Stats & Info: Philadelphia Phillies

Top 10 stats to know: Phillies no-hitter

September, 1, 2014
The Philadelphia Phillies completed a combined no-hitter Monday. Here are the top 10 stats to know on the performance.

1. The Phillies completed the 11th combined no-hitter in MLB history, first since the Mariners used six pitchers to no-hit the Dodgers in June of 2012. It is the first combined no-hitter in Phillies franchise history, which dates back to 1883.

2. There have now been two combined no-hitters thrown in the past three seasons. None were thrown from 2004 to 2011. In fact, only one combined no-hitter happened in the major leagues from the 14-season span of 1998 to 2011.

3. This is the fourth no-hitter in MLB this season, succeeding no-hit efforts by Josh Beckett, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum earlier this season. There were only three no-hitters thrown last season.

4. Beckett no-hit the Phillies on May 25. The Phillies are the fourth team in the past five seasons to get no-hit and throw a no-hitter in the same season.

5. It was the third no-hitter in the history of Turner Field. Ubaldo Jimenez hurled a no-no in 2010 and Randy Johnson threw perfect game there in 2004.

6. The Phillies' staff deserves credit for keeping the Braves off of their toes. Phillies pitchers did not allow a hard-hit ball the entire game. Starter Cole Hamels was particularly special, recording 12 swings-and-misses with his fastball, his most in a start in the past two seasons. Hamels quietly has a 2.00 ERA since May 11, second best in the majors behind Clayton Kershaw.

7. Phillies pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts and five walks. It's the first no-hitter with that many strikeouts and that many walks since Sept. 28, 1974, when Nolan Ryan threw a 15-strikeout, 8-walk no-hitter against the Twins.

8. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was also behind the plate for both Roy Halladay no-hitters in 2010. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ruiz’s three no-hitters caught (regular season and playoffs) is tied for second most all-time. Ruiz trails only Jason Varitek, who caught four no-hitters in his time with the Red Sox.

9. Lost in the shadow of a brilliant pitching performance was the offense of Ben Revere, who drove in five runs. Revere’s five RBI are tied for third most by a player for a team that threw a no-hitter in the game, according to Elias. Hunter Pence accomplished the same feat last season behind Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter.

10. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Jason Heyward is the first player in the modern era to have three stolen bases in a game in which his team was no-hit. The only other player to have multiple steals in such a game was Frank Chance for the 1903 Cubs (two steals) also against the Phillies!

Is this the end for Ryan Howard?

July, 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pence gets exactly the pitch he needed

July, 24, 2014
Wednesday on, writers discussed the importance of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval to the San Francisco Giants’ playoff chances. But let’s not forget their wins above replacement leader, Hunter Pence.

Pence’s bloop three-run double against Jonathan Papelbon gave the Giants a lead and an eventual 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

Papelbon has now pitched twice against the Giants in the past two days and allowed four earned runs. He has allowed only five runs in 38 1/3 innings against every other team in the majors combined.

Pence’s hit made him 3-for-4 in his career against the Phillies closer and gave him an NL-best 125 hits this season. He’s also now 10-for-25 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Inside the at-bat
Pence survived a close call on a 2-2 slider that was just below the bottom of the strike zone, than fouled off another pitch before hitting a 93-mph tailing fastball near the inside corner into a vacant spot down the right-field line.

That was probably the last place in which Papelbon wanted to attack Pence with two strikes.

Pence has 16 hits, second-most in the majors, and made only 17 outs on pitches that fit the following criteria:
    - 93 mph or faster
    - on the inner third of the plate
    - from a right-handed pitcher

Both Pence’s double and Posey’s game-tying home run on Tuesday came against that type of pitch from Papelbon.

Pence’s 2014
Pence has lived up to the big contract he signed with the Giants last season (five years, $90 million), hitting .304 with 13 home runs and an .840 OPS in 2014. He leads the NL in runs scored and is someone who is thriving at a time when offensive numbers are declining.

Pence’s basic skills (strikeout rate, walk rate, home run rate) are almost identical to what they were last season, but the results have actually been a little bit better, thanks to a .300 batting average when he hits a ground ball (last season, he hit .263).

Pence currently ranks fifth among those whose primary position is right field with 3.3 wins above replacement (his defense rates a hair below average). Last season, he ranked as the ninth-best right fielder, with 3.9 WAR.

Stat of the night (amazing but true)
The last time a Giants player got a hit to break a scoreless tie in the ninth inning or later in Philadelphia was May 15, 1989, when Will Clark hit a go-ahead home run against Steve Bedrosian in the 12th inning.

Amazingly, the Giants lost that game on a three-run, inside-the-park home run by Bob Dernier in the bottom half of that inning.

However, they would go on to win the National League pennant.

Top stats to know: Giants at Phillies

July, 23, 2014

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Madison Bumgarner will take his sparkling road record to the hill tonight against the Phillies.
Tonight, Wednesday Night Baseball features the San Francisco Giants hitting the road to take on the Philadelphia Phillies (7 PM, ESPN and WatchESPN).

The Giants enter tonight’s game with a one-game lead in the NL West over the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the lead stood at nine-and-a-half after games on June 8. Since then, the Giants have been nine games under .500, while the Dodgers have put up a 23-15 mark.

Part of the Giants recent struggles have come at the plate, as they’ve been shut out in six of their last 25 games, and held to two runs or fewer in 13 of those contests.

It’s part of an offensive decline that’s been in effect for the Giants since winning the 2012 World Series. Their batting average and on-base percentage have each dropped in each season since, leaving them ranked 22nd in batting average and 25th in on-base percentage this season entering Wednesday’s games.

Luckily for the Giants, they’ll send Madison Bumgarner to the mound tonight to face the lefty-heavy Phillies lineup. This season, no left-handed starter has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Bumgarner, who has 40 strikeouts against just three walks. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown are among the Phillies regulars who are left-handed.

Bumgarner has also been much better at home than on the road, going 7-2 with a 1.94 ERA on the road, compared to just a 4-5 mark with an ERA of 5.22 in his home park.

He’ll also be facing a Phillies lineup that is having one of the worst seasons in recent franchise history. A team that once leaned on its offense is now batting .238 with a .300 on-base percentage, which would be the worst marks for a Phillies team since the early 1970s. And this season, only the San Diego Padres have a lower slugging percentage.

Who has struggled for the Phillies? Nearly all of their sluggers have tailed off:

• Ryan Howard: .377 slugging percentage would be the lowest mark of his career (previous lowest is .423).
• Domonic Brown: .606 OPS is sixth-worst in the majors among qualified players. -1.6 Wins Above Replacement is second-worst in majors among qualifiers.
• Chase Utley: 47.25 at-bats per home run is more than double his career average of 23.5.

The Phillies find themselves in last place, four games back of the Miami Marlins for fourth in the NL East. The Phillies haven’t finished last place in their division since 2000. That 13-year streak since finishing in last place in the division is the eighth-longest in all of the majors.

Beckett adds to Dodgers' no-no history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kershaw's trouble with the curve

May, 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lefties are 3 for 16 against Kershaw this season and hitting .175 over the last four seasons. Righties are having much more success, hitting .324 and slugging .500 versus Kershaw this season. These struggles against righties are unusual for him -- he has not allowed a batting average over .220 against right-handed batters in a season since his rookie year.
The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies kick off an ESPN doubleheader on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET with Ervin Santana pitching against Roberto Hernandez. Here are some of the statistical storylines we’ll be tracking from that matchup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top stats to know: Phillies at Rangers

April, 2, 2014
The Texas Rangers will host the Philadelphia Phillies in the rubber game of their season-opening three-game series on ESPN2's "Wednesday Night Baseball" at 8 ET.

Veterans have been key to the first two games -- first Jimmy Rollins in the season opener and then Adrian Beltre with his walk-off hit on Tuesday night.

What are some of the storylines our broadcast crew will be following?

Fielder an upgrade, but still has work to do
Given his recent track record, Prince Fielder figures to be a significant upgrade on the Rangers' recent production at first base.

Fielder and the Rangers will face right-handed pitcher Kyle Kendrick on Wednesday. Fielder saw a significant drop off in performance against righties last season after dominating against them for most of his career.

Fielder posted a .775 OPS against pitches on the outer half from righties, compared to a 1.014 OPS from 2009 to '12. Further, he hit 66 home runs on pitches in that zone from 2009 to '12 (16.5 per season), while hitting just seven last season.

Rangers fill-in of the day: Robbie Ross
Robbie Ross has made 123 career appearances in the majors -- none of which have been starts. He’ll be the second Rangers starter in this series to make his first major league start, joining Tanner Scheppers, who got pounded by the Phillies on Opening Day. Ross did start 68 times in 69 minor league appearances

In his rookie season in 2012, Ross held left-handed batters in check, but in 2013, they hit him hard, batting .344 with a .960 OPS against him.

Ross did a solid job of neutralizing right-handed hitters last season, holding them to a .519 OPS. Among the keys to his success was that he upped his first-pitch strike percentage against righties from 59 percent in 2012 to 69 percent last season. The league average is about 55 percent for lefty pitchers against righty batters.

Chase prone to chase
While he's no longer the MVP-caliber force he was in his prime, the first 11 seasons of Chase Utley's career rank among the best for any second baseman to debut in the live ball era (since 1920).

Utley has remained a very productive player despite health issues cropping up over the years, but he’s not nearly the threat he used to be against left-handed pitching. Utley will face lefty Ross on Wednesday.

Not only has Utley shown an increased willingness to chase pitches out of the strike zone against lefties, but he’s also having demonstrably less success against pitches in the strike zone. Utley hit .337 with a 1.022 OPS against pitches in the strike zone from lefties in 2009 and 2010; he’s hit just .240 with a .684 OPS since.

Kernels: Eight(een) is enough edition

August, 25, 2013
Normally we don't devote an entire Kernels post to one game. But if any game deserved it...

You know which one. Saturday night's 18-inning epic between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies. Trailing 7-3, the Phillies put up four runs in the bottom of the 8th, culminating in a two-run homer by Darin Ruf.

Despite bases-loaded situations in the 9th, 12th, and 13th innings, neither team managed to score. In addition to pitching five innings, Tyler Cloyd led off the bottom of the 16th with a double.

He was the first Phillies pitcher to start an extra inning with an extra-base since Art Mahaffey earned himself a 10-inning victory against the Pirates on July 4, 1963, with a double and the winning run.

Finally out of pitchers, the Phillies sent Casper Wells to the mound to pitch the top of the 18th. Wells got two quick outs, but then allowed three hits, three walks, and five runs. John McDonald, who had entered the game in left field to start the inning, was called to the mound.

That made it the first time two position players had pitched for the same team since the Mets and Cardinals played 20 innings on April 17, 2010 (Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather both pitched for St. Louis).

Those five runs tied the major-league record for scoring in an 18th inning, set by the Cubs on May 14, 1927, at Braves Field in Boston. Tuffy Gosewisch made the second out (against Wells) and the third out (against McDonald).

Wonder if a batter has ever made two outs against two different position players pitching in the same inning? According to Elias, the last time it happened was by Brian Milner on June 26, 1978, in an incredible 24-10 slugfest between the Orioles and Blue Jays at old Exhibition Stadium.

The ending time of 2:13 am (local) was only the third-latest finish to a game this season. On May 30, the Cardinals and Royals set the mark at 3:14 am, and the next night Cleveland and Kansas City threatened it with a 2:53 am finish.

However, both those games endured rain delays of about five hours. Saturday's actual game time of 7 hours, 6 minutes was the longest MLB game since June 3, 1989, when the Astros walked off against the Dodgers in the bottom of the 22nd. That game took 7 hours, 14 minutes and ended at 2:49 am.

All told there were 28 walks in the game, a National League record and two shy of the major-league record which was last done on September 14, 1971 by the Senators and Indians.

The Diamondbacks had 18 of the walks (three intentional), tying the National League record for a single game. Tony Campana and Cliff Pennington barely broke a sweat at the plate, becoming the first teammates in the live-ball era to each walk five times in a game.

Halladay's hard stuff charms the 'snakes'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 stats to know: Braves at Phillies

August, 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phillies could end drought in Cincinnati

April, 17, 2013

Mike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP Images
Ryan Howard will look to the end Phillies offensive slump against the Reds (7 ET, ESPN2 & WatchESPN)

Tonight, ESPN’s Wednesday Night Baseball will feature the Cincinnati Reds hosting the Philadelphia Phillies (7 ET, ESPN2 and WatchESPN). The teams will face off after completing Tuesday’s game, which was suspended in the ninth inning due to rain.

There hasn’t been much offense in this series so far. Through the first nine innings of Tuesday’s game, the Reds have batted .200 (11-55) while the Phillies are batting .119 (7-59).

This series has continued the trend of offensive struggles for the Phillies. Last season, the team averaged 4.2 runs per game, the team’s lowest total since 1997, when they averaged 4.1. This season, Philadelphia is averaging just 3.8 runs per contest.

That offensive downturn last season led to the Phillies finishing 81-81, the first year they didn’t finish over .500 since 2002, and the first time missing the playoffs since 2006.

Despite these struggles, there are reasons to believe that Cincinnati could be a good site for Philadelphia to turn it around.

Although Ryan Howard's numbers have slipped considerably since his 2006 MVP season, he’s always shown excellent power in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. Howard has 24 career hits at the park, 19 of which have gone for extra bases, including 11 home runs.

There are four pitchers that Howard has hit at least .500 against (minimum 10 plate appearances), and one of those is Mike Leake, tonight’s starter for the Reds. Howard is 6-12 career vs Leake with a pair of home runs.

Howard’s infield mates, Chase Utley and Michael Young, have shown signs of bounce-back seasons.

Utley, through the ninth inning of last night’s game, already has seven extra-base hits this season. Last season, it took Utley 21 games to reach seven extra-base hits. He already has two triples this season, equaling last season’s output.

Young is coming off the worst season of his career, setting career lows in slugging percentage, OPS, home runs and WAR in 2012. His -2.0 WAR was the third-worst among position players in the majors last season.

However, this year, Young is taking a more disciplined approach at the plate. His chase percentage has fallen from 32 percent last season to 26 in 2013, and his overall swing rate has dropped from 51 to 42 percent from last season.

Cincinnati has been a good site for the Phillies since the Great American Ball Park opened in 2003. In that time, the Phillies have the second-best win percentage at the park, with a 22-14 mark.

Cincinnati is also a good site to face Leake. Last season, Leake had a 5.54 ERA at home, the highest home ERA of any NL pitcher to qualify for the ERA title last season. He was one of just two such pitchers to have a home ERA over five last season, joining teammate Homer Bailey (5.16).

Harvey, Halladay a matchup for the ages

April, 8, 2013

USA TODAY SportsMatt Harvey and Roy Halladay both have something to prove tonight in the Mets-Phillies game.
New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies are headed in opposite directions after the first week of the season, with the Mets riding high following their 4-2 start and the Phillies sliding after losing four of their first six games.

A fast start out of the gate is nothing new for the Mets. Over the last three seasons, the Mets have won 53 percent of their games before the All-Star break and just 40 percent after the break.

The Phillies slow start is potentially troublesome as they are coming off their worst season in recent history. Last year’s 81-81 record was the first time the Phillies failed to finish above .500 since an 80-81 campaign in 2002.

For the Mets, there is hope tonight with their future ace, Matt Harvey, on the mound. The Phillies counter with their former ace, Roy Halladay, who is hoping to rebound from arguably his worst season in more than a decade.

Let’s take a look at each starter in the spotlight tonight.

Matt Harvey
The 24-year-old Harvey made his major-league debut on July 26th last season and he immediately became one of the best strikeout pitchers in the league. His strikeout rate of 30 percent is best among National League starters in that span.

He has used an overpowering fastball to dominate hitters, getting more than half of his strikeouts via the heater.

His average fastball velocity of 94.7 MPH and his 23 percent miss per swing rate with the pitch both rank fourth among starters since his debut last season (minimum 600 pitches).

Harvey’s fastball is not the only weapon in his pitching arsenal. Hitters have also had a hard time squaring up his slider.

Of the 29 sliders put in play against Harvey in his career, only five have been classified by Inside Edge as “well-hit” and only four have dropped in for hits. Overall, Harvey has held batters to a .091 batting average in at-bats ending with his slider.

Roy Halladay
Velocity watch is in full effect for the 35-year-old Halladay. He has seen the average speed of his fastball (sinkers/fastballs/cutters) drop in each of the past three seasons; however, he hasn’t lost his ability to miss bats as evidenced by nine strikeouts in his first start.

So what’s the big deal with velocity? It’s subtle, but as fastball velocity increases, so do swing and miss percentage and groundball rate.

Since 2011, hitters have batted .261 on at-bats ending with a 94 MPH fastball versus batting .300 against an 87 MPH fastball.

Another issue for Halladay in 2012 was the decline in his ability to get groundballs. Halladay's groundball rate last year was his lowest (45 percent) since the stat was first tracked in 2002.

He’ll try to get back on track tonight against a Mets team that he has dominated during his time with the Phillies. Halladay is 7-0 with a 1.78 ERA and 58 strikeouts in eight starts vs New York since 2010.

US PresswireCarlos Ruiz tags out Norichika Aoki to save a run in the Phillies 7-6 win over the Brewers.
The Philadelphia Phillies had little to celebrate at Citizens Bank Park this season, with a 19-29 home record that ranked last in the NL entering Tuesday. But they found some magic against the Milwaukee Brewers again tonight, scoring six runs in the eighth inning to rally from a season-high five-run deficit in the 7-6 win.

This was the second consecutive game that the Phillies won after trailing by three or more runs in the eighth inning or later. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they had done that only once before in franchise history, with a pair of walk-off wins over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Baker Bowl in August 1899.

Carlos Ruiz had a three-run, bases-clearing double to tie the score at 6-6. The last Phillies player with a bases-loaded, game-tying double in the eighth inning or later at home was Ron Gant in 1999 against the Atlanta Braves.

Hunter Pence followed Ruiz with the game-winning single for his team-leading fifth go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later this season. The rest of the Phillies have combined for only four such hits in 2012.

Zack Greinke did his best to keep the Brewers in the game with both his arm and his bat. He tossed seven innings of one-run ball and allowed just three hits, bouncing back after starting the month with a 9.00 ERA in his first four July starts.

Greinke worked the bottom of the strike zone, throwing sixty percent of his pitches in the lower third of the zone or below. The Phillies were hitless in 13 at-bats ending in a pitch to that location, including all five of his strikeouts.

Good news for Brewers fans is that Greinke appears to have put his road woes in the past.

He is 3-1 with a 2.54 ERA in his last eight starts away from Miller Park, a far cry from the 7.03 ERA he posted in his first five road starts this season.

Greinke also chipped in at the plate with his third career home run. It was the first time Cliff Lee allowed a homer to an opposing pitcher in his career.

Speaking of Lee, he was lucky to not get a loss in this game. He allowed 12 hits and four homers, matching his career-highs in both stats. Three of the four longballs came on the first pitch, becoming the first pitcher this season to allow three first-pitch homers in the same game.

National Treasure
The Washington Nationals improved to 8-3 versus the New York Mets this season, as Gio Gonzalez (7 IP, 0 ER, 2 H) earned his 13th win. Gonzalez fell behind 14 hitters 1-0 but battled back to retire 11 of them, allowing only one hit.

The Mets’ post-break slide continues as they have now dropped 11 of their last 12 games. R.A. Dickey (6 IP, 4 ER) lost for the first time in his last 17 starts, also snapping his 11-game win streak. He has a 6.49 ERA in July after posting a 2.15 ERA in the first three months of the season.

Jordany Valdespin tried to rally the Mets with his MLB-leading fifth pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning. The five pinch-hit homers are a Mets single-season record and two shy of the major-league record shared by Dave Hansen (2000 Dodgers) and Craig Wilson (2001 Pirates).

Thome's historic blast is a game winner

June, 23, 2012

US PresswireJim Thome hit his MLB-record 13th career walk-off home run on Saturday against the Rays.
The game of the afternoon took place in Philadelphia, where Jim Thome sent Philadelphia Phillies fans home happy when he launched a pinch-hit walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 7-6.

He now has 13 career walk-off home runs, the most in major league history. It was his first as a pinch hitter and first as a 40-year-old.

The blast came just moments after Jonathan Papelbon blew his first save of the season. Papelbon had converted 17 straight saves before Saturday, which was the second-longest active streak in the majors.

Thome’s homer may have been predictable given his pedigree, but Juan Pierre’s three-run home run in the fourth inning likely caught many people by surprise.

It was just his 17th career home run and first ever with more than one runner on base. In fact, it was his first non-solo homer since Aug. 21, 2004.

Summer may be just a few days old, but the race in the NL Central is already reaching scorching temperatures. The top three teams all won on Saturday afternoon to remain separated by just three games.

Let’s start with the I-70 series, where the third-place St. Louis Cardinals beat the Kansas City Royals 8-2, and have now outscored them 19-6 in the first two games of this series.

Adam Wainwright had another strong outing, allowing two runs in seven solid innings. He has a 2.70 ERA in his past four starts, after starting the season with a 4.98 ERA in his first 11 starts. He has allowed just four hits in 31 at-bats (.129) ending in a curveball over his past four starts.

Against the Royals Wainwright threw just 52 percent first-pitch strikes, but battled back. He retired all five hitters he took to a 2-0 count, including two via strikeout.

Matt Holliday was the offensive spark with his second four-hit game of the season. Holliday is 16-for-29 (.552) with 10 RBIs in his past seven games, and has raised his average from .267 to .297 in a week.

The second-place Pittsburgh Pirates continued their surge in the standings as they beat the Detroit Tigers 4-1 for the second straight day. On Sunday they will go for their first-ever sweep of the Tigers.

The Pirates are really enjoying their games at PNC Park, where they have the majors’ second-best home record (23-12) and the best ERA (2.26). They have won 12 of their past 14 home games, after starting the season 11-10 at home.

The first-place Cincinnati Reds ended their season-high four-game losing streak with a 6-0 blanking of the Minnesota Twins. Their record of 35-23 since April 19 is the second best in the majors during that span behind the New York Yankees.

Johnny Cueto pitched another gem, tossing seven scoreless innings with a season-high nine strikeouts. He worked away from the Twins' hitters, throwing a season-high 63 percent of his pitches in the outer third of the zone or further away.

The Twins had just one hit in 13 at-bats ending in a pitch to that location and fouled off half of their 30 swings against those pitches. Six of Cueto's nine strikeouts came on pitches away, matching his most of that kind in any start since 2009.