Stats & Info: Raul Ibanez

Kernels: While you were sleeping

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
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).

Records in play as second half starts

July, 18, 2013
7/18/13
9:44
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AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyChris Davis had a prodigious first half, and he isn't the only player looking to rewrite the record book.
After four days off, all 30 MLB teams are back on the diamond on Friday. We get you ready for the key statistical storylines for the season’s second half.

WILL DAVIS CONTINUE TO CRUSH?
Chris Davis has had a career year –- and the season isn’t even 100 games old yet. Davis begins his unofficial second half with 37 home runs, 93 RBI and a .315 batting average.

Who else has hit those thresholds in their team’s first 96 games? The list is short -- only Babe Ruth (1921 and 1928) and Jimmie Foxx (1932).

He is on pace to hit 62 home runs, which would break the American League record of 61 by Roger Maris in 1961. And with 64 extra-base hits so far he could threaten Babe Ruth’s record of 119 in 1921.

CAN CABRERA TRIPLE HIS PLEASURE AGAIN?
Davis isn’t the only player tearing things up in the AL. Miguel Cabrera is first in the league with a .365 average and 95 RBI and trails only Davis with 30 home runs.

Entering this season, the only player to finish in the top five in each Triple Crown category a year after winning the Triple Crown was Frank Robinson in 1967. Only four players have led the league in any triple-crown category while defending the Triple Crown, and none have led more than one the following year.

WHAT OTHER SINGLE-SEASON MARKS ARE WITHIN REACH?
•  Manny Machado has 39 doubles at the break, the most since Edgar Martinez had 42 in 1996. On his current pace, he’ll threaten Earl Webb’s record of 67 two-baggers in 1931. No player has hit 60 doubles in a season since 1936.

•  Raul Ibanez has discovered the fountain of youth. Ibanez has hit 24 home runs this season and only needs six more to pass the 29 that Ted Williams hit in 1960 for the most by a player aged 41 or over.

•  Clayton Kershaw entered the break with a 1.98 ERA. The last pitcher to post an ERA below 2.00 for a full season was Roger Clemens in 2005. The only Dodgers pitcher to do so since the club moved to Los Angeles was Sandy Koufax, who did so three times.

•  So far this season, 19.75 percent of plate appearances have ended in a strikeout. That’s the most ever before the All-Star break, and just a fraction below last year’s full-season record of 19.78 percent.

MILESTONE WATCH
•  Derek Jeter is 10th on the all-time hit list with 3,305 career hits, but should surpass Eddie Collins (3,313) and Paul Molitor (3,319) to move into eighth place before the season ends.

Jeter could also move into the Top 10 all-time in runs scored. He has touched home 1,869 times in his career, 19 behind Lou Gehrig for 10th all-time and 29 behind teammate Alex Rodriguez for ninth.

•  His power hasn’t been as prodigious since joining the Los Angeles Angels, but Albert Pujols is still climbing up the all-time home run list. He needs 10 home runs in the second half to become the 26th player in major-league history with 500 home runs.

Kernels: Dynamite debuts

July, 14, 2013
7/14/13
9:49
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The last week before the All-Star Break featured a number of things that made our list of interesting and unusual statistics:

Theme of the Week: Welcome to the Big Leagues
This was a great week for pitchers who made their major-league debut. Let’s review some of the highlights.

Brandon Workman was among those relievers who made his debut on Wednesday, pitching the last two innings (and allowing three runs) in the Boston Red Sox' game against the Seattle Mariners. But more noteworthy was that on Sunday, he made his first major-league start. and took a no-hit bid into the seventh against the Athletics.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that Workman was the first Red Sox pitcher to take a no-hit bid that deep into his first major-league start since Billy Rohr took one into the ninth inning against the New York Yankees in 1967.

On Friday, Houston Astros rookie Jarred Cosart took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning in his major-league debut. Elias tells us his 6 1/3 inning bid against the Tampa Bay Rays was the longest in a major-league debut since Bill Slayback of the Tigers went seven innings against the Yankees on June 26, 1972.

Cosart was also the first starter to pitch into the 9th in his debut since Jesse Litsch of the Blue Jays did so on May 15, 2007... and the first Astros pitcher to do that since Dan (not Don) Larson threw a complete game against Montreal on July 18, 1976. No Astros pitcher had ever thrown eight or more scoreless innings in his major-league debut

The day before that, Danny Salazar made Thursday's start for the Cleveland Indians and promptly took a no-hit bid into the 6th inning. He finished the game with seven strikeouts and only two hits and a walk allowed in six innings of work.

Although he was the fifth pitcher this season to strike out seven or more in his debut, he was the first to do it in an Indians uniform in nearly a half-century. Luis Tiant pitched a shutout with 11 strikeouts in the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Yankees on July 19, 1964.

Only one other starter this year-- Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals on May 30-- had a debut of six or more innings and two and or fewer hits allowed.

Been here awhile
Raul Ibanez made his major-league debut in 1996, but it’s what he’s doing at age 41 that is making people take notice.

Ibanez hit his 22nd home run on Monday, then added two more in Friday night's game. Ibañez' birthday is at the beginning of June, and since player ages are computed as of June 30, this is technically his age-41 season.

Only two other players have ever hit 24 or more homers in their age-41 season or beyond: Ted Williams (29 in 1960) and Barry Bonds (26 in 2006 and then 28 in 2007). Carlton Fisk (72) hit the most total homers from his age-40 season onward; Ibañez' 43 already ranks seventh on that list.

That two-homer game on Friday was Ibañez' second such game since turning 41 (also June 23 vs Oakland). Only one other Mariner has had a multi-homer game after age 41: Edgar Martinez on September 8, 2004. The last player with two such games in a season was then-Met Moises Alou, who did it eight days apart in August 2007.

And the last player older than Ibañez with two homers AND a double in a game was the aforementioned Carlton Fisk, on October 3, 1991.

By the way, Kendrys Morales homered right after Ibañez in Friday's game, marking the sixth time this season the Mariners have gone back-to-back. Ibañez has been part of five of those tandems.

Young helps Tigers slide by Yankees

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
5:10
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Delmon Young
Young
Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS produced a wave of emotions for the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees.

Delmon Young led the Tigers to victory after they blew a four-run lead in the ninth, Raul Ibanez was clutch once again, and Derek Jeter suffered a broken ankle that ended his season.

Young drove in three of the Tigers’ six runs thanks to a home run in the eighth inning and go-ahead RBI in the 12th.

The home run was his sixth in the postseason with the Tigers, which is the most in franchise history.

Young's double in the 12th came off of a slider, which was not a bad pitch choice considering Young's .118 career postseason batting average against that pitch entering Saturday.

It didn’t work out for the Yankees as Young became the sixth Tiger with a go-ahead RBI in extra innings and first since Johnny Grubb in the 1984 ALCS.

Ibanez, meanwhile, did all he could to keep the Yankees in the game as they had just a 1.9 percent win probability entering the bottom of the ninth inning, according to Fangraphs.com.

Down two runs, Ibanez became the sixth player in history to hit a postseason game-tying home run in the bottom of ninth with two outs.

He is also the first player ever with three home runs in the ninth inning or later in a single postseason (hit two in the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles).

Ibanez’s home run came off Jose Valverde who has allowed seven runs in his last two postseason appearances (1 1/3 innings). It was the first home run Valverde allowed off his splitter since May 20, 2011.

The Yankees’ biggest loss of the night was not the game, but their captain Jeter who broke his ankle.

Jeter ranks in the top five all-time in postseason hits (1st), runs (1st), home runs (3rd) and RBI (4th).

Since 1996, the Yankees have played 158 postseason games. Jeter has started all 158.

Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez will likely be called upon to replace Jeter.

The Yankees will lose a significant amount offensively.

The Yankees will look to bounce back Sunday in Game 2, but the Tigers have had their number.

Detroit’s 7-3 record against New York is the best postseason record all-time against the Yankees.

Ibanez has a knack for the dramatic

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
12:54
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AP Photo/Peter MorganRaul Ibanez had plenty to celebrate after his walk-off homer.

The Baltimore Orioles were winning Wednesday’s Game 3 against the Yankees on the power of three rookies -- Ryan Flaherty, Manny Machado and Miguel Gonzalez.

But this game would not be won with youth. It would be won by the experience of New York Yankees veteran Raul Ibanez, who provided the first ultra-dramatic moments of the 2012 postseason in his two at-bats.

Inside the history books
The 40-year-old Ibanez became the oldest player to hit a postseason walk-off home run. He’s the first player to hit two home runs in the ninth inning or later of a postseason game.

He’s the first Yankees player to hit a game-tying postseason home run in the ninth inning since the man he pinch-hit for, Alex Rodriguez, had two in 2009.

He’s the oldest player with two home runs in a postseason game and the first player with a multi-homer game off the bench in postseason play.

The home run was the 12th postseason walk-off home run in Yankees history. The team with the next-most is the Red Sox, with five.

Inside the Matchup: Ibanez vs Jim Johnson
The game-tying home run is an Ibanez specialty. He had three during the regular season in the seventh inning or later, including a 13th-inning homer against the Athletics and a ninth-inning homer against the Red Sox in the final two weeks of the season.

It came against a 94-mph sinker thrown over the heart of the plate. Our pitch-tracking software describes it as “middle-middle,” meaning the middle-third of the strike zone height-wise and width-wise.

Ibanez is the rare hitter who doesn’t blow you away with his “middle-middle” numbers. He had 12 hits against pitches to that spot, but also 34 outs. His .255 batting average against middle-middle pitches was the lowest of anyone on the Yankees in the regular season.

Orioles closer Jim Johnson had gotten away with that pitch at the end of the regular season. From Aug. 4 to the end of the regular season, he threw 24 middle-middle pitches, resulting in eight outs and no hits.

In Game 1 of the ALDS he threw a middle-middle pitch to Ibanez, who grounded it for a single to right field. He threw another that Robinson Cano lined for a two-run double. Those balls stayed in the ballpark.

The next one he threw would not.

Inside the Matchup: Ibanez vs Brian Matusz
Raul Ibanez has 61 at-bats against left-handed pitching during the regular season. He hit .197 with no home runs in those turns and missed on 30 percent of his swings.

Ibanez was 0-for-4 in at-bats versus lefties that ended on the first pitch.

Matusz had been dominant against left-handed hitters recently. He’d gotten big outs this postseason against Josh Hamilton and Curtis Granderson. Lefties were 0 for their last 10 with seven strikeouts against him.

Matusz threw Ibanez a pitch in the upper third of the strike zone on the outer third of the plate. The last time he allowed a hit to a lefty on a pitch to that spot was against the Yankees on May 1. Granderson hit one for a home run in the Bronx.

He’d throw it 54 times since that home run without giving up another hit. Until he faced Ibanez.

Stat of the Night: Inside the loss
The Orioles were unbeaten when leading after seven innings in the regular season, had won their previous 16 extra-inning games, and were the only team since 1900 not to lose a game in walk-off fashion during a regular season.

All of those streaks and trends were broken with that home run.

O's defy history with another one-run win

October, 3, 2012
10/03/12
12:57
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Just how good have the Baltimore Orioles been in one-run games? Well, you’d have to go back 122 years to find a better team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees and extra innings

September, 22, 2012
9/22/12
8:11
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The Baltimore Orioles won -- again -- in extra innings on Saturday, beating the Boston Red Sox 9-6 in 12 innings.

It was Baltimore's 16th straight extra-inning win. That's the second-longest single-season streak in major league history behind the 1949 Cleveland Indians, who won 17 in a row.

The Orioles are a perfect 11-0 on the road in extra innings -- including 4-0 at Fenway Park. Their 16 extra-inning wins are the most for a team in a single season since 1999 Atlanta Braves won 17.

Almost 19 percent of the Orioles' wins this season (16 of 87) have come after the ninth inning.

Ironically, the Orioles actually lost the first two extra-inning games of the season before their streak started.

The loss dropped the Red Sox to 0-7 at home this season in extra-inning games. Since 1901, only five teams have finished a season 0-7 or worse at home in extra-inning games.

As impressive as that streak is for the Orioles, the New York Yankees outdid the O's on Saturday when it came to playing extra baseball.

The Yankees beat the Oakland Athletics 10-9 in 14 innings; the win was only the second of its kind in franchise history.

Oakland hit three home runs (Jonny Gomes, Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Carter) in the 13th inning to go up 9-5. Gomes became the first A's player to hit a go-ahead HR in 13th inning or later on the road since Mark McGwire on July 4, 1988, at Cleveland. For Cespedes, it was his 20th home run of the season, the first Oakland rookie with 20 home runs since current Yankee Nick Swisher hit 21 in 2005.

However, in the bottom of the 13th, Raul Ibanez hit a two-run home run that tied the game. Ibanez is first Yankee to hit a game-tying home run in the 13th inning or later since Roy Smalley did it in the 14th inning against the Seattle Mariners in 1984.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this was only the third time in the divisional era (since 1969) that teams combined to hit at least four home runs in a single extra inning. It was done in 2004 by the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers -- each team hit two home runs in the 10th inning. In 1969, the Seattle Pilots and Red Sox also combined for four home runs in the 11th inning.

Also according to Elias, it's the first time in franchise history that the A's lost an extra-inning game in which they led by at least four runs.

Conversely, it's only the second time the Yankees won after trailing by at least four runs in extra innings. The first instance happened almost 32 years ago to the day (Sept 17, 1980 vs. Blue Jays). What's more, the Yankees had been 0-5 when they were down by four or more runs in the 13th inning or later.

Finally according to Elias, this is the first time in the Expansion era (1961) the Yankees had a walk-off win in the 14th inning or later that ended on an error.

What's behind the logjam in the AL East?

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
6:50
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As the graphic atop this article shows, the AL East race has tightened up dramatically, with the New York Yankees lead being trimmed to one game over the Orioles and 2 ½ games over the Rays after Monday afternoon’s contests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Who has been slumping on offense since July 19?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Havens, Katie Sharp, and Mark Simon contributed research to this article
In Game 2 of the NLDS, the Philadelphia Phillies will send former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to the mound to try to take a 2-0 lead before the series moves west. The St. Louis Cardinals, who have lost four straight postseason games, will counter with their former Cy Young winner, Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter won only 11 games this season, his fewest in a full season since 2001. He’s been one of the best pitchers in the majors lately though after a rough start.

Despite never starting on three days’ rest in his big-league career -- which he’ll do Sunday night -- Carpenter may be the right man for the job. He’s 7-2 with a 4.14 ERA in his career against the Phillies and he’s 5-2 with a 2.93 ERA in nine career postseason starts.

Carpenter will try to neutralize the Phillies’ lefties, something Kyle Lohse couldn’t do in Game 1. Raul Ibanez is just 1-for-11 and Ryan Howard is 2-for-9 with a home run against Carpenter, but Chase Utley is 7-for-15 and has only struck out once against him.

Lee has been one of, if not the best pitcher in the majors the past two months. In 10 starts since the beginning of August he’s allowed eight earned runs, and his 0.93 ERA in the lowest among all major-league starters.

He’s may be an even better choice than Carpenter; he’s 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA in his career against the Cardinals. In 10 career postseason starts he’s 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA, although he has allowed nine earned runs in his past two postseason starts.

Lance Berkman (5-for-13) and Ryan Theriot (5-for-16) have had success against Lee in their careers but Albert Pujols is just 1-for-8 against the Phillies lefty.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies play the middle game of a three-game set in Philadelphia on ESPN’s Wednesday Night Baseball.

Two of the top four teams in the National League square off in the City of Brotherly Love, a city where before Tuesday night’s win, Arizona had lost seven straight and eight of the last nine games to the Phillies.

On the mound

Joe Saunders takes the mound for the Diamondbacks tonight. The lefty has turned around his season of late after an ugly start to the year. After starting 3-7 with a 4.50 ERA, Saunders is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA over his last 10 starts.

Saunders has not had success against the three Phillies he has faced the most, Placido Polanco (9-23, .391 BA), Raul Ibanez (8-23, .348 BA) and Ben Francisco (5-11, .455 BA).

However, the good news for Saunders is that the player he’s faced the next most is Ryan Howard (0-9, 4 K).

The Phillies counter with Cliff Lee, who’s also had a tale of two seasons. Lee got off to a slow start before having one of the best months ever by a starting pitcher in June.

Over the first two months of the year, Lee went 4-5 with a 3.94 ERA, but is 8-2 with a 1.86 ERA since June (including going 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA in five June starts).

How has Lee done it during this turnaround?

By throwing his curveball more often, which has made his changeup even more effective as a secondary pitch even though he’s throwing it with the same frequency.

Matchups

There are two bona-fide MVP candidates squaring off in this game -- one who gets mentioned all the time (Justin Upton) and one who is routinely passed over (Shane Victorino).

Upton is on the short list of NL MVP candidates this season as he’s broken through to superstardom. He leads all National League players in Wins Above Replacement and is third among all major leaguers.

Victorino’s name doesn’t normally come up when National League MVP candidates are mentioned, but maybe it should, especially since Victorino has played just 93 games to Upton’s 121.

Stat of the game

The Diamondbacks are 33-27 on the road. They haven’t finished a season with a winning road record since 2005 (41-40). One of the biggest keys to that – their pitchers are on pace to allow 67 fewer ROAD walks than last season.
Hunter Pence
Pence
The Philadelphia Phillies acquired All-Star rightfielder Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros on Friday for three minor leaguers and a fourth player to be named. Entering Friday, Phillies right fielders ranked 20th or worse in batting average, slugging percentage and fielding percentage.

Manager Charlie Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. made it sound as though Pence will be playing right field in place of Domonic Brown and that Raul Ibanez would remain in left.

How he helps the Phillies
Entering Friday, Pence was hitting 72 points higher and slugging 74 points higher than Phillies right fielders. He also hits from the right side of the plate and the Phillies as a team have struggled against lefties this season.

Pence also had four Defensive Runs Saved through Thursday, better than Brown (-3) in right field and far better than Ibanez (-15) in left field.

In fact, among qualified major league outfielders, Ibanez has the fewest Defensive Runs Saved this season.

How he doesn’t help the Phillies
Pence is hitting .308 this season but he's been helped by an extraordinarily high Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). League average BABIP is generally around .300 and his BABIP over the previous three seasons had not been higher since .308.

The only season Pence has hit higher than .282 came in his rookie year when his BABIP was .377. Since he's done it before -- albeit in 108 games -- it's not as if it came out of nowhere, but in his three full seasons, he was right around the league average.

He's slugging .471 but only eight percent of his flyballs are home runs and his Isolated Power (ISO) -- a player's slugging percentage minus batting average -- is just .163 this season; both figures are by far the lowest of his career.

In fact, after posting a .217 mark during his rookie year, Pence’s ISO has decreased every season.

He’s been playing worse as this season has gone on. He’s got just three home runs since the beginning of June and is hitting .186 with no homers and just two RBI over his past 13 games.
We are only a few days away from the All-Star break and in the middle of summer, so it shouldn't be surprising that things got a little heated Friday.

In Boston, the Red Sox scored double-digits against the Orioles for the second straight game in a 10-3 win but the big story was the bench-clearing brawl featuring David Ortiz.
David Ortiz
Ortiz

The Sox designated hitter charged Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg and both were ejected after throwing (and missing with) punches. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Orioles reliever Jim Johnson were also tossed.

Earlier, Royals infielder Chris Getz was thrown out of his game with the Tigers. That increased the July ejection total to 21 in the month's first eight days.

In Philadelphia, two of the sport's hottest teams hooked up as the Phillies took on the Braves. In the 10th inning, Raul Ibanez's sixth career walk-off home run ended the Braves' four-game winning streak and gave the Phils their seventh win in the last 10 games.
Raul Ibanez
Ibanez

The victory increased Philadelphia's NL East lead to 3 ½ games over Atlanta.

In the top of the 10th, Phillies reliever Juan Perez struck out the side on nine pitches. He is only the second pitcher in MLB history to accomplish that feat in an extra inning (Hollis Thurston, 1923) and he's the first Phillies pitcher to do it since Andy Ashby in 1991.

In Texas, the Rangers defeated the Athletics, 8-5, with a game-time temperature of 106 degrees. According to the Rangers, it was the highest temp ever recorded at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. C.J. Wilson stayed hot, too, improving his record to 5-0 in his last nine starts.
Roy Halladay
Halladay
Roy Halladay turned in another great performance Friday -- overcoming the Philadelphia Phillies' struggling offense -- to beat the Texas Rangers 3-2 as interleague play got underway.

Halladay allowed a run in the first inning for the first time all season, and didn't allow another one until the eighth, holding the Rangers to 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Since Halladay’s rookie season in 1998, he’s won 79 starts when he’s pitched eight or more innings. That’s the most in the majors in that span. Only four others are within 20 of that figure, two of which are active.

It's the 51st time he's thrown eight innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer since 2006, also most in the majors in that span. It's good news for the Phillies that two of his teammates are on the list.

Halladay threw 116 pitches and 79 of them were fastballs, which made his offspeed stuff even better. The Rangers went 0-for-10 with six strikeouts against his curveball and changeup -- five of the six strikeouts were swings and misses on pitches out of the strike zone.

The Phillies offense is in a funk right now so they are lucky that their ace was on Friday night. This was the seventh straight game that Philadelphia had six hits or fewer. That’s their longest such streak in the Live Ball Era (since 1920).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, you have to go all the way back to June of 1908 to find the last time the Phillies had a streak this long, when they scored six or fewer in nine consecutive games.

It's also their seventh straight game scoring three runs or fewer, which is tied for the longest streak of three runs or fewer AND six hits or fewer by any team in the divisional era (since 1969). One more game like that and they'll tie the 1930 St. Louis Browns for the longest such streak in the live ball era.

C.J. Wilson
Wilson
They managed only two at-bats with runners in scoring position all night, but thanks to two unlikely home runs, they came out on top. Ben Francisco homered for the first time in 19 games. He was hitting just .140 since his last home run.

Raul Ibanez, who entered the game just 2-for-19 with seven strikeouts against Rangers starter C.J. Wilson, took him deep in the fourth inning for the Phillies' deciding third run. Elias tells us that it snapped a 329 at-bat HR drought by lefties against Wilson, the longest such active streak in the majors at the time.

Things are so bad for the Phillies offense that slugger Ryan Howard is hitless in his past 23 at-bats, the longest such streak of his entire career.

Ethier's chase of DiMaggio at halfway point

May, 3, 2011
5/03/11
2:02
PM ET
Today’s Trivia: Andre Ethier has hit in 28 consecutive games, halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game streak. Who holds the all-time "professional" baseball hit streak record?

A closer look at Andre Ethier’s 28-game hit streak:
He’s hitting .393 with 10 multi-hit games since the streak started on April 2.

He hasn’t waited long to continue the streak, extending it in the first inning eight times and the fourth inning (usually his second at-bat) seven times.
Andre Ethier
Ethier

Since Joe DiMaggio’s streak in 1941, Ethier is the 40th different player to make it halfway to 56 in a single season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 23 made it to 30 straight games, and only six made it to 35.

Assuming he plays each game and there aren't any rainouts, Ethier would tie DiMaggio’s hit streak on June 1 against the Colorado Rockies. Game No. 57 would be on June 3 at the Cincinnati Reds.

Prior to his current streak, Ethier’s longest hitting streak was 16 games, from July 26-Aug. 12 of 2006. That’s his only other double-digit hit streak.

Looking Ahead to Tuesday night:
• Evan Longoria -- out since April 2 with a strained left oblique -- is expected to return to the Tampa Bay Rays. There are two ways to illustrate Longoria's value to the Rays.

In terms of basic statistics, Rays’ third basemen in Longoria’s absence hit less than .200 (.188) with 11 RBI and 32 strikeouts.

Using more advanced measures, Longoria led American League position players from 2008-10 in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which measures a player's offensive and defensive value compared to a player who would be used to replace him. He ranked third in all of baseball in WAR from 2008-10, behind Albert Pujols and Chase Utley.

• After hitting three grand slams in 2010, the Florida Marlins already have a major-league leading three following Gaby Sanchez’s first career slam Monday at St. Louis.

• Raul Ibanez is hitless in his last 34 at-bats. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only three other position players since 2005 had droughts of 0-for-34 or worse within one season: Brad Ausmus was 0-for-40 in 2006; Josh Wilson 0-for-35 in 2007; and Akinori Iwamura was 0-for-34 in 2010.

• The San Diego Padres Mat Latos will take the mound tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dating to last season, Latos has lost nine consecutive starts, tied with Andy Benes (1993-94) Dennis Rasmussen (1991)for the longest losing streak in franchise history.

Trivia Answer: Joe Wilhoit holds the all-time "professional" baseball hit streak record. He hit in 69 consecutive games for the 1919 Wichita Jobbers, who played in the Western League (minor leagues).
The New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies square off in the final game of a three-game series on Sunday night. The Phillies are on fire having won eight of their last 10 games including winning their 18th game before May 1 (a franchise record).

The Mets, on the other hand, have lost three in a row and are looking to avoid getting swept for the second time this season (the Colorado Rockies swept a four-game series earlier this season).

The Mets will start Chris Young who is 2-1 with a 5.31 ERA in four career starts at Citizens Bank Park. Though he’s only made seven starts in 2010 and 2011, Young is undefeated at 3-0 in those starts. His last loss was June 14, 2009.

Chris Young Matchup to Watch
Raul Ibanez has reached in eight of his last 11 plate appearances against Young, dating to 2008 (2-for-3 against him in the first meeting this season).

The Phillies will counter with lefty Cliff Lee who has the highest strike percentage among starters this season (71.3). It’s also interesting to note that Lee has alternated double-digit strikeout games with single-digit strikeout games since the beginning of the season (had 12 last start).

One situation to keep an eye on Sunday is how Lee does with runners in scoring position. Opponents are hitting .379 with RISP against Lee this season, and dating back to when he was traded to the Texas Rangers, opponents are 36-for-their-last 101 versus Lee in the regular season in such spots.

Cliff Lee Matchup to Watch
Cleanup hitters are 7-for-14 with a home run and four strikeouts against Lee this season.

Now a look at the offensive keys for these two teams.

The problems that the Mets have had hitting home runs at Citi Field were not an issue in the opening month of the season. They hit 16 in 13 games, which put them on pace for 100 in 2011. However, there's a new power issue. In 14 road games, the Mets were out-homered, 17-7.

David Wright has especially struggled to find his swing as his .240 batting average would be a career low should he maintain this production for the rest of the season. It hasn’t helped that he’s hitting just .167 with two strikes, his lowest number over the past three seasons. The silver lining for Wright on Sunday may be that he’s done pretty well against Phillies pitching this season, going 8-for-21 (.381 BA) .

Jose Reyes will have to come up big for the Mets, and it is something he has done in the past. Reyes has 16 career home runs against the Phillies, which is the most versus any team (second-most is 10 versus the Atlanta Braves). He also is 29-for-86 (.337 BA) in his last 20 games versus the Phillies.

Speaking of the Phillies, they are relying heavily on Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard to account for the production loss left by Chase Utley’s absence. Howard has maintained his production, but Rollins has struggled to literally fill the hole.

Rollins is hitting in the three-hole while Utley has been injured, but when comparing Rollins’ performance this year to how National League No. three batters performed as a group, Rollins’ doesn’t match up.

As for Howard, nobody has hit more home runs than the Phillies slugger since 2006 (233) and he especially loves hitting against the Mets. In fact only Pat Burrell and Chipper Jones have more home runs versus the Mets among active players than Howard’s 29 career home runs in 99 games.

Tune in at 8:00 Eastern on ESPN to see a battle between division rivals.

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