Stats & Info: Kansas City Royals

Top stats to know: World Series Game 7

October, 29, 2014
10/29/14
5:04
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USA TODAY SportsTonight's matchup of Tim Hudson, left, and Jeremy Guthrie will be the oldest for Game 7 starters.
The Giants and Royals meet in the seventh and deciding game of the World Series tonight at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Here are the stats you need to know before the teams take the field:

Odds are with the Giants

• According to numberFire simulations, the Giants have a 54.7 percent chance to win tonight's Game 7.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Royals are the 61st team to trail 3-2 in the World Series.

• Like the Royals, 60.7 percent of them have forced a Game 7 (37 of 61).

• However, just 31.7 percent of them have won both Games 6 and 7 to win the series (19 of 60).

History is on the Royals' side

• The last nine times the World Series went a full seven games, the home team prevailed. The last time a road team celebrated a Game 7 win was the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates, who won Game 7 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium -- a facility demolished in 2002.

• The last seven World Series teams to force Game 7 by winning Game 6 at home won the title. The last to lose was the 1975 Red Sox, who lost the follow-up to Carlton Fisk’s dramatic Game 6 home run.

• As a franchise, the Royals have won their last four World Series elimination games, dating back to a 6-1 win over the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 1985 World Series.

• In those games, including Tuesday night’s Game 6, Kansas City has outscored its opponent 29-2.

Eldest Game 7 matchup

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, tonight’s matchup between San Francisco’s Tim Hudson and Kansas City’s Jeremy Guthrie is the oldest combined meeting of Game 7 starting pitchers in World Series history.

• At 39 years, 107 days old, Hudson is 15 days older than the previous elder statesman of Game 7 starters, Roger Clemens, who set the mark with a no-decision for the Yankees against the Diamondbacks in a 2001 loss.

• Elias also tells us that Hudson, who went 9-13 during the 2014 regular season, has the lowest winning percentage (.409) of any starter in a winner-take-all game in World Series history. Only four other pitchers to pitch this type of game even had a losing record during the preceding regular season: Johnny Podres in 1955 (9–10, .474), Jon Matlack in 1973 (14–16, .467), Hal Gregg in 1947 (4–5, .444) and Liván Hernández in 2002 (12–16, .429).

Top stats to know: World Series Game 6

October, 28, 2014
10/28/14
12:51
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Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesThe World Series returns to Kansas City on Tuesday night for Game 6. The Giants lead the series 3-2.
The San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals will meet in Game 6 of the World Series Tuesday night, with the Giants trying to wrap up another title and the Royals trying to keep their magical season alive.

What's at stake
The Giants are trying to win their third World Series in the last five seasons. They’d be the fifth franchise to do that and the first since the Yankees in 1996-2000.

The Royals are trying to do what they did in their last World Series appearance in 1985: win Game 6 to force a Game 7.

Getting to Game 7 has a significant historical meaning.

The home team has won nine straight Game 7s in the World Series. The last team to win Game 7 on the road was the 1979 Pirates in Baltimore.

Jake Peavy stats to know:
Jake Peavy, who will start Game 6 for the Giants, has a 7.05 ERA in his postseason career. That is the highest postseason ERA among active pitchers and the second highest all time (minimum 35 innings pitched).

Including Game 2 of this World Series, Peavy is 1-6 lifetime at Kauffman Stadium with a 6.50 ERA and 1.69 WHIP.

Yordano Ventura stats to know:
The Royals are 3-0 in games started this postseason by Yordano Ventura, who gets the start Tuesday night.

Ventura had the fastest average fastball velocity among starters this season at 96.8 mph.

But the Giants have had success against heaters this postseason. The Giants are hitting .319 against pitches of 95 mph or faster this postseason, best among playoff teams, including 6-for-16 (.375) against Ventura in Game 2.

Keep an eye on: Giants versus pitches out of strike zone
One of the advantages the Giants hold in this series is success against pitches out of the strike zone.

Giants batters are hitting .270 with 17 hits on pitches out of the zone, compared to .167 with 10 hits for the Royals.

The Giants have done so without going considerably beyond their means. They chased 31 percent of pitches out of the strike zone during the regular season. Their chase percentage in this series is 32 percent.

Pablo Sandoval has four hits against pitches out of the strike zone this series. That’s not unusual. He had a major league best 70 such hits during the regular season.

But some of Sandoval’s success seems to have rubbed off on his teammates. Seven of his teammates have a hit against an out-of-the-zone pitch this series, including Brandon Crawford, whose second such hit scored Sandoval in the fourth inning of Game 5.

Why is that notable?

Crawford had only eight hits against pitches out of the strike zone during the regular season, tied for the fewest in the majors among the 150 players who saw the most out-of-zone pitches in 2014.

Also watch: Royals bats don't have the same pop in World Series
The Royals are hitting .221 in the Series. Left fielder Alex Gordon is among those struggling most, with only two hits in 20 at-bats. But he's 10-for-30 (.333 batting average) in his career against Peavy.

One batter Peavy has handled is Eric Hosmer, holding him to four hits in 22 at-bats. Hosmer, who was hitting .448 (13-for-29) this postseason entering the World Series, is hitting .263 (5-for-19) in five games against the Giants.

Stat of the night: Shutout in Game 5 is reason to celebrate
Since World War II, five pitchers have thrown a shutout in Game 5 of a World Series tied 2-2. Madison Bumgarner is the most recent to do so.

In the previous four instances (each of which happened more than 40 years ago), each pitcher's team lost Game 6, but won the Series in the final game.

How do you pitch to Pablo Sandoval?

October, 20, 2014
10/20/14
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Pablo Sandoval is in a pretty good place these days. He has hit .326 this postseason, has reached base in each of his past 23 postseason games, and he's about to play in his third World Series in five years.

Two years ago in the Fall Classic, Sandoval hit .421 with eight hits in a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers and joined Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only players to hit three homers in a World Series game.

What might Royals manager Ned Yost take into account when pitching to and defending against Sandoval?

Use your lefties
The switch-hitting Sandoval hit .317 with 11 homers versus right-handed pitching and .199 with five home runs against left-handed pitching in the regular season.


This postseason, Sandoval has mostly avoided left-handed pitchers; he has had only three of his 48 plate appearances against them in 10 games.

But Yost has a few options he can throw at Sandoval, such as starting pitcher Jason Vargas and relievers Brandon Finnegan, Danny Duffy and Tim Collins (if he decides to again carry three lefty relievers).

What's mystifying about Sandoval's struggles against lefties this season is that he has missed a lot of hittable pitches.

Sandoval has three hits against the 96 pitches he saw within the middle third of the strike zone (as opposed to the outer third or inner third).

In 2013, he had 11 hits against the 79 pitches he saw in that area.

Right-handed pitchers don't have many options

Sandoval can cover the entire plate and then some against right-handed pitchers. There's a window to get him out at the bottom of the strike zone, but the margin for error is small.


The best hope for a right-hander is to throw a pitch far enough away that it can't be touched. Sandoval swung at 19 percent of what our pitch-tracking system labeled "noncompetitive" pitches (he had one hit on a ball that was almost in the dirt and another that was basically in the right-handed batter's box).

That was the third-highest rate among those hitters who qualified for the batting title this season (the two players ahead of him are Royals catcher Salvador Perez and Orioles outfielder Adam Jones).

But even that may not be enough. Sandoval had two hits in the NLCS against curveballs from St. Louis' Adam Wainwright that were termed "noncompetitive." One was on a pitch at his toes, the other was almost in the right-handed batter's box.

Handling the heat
As Buster Olney noted in his blog, Sandoval is very capable of turning around a 95 mph fastball from Yordano Ventura, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera or Greg Holland.

His batting average against pitches that fast from righties this season is .315.

But the temptation may still be there to throw those pitches. He put only 22 percent of his swings against those pitches in play (which ranked in the bottom 5 percent of major league hitters).

ALCS Preview: Royals vs. Orioles

October, 10, 2014
10/10/14
2:45
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Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsThe Royals live by the stolen base, but preventing them is Game 1 starter Chris Tillman's strength.
Stat to Watch: Chris TillmanOrioles Game 1 starter Chris Tillman is just the right person to deter the Royals baserunning advantage. Opponents are 2 for 13 stealing against Tillman in the last two seasons and have been successful on only 32 percent of their attempts the last three seasons, the lowest success rate in baseball.

Inverse Opponents
The Orioles finished atop the majors in home runs and last in stolen bases this season and their ALCS opponent, the Royals, finished last in homers and first in steals. This is the first time this happened in the same season since the inaugural World Series was played in 1903.

The Orioles led the majors in home runs and finished last in stolen bases, the first team to do that since 1979 and only the sixth team to do that since 1903 (the first World Series). Only one of the previous five made the postseason -- the 1968 Tigers — but they won the World Series (by beating the Cardinals, which the Orioles could do).

On the flip side, the Royals became the 18th team to finish last in homers and first in steals since 1903 (the first World Series). Only three of those previous 17 teams — the 1987 Cardinals, 1965 Dodgers and 1959 White Sox — made the postseason, and only one of them — the 1965 Dodgers — won the World Series .

The distance between them
The Orioles hit more than twice as many home runs as the Royals during the regular season (211 to 95). In terms of total home run distance, the Orioles hit the ball over twice as far as the Royals (15.72 miles worth of home runs to 7.17).

Nelson Cruz, who led all of baseball with 40 home runs, had a total distance of 16,088 feet. The Royals as a team had 37,844 total feet of home runs, meaning that Cruz’s total home run distance was equal to nearly 43 percent of the Royals total distance.

This is largely due to the contrast in the team’s home ballparks- Camden Yards and Kauffman Stadium- among the least spacious and most-spacious ballparks in baseball.

There were 211 home runs hit at Camden Yards, 95 of which would not have been home runs in Kansas City.

Speaking of Cruz, Only Hank Aaron (4.67) has a better career at-bats per home run rate in LCS play than Cruz (5.25), among hitters with at least 10 LCS plate appearances.

The long suffering will end for someone
Among American League teams only the Mariners, with no World Series appearances since MLB returned to Seattle in 1977, have waited longer for a return to the Fall Classic than the Orioles (last appearance: 1983) and Royals (1985).

A total of 15 Royals on the current active roster were not yet born when their team last appeared with the championship on the line. That number swells to 19 for the Orioles who haven’t competed for a title since Cal Ripken was just 22 and a guy who went by the name “Disco Dan” Ford patrolled right field for them.

Kernels: While you were sleeping

August, 3, 2014
8/03/14
8:41
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In case you couldn't (or didn't) stay up, our weekly look at the interesting and unusual in MLB takes us on a roundup of some late-night and late-inning happenings.

• The Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies were tied 3-3 after four innings on Tuesday. Eleven innings later, it was still 3-3. After the Cubs loaded the bases in the 16th, Starlin Castro ended things with a sacrifice fly. By inning, it was the latest sac fly in Cubs history (flies were split from bunts in 1954), and the Cubs' longest victory since a 16-inning, 1-0 win over Houston on May 31, 2003.

John Baker
Baker
Catcher John Baker pitched the top of the 16th and ended up with the win. Depending on your definition, he's on a very short list of Cubs position players to be a winning pitcher. Hal Jeffcoat won 13 games in the mid-1950s after being converted from an outfielder. In the early days, it becomes a gray area between pitchers and other positions. The Cubs' last winning "pitcher" who played more games in the field than he pitched was Jock Menefee, who in 1902 played 41 games at other positions, but pitched in 22 (winning 12). Their last not-regular pitcher to get a win while pitching in five or fewer games that season was second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who finished three games (and won one) in 1885.

At 6 hours, 27 minutes, Tuesday's was the longest game of the season, the longest in either team's history, and its 1:34 a.m. CT ending was the latest finish ever to a game at Wrigley Field (breaking the previous record from 2012 by 6 minutes).

While there have been four 16-inning games this season, we still haven't had a contest go 17. The last season without at least one was 2002.

• The San Diego Padres piled up 20 hits in Friday's win over the Atlanta Braves, the most hits recorded by any team in a nine-inning game at Petco Park. It was the Padres' highest hit total in a nine-inning home game since 1995. Tommy Medica had five of those hits, including two homers, becoming just the second player in Padres history with that line (Ryan Klesko, 2001).

The Padres took a different tack on Saturday, going to extra innings before Will Venable won the game with a bases-loaded single in the 12th. Venable has both the team's walk-off hits in the 12th or later this season (May 5); the Padres' only other player with two in a season was Chris Gomez in 1997. Venable also had a 13th-inning single in 2012 and is the first player in franchise history with three walk-off hits in the 12th or later.

• The Royals won a 1-0 game against Oakland on Friday behind Raul Ibañez's fifth-inning homer. Eleven games this year have been 1-0 via solo homer, but the Royals had not won such a game since Sept. 18, 1993 (Felix José homer vs. Seattle).

It's only the third time in history that the current Kansas City team (the Royals) has beaten the previous Kansas City team (the Athletics) by a 1-0 score. It happened in 1982 on a U.L. Washington ninth-inning single, and in 1980 when Washington scored the only run on a Willie Aikens base hit.

Hanley Ramirez ended Saturday night's game with a three-run 12th-inning homer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the team's first walk-off homer of the year, leaving four teams (Royals, Padres, Rangers, Nationals) without one. The Dodgers had not hit a walk-off homer against the Cubs since Pedro Guerrero's solo shot in the ninth on May 18, 1982. By inning, it was their latest three- or four-run walk-off, against any team, since Darryl Strawberry beat the Astros with a 13th-inning shot on Aug. 16, 1991.

• On Thursday the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles engaged in a friendly game of chicken as they waited to see who wanted to score first. Finally in the top of the 13th, the Angels combined a walk and two singles into the game's only run. It was the first time the Orioles had played 12 scoreless innings to start a game since Aug. 20, 1978, also against the Angels. Don Baylor's walk-off double in the 14th was the only scoring in that game. That was also the Angels' last 1-0 win in a game of 13 or longer; they've had just one other such win in franchise history (1963).

Red Sox, Royals, Dbacks overcome odds

July, 10, 2014
7/10/14
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According to win probability data provided by the Elias Sports Bureau, three teams posted comebacks when faced with less than a 15 percent chance to win in their final at-bat on Wednesday.

Let’s run through those games and the players whose end-game performance made the difference.

Red Sox: win probability in ninth inning bottomed out at 14.3 percent
Brock Holt sure had to be happy that Chris Sale was out of the game come his last turn at-bat.

Holt had gone 0-for-4 against the overpowering Chicago White Sox lefty, having been called out on strikes twice and having grounded out twice. He fared much better against reliever Javy Guerra, lining the game-winning single to lift the Boston Red Sox to victory.

Though Holt strikes out a lot, he has gotten good results with two strikes this season. His game-winning hit against Guerra offset four prior two-strike outs. He’s now hitting .260 in two-strike situations this season, tied for 12th-best in the majors.

Royals: win probability in the ninth inning bottomed out at 14.3 percent
The first 37 home runs of Salvador Perez’s major league career all were calculated at 355 feet or longer.

His three-run home run in the ninth inning on Wednesday would be 17 feet shorter than any homer he’d hit previously, but it was nonetheless a big home run for the Kansas City Royals.

It was the first time in 14 years that the Royals got a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later when they were trailing by two runs or more. The last was hit by Rey Sanchez against the Baltimore Orioles in 2000.

Perez got the home run on a fastball in the upper half of the strike zone, a mistake from Tampa Bay Rays rookie Kirby Yates. Perez is 32-for-90 with four home runs against fastballs in the upper half of the zone or above (you can see them in the image below).

His .356 batting average on those pitches ranks in the top 10 percent among hitters this season.

Diamondbacks: win probability in 10th inning bottomed out at 11.1 percent
The Arizona Diamondbacks lost in crushing fashion on Tuesday. They would win in a similar manner on Wednesday.

Paul Goldschmidt, who made the final out of Tuesday’s loss (on Marcell Ozuna’s ninth-inning home run), got the game-winning hit, a two-run double to the left-center gap against Miami Marlins closer Steve Cishek.

It was Goldschmidt’s fifth career walk-off hit, his second against the Marlins and the first to come when his team was trailing.

Goldschmidt has a major league-leading 35 doubles this season and is on pace to be the first player to hit 60 doubles in a season since Hall-of-Famers Joe Medwick hit 64 and Charlie Gehringer hit 60 in 1936.

Royals win 10th straight

June, 19, 2014
6/19/14
12:01
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ESPN Stats & InformationCatcher Salvador Perez has crushed pitches on the outer third since June 1.
The Kansas City Royals are as hot as they’ve ever been in the last two decades. For the first time since 1994 and just the fifth time in franchise history, the Royals have won 10 straight games. With the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season, Kansas City has reached the ALCS in each of the previous three seasons when it won at least 10 straight.

The streak
During the 10-game win streak, the Royals have an OPS of .878, which would easily lead MLB this season (Rockies currently top baseball with a .798 OPS).

Over the course of the streak, the Royals have four players batting better than .350: Billy Butler (.389), Salvador Perez (.385), Jarrod Dyson (.381) and Alcides Escobar (.378).

Perez has been an especially difficult out. Perez extended his hit streak to 12 games Wednesday, naturally on a pitch away.

He’s hitting .435 on pitches on the outer third of the plate since the calendar turned to June. In the first two months of the season, Perez batted a respectable .258 on pitches on the outer third or further -- but just slightly above league average.

But over the past two-plus weeks, he's hit .435 on those same pitches.

How Guthrie won
Meanwhile, the Royals got yet another strong performance from a member of their rotation.

Jeremy Guthrie logged nine strikeouts for the second consecutive start, marking the first time he’s accomplished that in his career. Here’s how Guthrie beat the Tigers on Wednesday:

• Guthrie got the Tigers to chase 32 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone, his second-highest rate this season.

• He did so by keeping hitters off balance, using both his fastball and changeup to finish off hitters. The Tigers were 1-13 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending in a fastball, and 1-6 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending in a changeup.

• Guthrie got ahead of hitters and put them away. The Tigers went 0-14 in at-bats that reached two strikes, his only start without allowing a hit in a two-strike count this season.

Great Royals SP during streak
Guthrie’s performance reflects a larger trend among Royals starting pitching during this win streak.

No starter has allowed more than three earned runs in the last 10 games, and the only home run they have allowed was a solo homer that Guthrie gave up in the seventh inning on Wednesday. Royals starters have 58 strikeouts compared to just 16 walks during the streak.

It’s pretty safe to call that a winning formula.

Top Stats to Know: Royals vs. Cardinals

June, 2, 2014
6/02/14
11:34
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Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsTop prospect Oscar Taveras homered Saturday in his major league debut.
The Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals face off Monday night, when power will be at a premium in St. Louis.


As the Cardinals fight to catch the division-leading Brewers and the Royals look to pull themselves out of the AL Central basement, both teams will be trying to add the long ball to offenses that have suffered power outages to start the season.

Power Problems for Both


The Royals and Cardinals rank last and second-to-last, respectively, in home runs this season. Much of their power struggles have come in the middle of the lineups.

Both teams have received three home runs from their third and fourth hitters in the lineup, tied for the fewest by any team this season. The Royals (0.099) and Cardinals (0.111) also rank last and second-to-last this season in isolated power, which measures extra bases per at-bat.

Chasing History . . . The Wrong Way

The Royals are on pace for 69 home runs this season, which would be their second-lowest total in team history and fewest since 1976 (65) in a non-strike season.

The Cardinals' home run totals are way down as well -- they are on pace to hit 85. That would be their lowest home run total in a non-strike season since 1991 (70).

Matt Holliday has hit only three home runs, the fewest he has had in his first 56 games of a season. Matt Adams, who was recently moved to the disabled list with a left calf strain, has averaged a home run every 64.7 at-bats this season. Adams averaged a home run every 17.4 at-bats last season.

Cardinals' Defense Delivers


The Cardinals lead the majors with 38 defensive runs saved, five more than the next closest team.

St. Louis' infield has been especially dominant defensively, with second baseman Kolten Wong tied with Ian Kinsler for the second-most defensive runs saved with six (Colorado's DJ LeMahieu leads MLB second basemen with seven).

Last season, the Cardinals' defense ranked 22nd in the majors with minus-39 defensive runs saved, while the Royals led the majors in 2013 with 93 runs saved.

Kansas City: Where defense takes priority

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
10:54
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David Eulitt/Getty ImagesKansas City has gotten off to an 8-0 start thanks in large part to a strong defense.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL's only unbeaten team at 8-0, having already quadrupled their win total from last season.

On the heels of a 2-14 record last year, the Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 8-0 the season after having the league’s worst record.

With a win Sunday in Buffalo, Kansas City would match the best start in franchise history, accomplished in 2003.

Defensive Domination
In contrast to the high-flying offense of that 2003 squad, this year’s Kansas City team is built on defense.

The Chiefs are allowing 12.3 points per game, fewest in the NFL, and they’re the first team in 36 years that did not allow more than 17 points in any of its first eight games.

Since 1950, only the 1977 Atlanta Falcons have a longer such streak to start a season.

Kansas City’s dominance begins with a pass rush that leads the NFL with 36 sacks, nine more than any other team. The Chiefs sack rate is also tops in the league at 12.6 percent.

Kansas City also leads the league by allowing third downs to be converted at only a 25 percent clip.

Kansas City’s sack success is not simply a product of a superior pass rush. The Chiefs are allowing the third-most time in the pocket this season at 2.83 seconds.

But the secondary has covered well enough to allow only 5.76 net yards per attempt, third-best in the NFL.

Those numbers are a big reason why the defense has allowed an NFL-low 25.2 Total QBR to opposing quarterbacks.

Something In The Kansas City Fountains?
The Chiefs defensive dominance continues a year-long trend in Kansas City sports.

For the first time in a decade, the Kansas City Royals were in the playoff hunt until the final week this season.

They finished 86-76, their best record since 1989, largely because they allowed only 3.7 runs per game, the fewest in the American League and the team's fewest in a full season since 1972.

The Royals won a team-record three Gold Gloves and led the majors in a sabermetric stat, Defensive Runs Saved (which you can learn more about by clicking here), rating among the best in baseball a year after finishing 13th in that stat.

And in MLS, Sporting Kansas City finished the regular season last weekend with the league's second-best record on the strength of a shutdown defense.

Sporting KC allowed an MLS-low 0.88 goals per game in 2013 (30 goals in 34 games), posting the league's stingiest defense for the second straight year.

False Start?
One caveat to the Chiefs undefeated start is that they’ve played the league’s easiest schedule through eight weeks, with a combined opponents’ win percentage of .328 (20-41).

Over the remainder of the season, only two teams will play a tougher schedule than the Chiefs, whose remaining opponents have a win percentage of .593 (35-24).

Breaking down chances for AL wild card

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
1:11
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Jason Miller/Getty Images
The Indians enter the season's final week with a 1 1/2-game lead for the second AL wild card spot.

All together, six teams are still mathematically in the mix for the two American League wild card spots. The Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians sit atop the bunch, with the Rays a half-game ahead of the Indians for the top spot.

Here’s a reason to be optimistic, and not so optimistic, about those six clubs down the stretch. Also included is their percentages to make the postseason based on mathematical modeling by NumberFire.com.

Tampa Bay Rays (86-69) – 87% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Rays close with a pair of three-game series against the Yankees and Blue Jays. Rays starting pitchers have an ERA under 3.00 against five teams this season, and the Yankees and Jays are among those teams.

• Reason to feel nervous: Each of the Rays' final six games are on the road. Tampa is 36-39 on the road this season, 16th in all of the MLB and third-worst among teams currently with a winning record.

Cleveland Indians (86-70) – 81% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Indians' final six games are against the White Sox and Twins, teams they’ve beaten up on this year. They are 23-8 against those two opponents and 63-62 against all other teams.

• Reason to feel nervous: The power has disappeared for the Indians lately. In their last seven games, they’ve hit just four home runs (no more than one in a game) while slugging just .380.

Texas Rangers (84-71) – 30% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: Much like the Indians, the schedule sets up well for Texas. Their remaining seven games are against the Astros and Angels, who they are 25-6 against this year. Against all other teams, they’re under .500 (59-65).

• Reason to feel nervous: The Rangers are 5-15 in September, the second-worst mark in the MLB behind only the White Sox, who have the third-worst overall record in the majors.

Kansas City Royals (82-73) – 1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: Although a long shot to make the playoffs, the Royals can lean on their bullpen down the stretch. Their 2.54 bullpen ERA is the best in the American League, and second-best in the majors behind the Braves (2.46).

• Reason to feel nervous: K.C. closes the season with a three-game road series against the White Sox. The Royals have averaged just 2.6 runs per game with a .215 batting average against the Pale Hose this season.

New York Yankees (82-74) - <1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: If the Yankees can stay alive, they’ll close the season with three against the team with the worst record in the majors: the Astros. This season, the Astros have played 12 teams that currently have winning records, and have losing records against all 12, with an 18-70 combined record.

• Reason to feel nervous: With an elimination number of three, the Yankees will have to survive a three-game series with the Rays starting Tuesday. In their last seven games against the Rays, Yankees starting pitching has gone 0-5, with a 6.05 ERA and a .311 opponents’ batting average.

Baltimore Orioles (81-74) - <1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Baltimore bullpen has been solid against their final two opponents. They allowed no runs in 7.2 IP in their last series against the Blue Jays, and no runs in their last four games (13.1 IP) against the Red Sox.

• Reason to feel nervous: If the Orioles stay alive, they close with three against the Red Sox. In their last eight games vs Boston, they’ve hit just .183, scoring 2.5 runs per game.

Royals streaking, flush with strong arms

August, 11, 2013
8/11/13
7:43
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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 4½ 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.

Royals, Indians lead red-hot AL Central

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
1:41
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Jason Miller/Getty ImagesRoyals pitching has fueled a nine-game win streak.
Three of the four teams with the longest active win streaks in baseball call the American League Central home, making it the hottest division around.

The Kansas City Royals lead the way with a nine-game streak, followed by the Cleveland Indians at eight straight and the Detroit Tigers with five in a row of their own. The Elias Sports Bureau notes this is the first time the AL Central has ever had two teams with concurrent win streaks of at least eight games.

Royals
Thursday night’s 7-2 win over the Twins capped a three-game sweep and marked the first time the Royals reeled off nine consecutive wins since beginning the 2003 season 9-0.

Excellent pitching has fueled this run, as Kansas City pitchers have posted a 1.50 ERA over the streak, allowing just 1.8 runs per game.

In fact, Kansas City has allowed three or fewer runs in each game. Over the past 20 years, the only team to reach double digits with a streak like that was the 2002 Angels, who won 10 in a row (per Elias).

Tonight, the Royals send Wade Davis to the mound to take on the Mets (NL-best 8-2 in interleague play this season) as they try to make it 10 straight wins for the first time since a 1994 14-game streak. It would also match the third-longest win streak in club history.

Davis will look to build off a solid start last time out -- 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the White Sox, which came on the heels of a 10.91 ERA over his previous four starts (all losses).

Indians
After capping a four-game sweep of the White Sox, the Indians have won eight straight games for the first time since April 2011. Over this stretch, they’ve been powered by walk-off homers from Jason Giambi and Carlos Santana. The offense has combined to bat .307 with a .372 OBP averaging 6.3 runs per game, and the pitching has been excellent with a 2.28 ERA.

Keeping it going will be a challenge tonight as the Indians head to Miami to face Cuban rookie Jose Fernandez, who turned 21 earlier this week. The defector is coming off a career-high 13 strikeouts in eight innings against the Pirates his last start out and has posted a 1.87 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 in his last 10 starts since June 1.

Looking Ahead
For all the streaking the Royals and Indians have done, they haven’t been able to gain much ground in the standings with the Tigers winning nine of 10 and 18 of their last 25.

The Royals face the toughest remaining schedule of the group by remaining opponents’ combined win percentage (.494), but they will play the most games at home. The Indians have the fewest remaining games against teams currently at or above .500 (22 of 54 games) of the bunch.

If all three teams win tonight, Elias tells us it would be only the second time in history three teams in a single division held concurrent win streaks of at least six games. The only time it happened was in June 1978 in the AL East (Orioles, Red Sox, Brewers).

Valverde Spoils a Verlander Gem

June, 12, 2013
6/12/13
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The Detroit Tigers are at an impasse with their bullpen, specifically with closer Jose Valverde.

After another gem by Justin Verlander, Valverde surrendered a game-tying two-out, two-strike home run to Lorenzo Cain in the ninth inning in an eventual loss to the Kansas City Royals. How special was this start for Verlander? What exactly did Valverde do to spoil this effort?

How Justin Verlander Should Have Got the Win vs the Royals

Verlander had an overpowering fastball, fueled by superb movement. He got batters to swing at 38 percent of his fastballs thrown out of the zone, his highest fastball chase rate this season. Verlander’s fastball had its most movement of the season, setting season highs in both horizontal break (-7.4 inches) and vertical break (11.8 inches).

Verlander also kept hitters off balance, allowing zero "hard-hit" balls in play for the first time this season.

It’s the third time he has done that in a game over the last five seasons (also in 2009 and 2012).

To further illustrate how special this Verlander effort was, he did not face a batter with a runner in scoring position for the first time this season.

Royals were 0-for-8 and had five strikeouts with a man on first base against Verlander.

How Jose Valverde Blew the Save vs the Royals

Valverde pitched as pooly as Verlander pitched great. Cain's game-tying homer came on a splitter from Valverde, the only non-fastball he threw today.

Valverde has thrown 20 splitters in his last six games and allowed four homers among those 20 pitches. He allowed zero homers on the 21 splitters he threw in his first 12 appearances of the season.

Cain's homer also came on a pitch on the outer third of the strike zone. Righties were 1-13 (.077) vs Valverde in at-bats ending in a pitch thrown to that location this season before the homer, including a flyout by Salvador Perez for the first out of the ninth inning.

Trends

This was the sixth walk-off loss for the Tigers this season, tied with the Marlins and Mariners for most in the MLB.

Jose Valverde continues to struggle, as Wednesday marked his eighth blown save in last two seasons. In 2011, he was a perfect 49-for-49 on save opportunities.

This is the fifth time in his career that Justin Verlander has pitched at least seven scoreless innings and got a no-decision. No other Tigers pitcher in the Live Ball era (since 1920) has more than two such career games.

Verlander now has three losses in quality starts this season, already more than the two he had all last year.

Fewer changeups part of Price's new look

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
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Opponents are hitting .189 against David Price in his last 11 starts.

What has helped to spur David Price’s remarkable run since late June?

Price has won his last eight decisions and has a 1.72 ERA in his last 11 starts, heading into tonight’s matchup against the Kansas City Royals.

A reduced emphasis on his changeup has been a part of that success.

Price’s changeup has never been his go-to pitch, as he usually relies on one of the most devastating fastball-breaking ball combinations in the league and, largely, succeeding off just those three pitches.

Through his first 13 starts, Price was using the changeup over 15 percent of the time and, while he was quite good, he’s been better since reducing its usage.

Over the last 11 starts – including last Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels – he’s thrown it on average less than 10 percent of the time, and has not lost since adjusting his repertoire in that manner.

Now, that’s over his last 11 starts. What does it look like if we break it down start-by-start?

Overall this season, Price has been more effective when he’s thrown the changeup 10 percent of the time or less.

With the changeup not as much in the mix, the breaking pitch has become a more valuable weapon for Price.

In his first 13 starts, he had 32 strikeouts with his curveball and slider. In his last 11, he has 42 strikeouts with those two pitches.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories

1. SPURS FINISH OFF SWEEP: The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Utah Jazz, 87-81, finishing a four-game sweep to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. This was the Spurs sixth postseason sweep since Tim Duncan was a rookie in the 1997-98 season. According to Elias, that ranks second in the NBA. Only the Los Angeles Lakers, with seven, have more over the last 15 seasons.

2. PAUL & GRIFFIN LEAD CLIPPERS TO VICTORY: The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 101-97 in overtime, to take a 3-1 series lead. According to Elias, the Clippers became the first NBA team to have a pair of players (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin), with at least 25 points and at least seven assists in a playoff game since they did it themselves back on May 14, 2006 (Elton Brand had 30 and eight and Sam Cassell had 28 and nine in a victory over the Phoenix Suns).

3. RANGERS EARN HISTORIC WIN: The New York Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals, 3-2 in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. That win would not have been possible if Brad Richards hadn’t tied the game with seven seconds left in regulation. According to Elias, this is the first NHL postseason to have three games feature game-tying goals in the final 15 seconds of regulation. The first-two games in the Phoenix Coyotes - Chicago Blackhawks series also had such goals.

4. COYOTES IN UNCHARTED TERRITORY: The Coyotes defeated the Nashville Predators, 2-1, to win the Western Conference Semifinals in five games. The Coyotes advanced to their first Conference Finals since joining the NHL in 1979-80. Prior to joining the NHL, the franchise (then known as the Winnipeg Jets) reached the WHA (Avco Cup) Finals five times in seven seasons.

5. WEAVER PERFECT 5-0: Jered Weaver allowed one earned run in six innings, as the Los Angeles Angels defeated the Minnesota Twins, 8-3. For the third time, Weaver has started a season 5-0. According to Elias, he joined Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Christy Mathewson as the only pitchers to start 5-0 in three seasons.

6. RED HOT ROOKIE: The Boston Red Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals, 11-5 to snap a five-game losing streak. Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks remained hot, going 3 for 5, with two home runs and five RBI. According to Elias, he tied the MLB record for most RBI (nine) in a player’s first four games to start career.

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