapman, both of whom hail from Cuba. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time the winning and losing pitchers of a postseason game were both from Cuba.
Today’s Trivia: As Tim Lincecum appears on his way to a third consecutive season leading the NL in strikeouts ... who was the last right-handed pitcher to lead the NL in strikeouts for three straight seasons?

Quick Hits: September has been quite a month on the mound, as eight pitchers are 4-0 or better. There are 15 starting pitchers with an ERA below 2.00, 11 of whom reside in the NL. Let’s dive into some September numbers:

LoweDerek Lowe is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA in September, but the rest of the Atlanta Braves rotation is just 4-11 this month. Wednesday against the Florida Marlins, Lowe looks to become the first Braves pitcher to go 5-0 in September since Dave Jolly in 1954. Jolly picked up all five wins in a relief role.

Both Lowe and Carlos Zambrano (4-0, 0.78) have a shot at a 5-0 September with an ERA below 1.00. Over the last 50 years, that’s only been done five times in the NL: Randy Johnson (2002), Orel Hershiser (1988), Joaquin Andujar (1982), Don Sutton (1976) and Tom Seaver (1969).

Madison Bumgarner is just 1-2 this month despite a 1.00 ERA. That’s on pace to be the lowest September ERA for an NL rookie (min. 25 innings) since 1974 when Dale Murray of the Montreal Expos had a 0.26 ERA in 14 relief appearances.

The San Francisco Giants’ 1.85 ERA is on pace to be the lowest in September for any team since the 1967 Giants posted a 1.79 ERA.

With his start on Thursday, Jon Lester has a shot at becoming the first pitcher to go 6-0 in September since Jose Contreras in 2005. The last Boston Red Sox pitcher to do it was Bobby Ojeda in 1983. In his career, Lester is now 15-2 in September.

Carlos Marmol has 12 saves this month and hasn’t allowed an earned run. Since saves became an official stat, the only pitcher with more saves and a perfect ERA in September was Ryan Dempster with 13 in 2005.

RogersMilwaukee Brewers rookie Mark Rogers has faced 18 batters this month (and in his career) without allowing a hit. Over the last 50 years, which rookie faced the most batters in September without allowing a hit? Would you believe that it’s NBA Hall-of-Famer Dave DeBusschere? In September 1962, he faced 24 batters for the Chicago White Sox and did not allow a single hit. Unlike Rogers, DeBusschere had pitched in the big leagues earlier that season.

It’s not all positives. Jason Vargas takes the hill today for the Seattle Mariners trying to avoid an 0-6 September. The last pitcher to do that was Bud Black in 1992 for the Giants. In the AL, you’d have to go back to Jim Clancy for the 1986 Toronto Blue Jays. Clancy, who lost another one in October, was 14-7 going into September.

Today’s Leaderboard: How good has the pitching been in the National League this September? The league as a whole has a 3.85 ERA this month, which would be the lowest over the course of ANY full month since April 1993.

Key Matchups
Not only is Derek Lowe pitching on three days rest, but he faces a team that has hit him hard this season. In a pair of starts, he has a 9.35 ERA thanks in part to eight walks in 8 2/3 innings. But a much bigger problem has been Dan Uggla. A career .429 hitter against Lowe, most of the damage has been done recently. Going back to last season, Uggla has six hits in his last seven at-bats against Lowe, including two doubles and a home run.

LincecumWith Adam Wainwright (213) done for the season and Roy Halladay (219) unlikely to pitch more than the equivalent of a side-session, Tim Lincecum (220) is in the driver’s seat to take home his third straight NL strikeout title. And guess who he gets to face Wednesday: The Arizona Diamondbacks, the team that’s struck out more than any in MLB history. Mark Reynolds (13 K in 21 AB vs Lincecum), Stephen Drew (12 K in 36 AB) and Chris Young (13 K in 36 AB) are the main targets.

Trivia Answer: Dizzy Dean led the NL in strikeouts in four straight years from 1932 to 1935. The three to do it since – Johnny Vander Meer (1941-43), Warren Spahn (1949-52) and Randy Johnson (1999-2002) - were all lefties.