Stats & Info: Rafael Furcal

Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMelky Cabrera homers in the fourth inning of the 83rd All-Star Game in Kansas City to help the NL win its third straight over the AL.
Tuesday's Midsummer Classic was a big All-Star showcase for the city of Kansas City but the spotlight was stolen in a Giant way.

In the biggest shutout win for the National League ever, Melky Cabrera became the first Giants player to be named All-Star Game MVP since Bobby Bonds in 1973. Bonds also did so in a game played in Kansas City. Teammate Pablo Sandoval delivered the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star Game history to blow the game open in the first inning and Matt Cain was the first Giants pitcher to win an All-Star Game since Vida Blue in 1981.

But Cabrera stole the show in what was the second biggest shutout in All-Star history (the AL won 12-0 in 1946). He is the sixth player with 2+ hits and 2+ RBI in an All-Star game, all as a CF.

The others are are notable bunch: Stan Musial (1949), Joe DiMaggio (1949), Mickey Mantle (1955), Ken Griffey Jr (1992) and Ichiro Suzuki (2007).

Cabrera also became the 10th Latin-born All-Star Game MVP and the first since Miguel Tejada in 2005. The first Latin-born All-Star Game MVP was also a Giant, Juan Marichal.


Ryan Braun became the fifth player with a double and triple in the same All-Star Game joining are Hall-of-Famers Earl Averill (1934), Willie Mays (1960), Mike Schmidt (1979) and George Brett (1983). It was a nice rebound for the reigning NL MVP who was 0-4 vs Justin Verlander in regular-season play and had struck out against Verlander in the fifth inning of the 2010 All-Star Game.

The Elias Sports Bureau confirmed that this was the third time that reigning MVPs went head to head in a batter-pitcher matchup in an All-Star Game and Braun's double was the first hit in such a matchup.

Chipper Jones
In his final All-Star appearance, Jones became the first 40-year-old to get a hit in an All-Star Game since Cal Ripken Jr. in 2001.

The two older NL players with a hit in an All-Star Game were Stan Musial (1962 at 41 years and 231 days old) and Pete Rose (1981 at 40 and 117).

Derek Jeter
Now has 11 career hits in the All-Star Game, the most of any Yankee. Mickey Mantle had 10.

Rafael Furcal
The only other St. Louis Cardinals player to triple in an All-Star Game was Hall-of-Famer Enos Slaughter.

Bryce Harper
By pinch-hitting in the fifth inning, the 19-year old became the second youngest to play in an All-Star game (Dwight Gooden was the only one younger).

Mike Trout
The Angel delivered a single in the sixth inning, becoming the third-youngest player with an All-Star hit at 20 years and 339 days. Those younger: Al Kaline (20-205 in 1955) and Claudell Washington (20-318, 1975). He also swiped a bag against R.A. Dickey, who hadn't allowed an stolen base all season.

NL Pitchers
Eleven National League pitchers led by Matt Cain combined to allow six hits with seven strikeouts. Thirty NL pitchers have combined to allow just two runs over their last three All-Star Games.

Finally, the Elias Sports Bureau tells us Ron Washington has the dubious distinction of joining Bobby Cox as the only managers to lose the World Series, then lose next season's All-Star Game, then lose that season's World Series, then next season's All-Star Game, all in that order. Cox lost the 1991 and 1992 World Series and the 1992 and 1993 All-Star Games.

Scott Rovak/US PresswireCarlos Beltran is one of the reasons the Cardinals lead the National League Central this season.
(The Los Angeles Dodgers host the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday at 8 ET on ESPN)

The post-Albert Pujols era is in its first season in St. Louis, and right now the Cardinals do not appear to miss the second-most prolific home run hitter in franchise history.

In fact, the Cardinals are in first place in the National League Central thanks in part to some savvy offseason moves.

Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal have been two of the three most effective free agent signings. Beltran’s 1.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is tied with Kelly Johnson for the highest this season among 2012 free agent signings. Furcal is third with a 1.8 WAR.

In fact, Beltran and Furcal are part of an interesting 2012 trend: rejuvenation of older players once thought to be done.

• Carlos Beltran (35) Leads NL in home runs (hasn’t hit 30 HR since 2007)
• Rafael Furcal (34) .351 BA ranks 4th in NL (.231 BA in 2011; didn’t play 100 games in either of last 2 seasons)
Derek Jeter (37) .355 BA ranks 3rd in AL (hit .282 in previous 2 seasons)
David Ortiz (35) 3rd in AL in OPS and 4th in BA (hit .257 from 2008-10)
Paul Konerko (36) .367 BA is 2nd in AL (hit .240 in 2008)

Beltran has 13 home runs through 40 games, the most he’s ever hit in his team’s first 40 games. (Before 2012, the most HR Beltran hit in his team’s first 40 games was 11 in 2004.) In addition to leading the National League in home runs, Beltran ranks fifth in OPS (1.036).

He’s also two stolen bases from becoming the eighth player in major-league history with 300 HR and 300 stolen bases. With a .861 career OPS, he’d join Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds as the only 300-300 players with an .850 OPS.

As good as Beltran has been, Furcal has been just as impressive. He’s hitting .400 this month, which is the fourth-highest NL average in May behind David Wright (.436), Andrew McCutchen (.420) and Carlos Ruiz (.411) Furcal also is one of the best NL hitters with two strikes. His .293 average with two strikes is third in the National League.

One part of Furcal’s success is that he isn’t so pull happy. Last season, Furcal pulled 42 percent of all balls that he put in play. In 2012, that percentage is down to 34 percent.

Furcal and Beltran are also two of the most prolific active switch hitters. Beltran ranks third among active players with 1,956 hits and Furcal is sixth with 1,739.

Sliders key on Monday Night Baseball

May, 13, 2012

Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireRyan Dempster brings a 1.02 ERA to St. Louis on "Monday Night Baseball," where he's looking to pick up his first win of the season.
The major league leader in ERA takes the hill Monday when Ryan Dempster and the Chicago Cubs visit the St. Louis Cardinals (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Dempster has allowed just four earned runs in five starts -- a 1.02 ERA -- but is 0-1. The Cubs have lost all of Dempster's starts, scoring a total of eight runs in the five games.

According to The Elias Sports Bureau, no pitcher in major league history has had an ERA as low as Dempster through five starts without a win.

He’s using his slider more often this season while decreasing the use of his fastball and splitter. That slider has been one of the best in baseball. Hitters are just 5-for-56 against Dempster’s slider this season, a paltry .094 batting average. (Last year through five starts, he allowed 11 hits against the slide piece.) Only one pitcher in baseball -- Matt Cain -- has a lower batting average against his slider (min. 50 PA ending with a slider).

Dempster’s opponent, Jake Westbrook, is off to a fine start of his own. He’s 4-2 with a 1.76 ERA and has pitched into the seventh inning in all six of his starts. Only Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay have pitched into the seventh inning more often this season.

Westbrook has improved his slider by keeping it out of the middle of the strike zone. Last season, more than 21 percent of his sliders were in the middle-third of the strike zone and just 52 percent were away. This season, fewer than 13 percent of his sliders are in the middle and more than 62 percent are away from hitters. As the chart to the right shows, hitters are swinging at the pitch less but are missing it nearly twice as often.

• Skip Schumaker is hitting .417 (20-for-48) against Dempster, the second-highest batting average by any hitter with 40 plate appearances against him.

• Rafael Furcal is hitting .154 (6-for-39) against Dempster, the lowest batting average by any player with 40 plate appearances against him.

• Alfonso Soriano is hitting .120 (3-for-25) against Westbrook, the third-lowest batting average by any player with 25 plate appearances against him.

• David DeJesus is 7-for-26 against Westbrook, just a .269 batting average, but he’s the only Cub who’s homered off the Cardinals righty. Plus, only two players have faced Westbrook more often without a strikeout.

These two teams first met in 1892, when the Chicago Colts beat the St. Louis Browns 14-10 on Opening Day. The Cubs lead the all-time series 1,169-1,107. Since the start of the 2002 season, the series is tied 86-86.

Big season, bigger payday for Cards catcher

March, 1, 2012
ESPN Stats & InformationIn 2011, Yadier Molina improved his batting average on offspeed pitches in the strike zone from .233 to .375 while reducing his miss percentage from 15 to 9.
Click here to create your own Molina heat maps.
Yadier Molina agreed to a five-year, $75 million contract extension with the St. Louis Cardinals. The deal will make him one of the highest-paid catchers of all time and includes a mutual option in 2018.

While the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols to the Angels, it has been an active winter in St. Louis. In December, the Cardinals reached a two-year deal with Carlos Beltran. They also re-signed Rafael Furcal and exercised 2012 and 2013 contract options for Adam Wainwright during the offseason.

Let’s take a look at the man behind the mask in St. Louis.

At the plate
Offensively, 2011 represented a breakout season for Molina. He set career highs in a number of offensive categories. With his contract extension, the Cardinals are banking on it being a legitimate improvement.

One area where Molina improved significantly was his ability to hit offspeed pitches – changeups, sliders and curveballs – thrown in the strike zone. While he failed to drive those pitches in 2010, few players were more successful in 2011.

His .375 average on offspeed pitches in the strike zone ranked fifth in the majors behind Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Morse and Aramis Ramirez. His miss percentage dropped from 15 percent to 9 percent, contributing to a 142-point jump in his batting average.

Behind the plate
While 2011 was a breakout year offensively, Molina has long been known as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. He was one of four catchers to block more than 500 pitches last season, leading the majors with 657.

Over the past three seasons, Molina has caught 3,464⅔ innings, 100 more than any other catcher in the majors. During that span, he has allowed 113 stolen bases. Twenty-nine catchers have allowed more steals despite catching fewer innings. Since 2009, Molina has thrown out nearly 40 percent of runners intending to steal, tops among backstops with at least 2,000 innings caught.

New deal
Molina’s new contract will make him the second-highest paid catcher in MLB history by average annual value and third highest by total contract. Joe Mauer is at the top of both lists with his eight-year, $184 million contract. Mike Piazza (seven years, $91 million) is the only other catcher to receive a richer total contract than Molina.

While Molina’s contract pales in comparison to Albert Pujols' new deal in Anaheim, it is the fourth-largest contract by total value in Cardinals history. The only $100 million men in St. Louis history are Pujols and Matt Holliday.

Storylines emerge before first pitch

October, 28, 2011

Getty Images
Matt Harrison (left) and Chris Carpenter (right) face off in tonight's deciding Game 7 in St. Louis.

After almost 2,500 major-league games and nearly seven months since Opening Day, the 2011 MLB season has come down to one final game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers at 8:05 ET tonight.

Given the twists and turns that this series has taken so far, it’s no surprise that there has been some key late-breaking news this afternoon. Let’s take a look at the hottest storylines as we prepare for the first pitch of the 36th winner-take-all game in World Series history.

Matt Holliday
Holliday out for Game 7
Matt Holliday will miss Game 7 after he injured his right hand Thursday night.
According to Elias, Holliday is the first player to start the first six games of a seven-game World Series and not start Game 7. Holliday was just 3-for-19 (.158) in this series after hitting .435 with five RBI in the NLCS.

Allen Craig will replace Holliday in the starting lineup. Craig is 2-for-2 as a pinch hitter in this series, but is just 2-for-13 in all other at-bats. During the regular season Craig had a .917 OPS in 47 games as a starter.

Furcal dropped to 7th in lineup
Rafael Furcal, the normal leadoff hitter for the Cardinals, is hitting .176 in 74 postseason at-bats. He hasn’t had a multi-hit game since Game 1 of the NLCS, and has scored only one run in the World Series.

Tonight’s matchup with the southpaw Matt Harrison doesn’t look good for him, either. In the World Series he has just one hit in 13 at-bats against lefties, after hitting .275 against lefties in 42 regular season games with the Cardinals.

Final game for Pujols in Cardinals uniform?
After more than 1,700 games with the team that drafted him, Albert Pujols could be playing his final game as a Cardinal. The only other player to play at least 1,500 games with one team and have their final game for that team be in Game 7 of a World Series is Rogers Hornsby, according to Elias.

This will be Pujols’ third career appearance in a Game 7 (both of the previous ones came in the NLCS). While his team won both games, Pujols went 2-for-4 with an RBI in 2004 but was hitless in two at-bats in 2006.

Bullpens back in spotlight
The dominance of the bullpens was a key storyline heading into the series, but they haven’t lived up to the hype so far. The relievers for both teams have combined for four blown saves and a 6.26 ERA.

The bullpens could be a deciding factor in this game, too, as Chris Carpenter is starting on three days’ rest for the second time in his career and Matt Harrison failed to get out of the fourth inning in his most recent start in Game 3.

Stat To Know
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, of the 35 previous World Series that have gone the distance, teams that scored first are 22-13. The largest deficit overcome in these games was four runs, by the 1925 Pirates, who trailed the Washington Senators 4-0 before winning the game 9-7.

Pitch locations key as Rangers eye title

October, 25, 2011
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key performances through the first five games of the Fall Classic, that may better explain why the Texas Rangers are on the cusp of their first World Series title.

We’ll do so through the lens of our pitch-performance data and with the help of specific heat maps for individual players, which can detect and visualize some trends that have emerged so far.

Mike Napoli
Napoli has been arguably the most valuable player of the World Series with nine RBI, one fewer than the rest of his teammates combined. Napoli’s biggest hit came in the eighth inning of the Rangers' Game 5 win on Monday, a double on a slider that was up and over the middle of the plate.

Of Napoli’s four hits in this series, three have come on pitches thrown to the middle or outside portion of the plate. The St. Louis Cardinals have been able to get him out when they’ve jammed him inside, with one exception: his three-run home run in the sixth inning of Game 4 came on an up-and-in pitch.

Left: The pitch locations for Mike Napoli’s four hits in the World Series
Right: The pitch locations for Napoli’s 10 outs in the World Series
Click here to create your own Napoli heat maps

Albert Pujols
Despite a 1.213 OPS in the World Series, Pujols is hitless in four of the five games against the Rangers. Since his three-homer game in Game 3, the Rangers have either avoided him, or done their best to not give him anything to hit.

In the last two games, they’ve gotten him out six times. Four of those have come on pitches that were out of the strike zone, including the ninth-inning strikeout in Game 5 when he chased a 99-mph fastball on a 3-2 count.

Above: The pitch locations for Albert Pujols’ outs in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series
Click here to create your own Pujols heat maps

Neftali Feliz
Feliz has had his share of difficulties this postseason, but he’s gotten the job done with six saves. He has been wild, with seven walks in 10⅓ innings, though his issues have primarily been against right-handed hitters.

Lefties are 2-for-18 against him this postseason, including 0-for-4 in the World Series. Feliz has taken the approach of challenging lefty hitters to hit pitches thrown over the heart of the plate. So far, none have succeeded.

Above: The most frequent pitch locations from Neftali Feliz to left-handed hitters this postseason
Click here to create your own Feliz heat maps

Rafael Furcal
With the Rangers starting three left-handed pitchers in this series, they’ve successfully neutralized the Cardinals leadoff hitter. Furcal has been getting jammed repeatedly by the Rangers southpaws.

He’s 1-for-12 in the series against them, and of the 11 balls he has put in play, six have been on the ground. His only hit was a bunt single in Game 5 against C.J. Wilson. He’ll be happy to see the righty Colby Lewis in Game 6, but would be almost certain to see a lefty starter in Game 7.

Above: Where Rangers lefties have primarily pitched Rafael Furcal this World Series
Click here to create your own Furcal heat maps

Chris Carpenter threw a two-hit, 11 K shutout on the final day of the regular season to propel the St. Louis Cardinals into the postseason. Friday he was just as good… maybe better as he recorded his first career 1-0 shutout.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Carpenter is the third pitcher in MLB history to throw a 1-0 shutout in a winner-take-all game. He also became the third Cardinals’ pitcher to throw a shutout in a winner-take-all game (Danny Cox, 1987 NLCS & Dizzy Dean, 1934 WS).

Carpenter registered an 84 on the Bill James Game Score scale. Game Score rates a pitcher's start, usually from 0 to 100, with rare games being higher or lower. The average start rates around 49 or 50. His start is tied for the second-highest Game Score in a winner-take-all postseason game.

Carpenter’s teams are now 9-2 in his 11 career postseason starts.

The only offense of the game started with a first-inning leadoff triple by Rafael Furcal, making him the first player ever to have two leadoff triples within the same postseason. That was immediately followed by a Skip Schumaker double, which scored Furcal and proved to be the only run of the game. It is the first time in MLB postseason history that every run in a game had been scored before a single out was recorded.

The loss snaps the Philadelphia Phillies streak of three straight NLCS appearances. Being shut out is uncommon for the Phillies as they were blanked just seven times during the regular season, tied for third-fewest in MLB.

The Cardinals will meet the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS. It's not the first time these two franchises will face off in a postseason series. These two clubs met in the 1982 World Series, when the Brewers were part of the American League. The Cardinals would overcome a 3-2 series deficit to win the final two games at home and capture their first World Series title since 1967.

NL Pennant Race Panic Meter

September, 26, 2011
Just a few weeks ago the Atlanta Braves appeared to have a playoff spot locked up. After a 5-2 win over the Washington Nationals on September 1, the Braves were a season-high 26 games over .500 at 81-55 and owned a 8 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card race.

The next night they were leading the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 at home, but blew the game, losing 8-6. That started their collapse, as they have gone 8-15 since then, which is the worst record in the NL starting on September 2.

So what’s gone wrong and who’s to blame on the Braves?

The Braves are struggling against left-handed pitching during their September to forget. The team is hitting .240/.276/.323 against left-handed pitching this month, and have lost four of six games started by southpaws.

A number of Braves position players have struggled since the start of the month. Chipper Jones is 3-for-22 with five strikeouts in his last seven games. Since coming off the DL in mid-August, Brian McCann is hitting .174 with a sub-.300 OBP.

The Braves have been hindered by injuries to two of their top starting pitchers - Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson – while veteran Derek Lowe is 0-4 with an 8.24 ERA in his last four starts.

The bullpen that was so reliable in the first five months has been unstable in the finals weeks. Jonny Venters has a 5.84 ERA since August 23, and Craig Kimbrel has a 6.75 ERA since September 9. The bullpen has five blown saves this month, only the Cubs and Mets have more.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cardinals playoff hopes appeared to be on life support just a few weeks ago. Following a 4-1 loss to the Brewers on September 5, the Cardinals trailed by 8 games in the Wild Card race.

Since then they have won 14 of 18, including a three-game sweep of the Braves. They have the best record in the NL starting on September 6 and have pulled to within one game of the Wild Card lead.

So what’s gone right for the Cardinals during their recent hot streak?

Matt Holliday missed nine games with an injured hand, but Allen Craig stepped up in his place. Craig has started eight of those nine games, and is hitting .281 with six extra-base hits, including three home runs.

Albert Pujols has looked like the Albert Pujols we’ve come to expect at this time of the season. He’s hitting .374 with five homers and 19 RBI in September, ranking among the league leaders this month.

The Cardinals have also gotten an unexpected offensive boost from shortstop Rafael Furcal. After hitting one home run in 37 games with the Dodgers, he’s hit seven in 48 games with the Cardinals. All seven of his homers have come with the score either tied or within two runs.

The Braves finish up with three home games against the Philadelphia Phillies, who have the majors' best record, while Cardinals face the league's worst team, the Houston Astros, in their final three games.
Erik Bedard
The MLB trade deadline came and went Sunday and on the final day of July, several teams made notable moves.

After their attempt to get Oakland A's pitcher Rich Harden fell through Saturday, the Boston Red Sox acquired Erik Bedard from the Seattle Mariners in a three-team trade involving the Los Angeles Dodgers. Boston also received minor league pitcher Josh Fields from Seattle in exchange for outfielders Trayvon Robinson and Chih-Hsien Chiang. This after the Dodgers traded Robinson to the Red Sox for three minor leaguers.

Bedard returns to the AL East where he pitched for Baltimore from 2002 to 2007. He was just 15-14 with a 3.31 ERA with Seattle and missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Now he'll be pitching at Fenway Park where he has struggled in the past posting a 6.99 career ERA there. That's the second-worst ERA of any stadium that Bedard has thrown at least 20 innings.

The St. Louis Cardinals also picked up veteran shortstop Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers on Sunday. Like Bedard, Furcal has also been hampered by injuries playing in just 283 out of a possible 486 games from 2008 to 2010. He played in 37 of 106 games this season with the Dodgers. Furcal went 0-1 as a pinch hitter in his Cardinals' debut Sunday.

Also it wasn't Heath Bell, but another Padres reliever Mike Adams who switched teams on Sunday. Adams went to the Texas Rangers in exchange for minor-league pitchers Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland. Adams was just 11-9 with a 2.11 ERA in his career, but 3-1 with a 1.13 ERA this season. He struck out 49 batters while walking just nine.

Meanwhile, Michael Bourn who leads the league with 39 stolen bases was traded from the Houston Astros to the Atlanta Braves for Jordan Schafer and three minor leaguers. Bourn's speed helps the Braves who rank 27th in the league in steals with just 42. The two-time Gold Glove winner hit .303 this season with Houston.

Despite these deals, trading on the final day of the deadline was light compared to the last two years. Also, this was the first season since 1998, Brian Cashman's first year as General Manager, that the Yankees did not make any trades in July.

Among the notable players expected to be traded that were not: Heath Bell, B.J. Upton, Wandy Rodriguez, Hiroki Kuroda (invoked no-trade clause), Josh Willingham, Carlos Pena, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Drew Storen.
The Atlanta Braves' Brooks Conrad committed three errors in Game 3 of the NLDS, tying a postseason record, done by 11 other players.
• He’s the first Braves player to commit three errors in a postseason game.

• The last player to commit three errors in a postseason game was the Los Angeles Dodgers' Rafael Furcal in Game 5 of the 2008 NLCS.

• Conrad is the fourth second baseman with three errors in a postseason game. The others are: Davey Lopes (Game 5, 1981 World Series), Buddy Myer (Game 1, 1933 World Series) and Danny Murphy (Game 3, 1905 World Series).

• In a losing effort, Eric Hinske became only the third player in postseason history with a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning or later that turned a deficit into a lead. The two others are: Kirk Gibson (1988 World Series) and Ed Sprague (1992 World Series).

• Hinkse is also the second Braves player to hit a go-head HR in the seventh inning or later of a postseason game when they trailed. The other instance was Michael Tucker in the top of the eighth inning of Game 5 in the 1998 NLCS against the San Diego Padres.
LAST NAMELAST NAMEWho would have thought that when Kansas City traded Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth to Atlanta for three players at the trade deadline, it would have had so much impact in the postseason?

Friday night Rick Ankiel was able to do with one swing, what his five wild pitches in 2000 were unable to: earn the Braves a postseason victory. For those that don’t remember, in 2000 Rick Ankiel was a flame-throwing rookie pitcher who struck out a Cardinals rookie record 194 batters and earned a NLDS Game One start against the Braves. Ankiel would throw a record five wild pitches in the third inning of that game and only last 2.2 innings. His Cardinals did however go on to win the game and eventually the series.

10 years later, the Braves picked up Ankiel at the trade deadline with fellow ex-Royal Kyle Farnsworth. Farnsworth’s major impact Friday came in the bottom of the tenth inning when he induced Buster Posey into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded (score was 4-4). Prior to Friday, Farnsworth had written his own piece of Braves postseason lore, but we’ll forgive you if you don’t remember his connection. In 2005, he blew the save for the Braves against the Astros, which eventually led to an 18-inning game that included, among other things, a Roger Clemens appearance as a pinch hitter. Interestingly enough, the Braves started a postseason scoreless streak in that game that they only managed to snap Friday after 24 innings.

One more Braves factoid: three of the four players with an RBI in Game Two were not on the team’s roster last season. Ankiel and Alex Gonzalez were both midseason acquisitions and Melky Cabrera was part of the Javier Vazquez trade in the offseason. Plus 5 of the 7 pitchers who saw action Friday (including rookies Mike Dunn, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel) were also not on the roster a year ago.

Five reasons to watch: Giants at Dodgers

September, 5, 2010

Jayne Oncea/Icon SMI
The Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in his last start.

Want a reason to watch the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball at 8 ET on ESPN2?

How about the idea that you might get to watch some pitching history. People have been calling this season The Year of the Pitcher, but perhaps the year of the great pitching performance is more apt.

There have been 25 games this season in which a team managed no hits or one hit. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s one shy of the all-time major league record, set in 1988.

The kicker is that both starting pitchers tonight -- Jonathan Sanchez and Hiroki Kuroda -- have thrown one-hitters this season. Kuroda did it in his last start against a powerful Philadelphia Phillies lineup, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning before settling for a shared one-hitter with Hong-Chih Kuo.

It’s part of a stretch of nine starts in which Kuroda has held opponents to a .193 batting average and .520 OPS, yet somehow Kuroda is just 3-4 with a 2.56 ERA in that span. That’s what happens when your team totals just 21 runs of support in those games.

Sanchez’s one-hitter came in an odd situation -- a 1-0 loss to the San Diego Padres on April 20 in which he yielded just a Chase Headley single, but was done in when the lone run scored on a sacrifice fly. Sanchez already has a no-hitter to his credit against those same Padres last season.

If there is a one-hitter to be had tonight, it’s more likely to be for the Dodgers than the Giants, for two reasons:

First, Sanchez is 0-5 with a 6.04 ERA against the Dodgers, the second-worst mark against them for any active pitcher (Jorge De La Rosa is 0-6). His ERA is the second worst of any Giants pitcher who has thrown 40+ innings against the Dodgers since the teams moved to California in 1958.

Second, the Giants haven’t thrown a one-hitter against the Dodgers since 1973.

But Sanchez’s .215 opponents batting average rates among the best in baseball, and the Dodgers offense rates among the most inept in the majors since the All-Star break. Perhaps the Giants are due.

Four other reasons to watch, with some help from our game researcher, Katie Sharp:

• Rafael Furcal is a Giants killer
He’s hitting .324 against the Giants as a Dodger, third-best among anyone since the two teams moved westward in 1958.

• The Dodgers like small ball
Los Angeles leads the National League in sacrifice bunts, and with the help of, we know the Dodgers lead in bases taken via fly balls, wild pitches, passed balls, balks and defensive indifference. They’ve also taken an extra base on 45 percent of the opportunities they’ve had, matching the Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds as the most aggressive teams in the league.

• See an unknown star
If you’re a fan of some of these new sabermetric statistics, you’ll like Andres Torres, who, primarily on the strength of his defensive rating, is fourth in the NL in Wins Above Replacement. His “Ultimate Zone Rating” (a gauge of ability to turn hit balls into outs, avoid errors, and serve as a base-running deterrent) rates higher than any outfielder in the league.

• You're going to see a close one
Of the 14 games the teams have played this season, 11 have been decided by two runs or fewer, including the last seven.

We checked with the Elias Sports Bureau, which tells us this is the first time that the Giants and Dodgers have had a season in which they played seven straight games that were that close since 1928, and they have never played eight straight games in the same year, decided by two runs or fewer.

Maybe tonight's the night for some history.

1st Pitch: Awards watch

August, 10, 2010
Today’s Trivia: The Seattle Mariners became the first team in major league history to turn a triple play for a manager who was making his debut, turning the trick for Daren Brown on Monday. Today is also the anniversary of Rafael Furcal’s unassisted triple play, which at the time was the 12th in MLB history. The M’s have been on the wrong end of an unassisted triple play before. Who turned it, what team did he play for and what year was it?

Hint: Mike Blowers was on 2nd base for Seattle and Kevin Mitchell was on 1st when the triple play started.

Quick Hits: Suppose the season ended today. Who would you pick for most of MLB’s top awards? Let’s look at some contenders who could make team history if they win:

Joey Votto has to be the frontrunner for NL MVP this season. The last Cincinnati Reds player to win MVP? Barry Larkin in 1995. Before Larkin, the Big Red Machine owned the MVP award, winning six in an eight-year span (1970-77), with four different Reds players taking the trophy.

But suppose Albert Pujols overtakes Votto. That would give Pujols three straight MVP awards, something only Barry Bonds has done.

But suppose Carlos Gonzalez overtakes them both. Or Ubaldo Jimenez regains form and wins the Cy Young. Only one Colorado Rockies player has won an MVP or a Cy Young in the franchise’s history. Larry Walker was MVP in 1997.

Josh Johnson is your NL ERA leader, but no Florida Marlin has ever won the Cy Young (or the MVP, for that matter).

If Miguel Cabrera wins the AL MVP, he’d be the first Detroit Tiger since Willie Hernandez in 1984 to do so. But he’d be the first Tigers batter since Charlie Gehringer in 1937.

CC Sabathia is in a battle to win the AL Cy Young award. Sabathia has already won one with the Cleveland Indians. The only other pitcher to win an AL Cy for more than one team: Roger Clemens.

If Cliff Lee can convince voters to give him the Cy Young (he leads the AL in Wins Above Replacement), he’d be the first Texas Rangers pitcher to win it. The closest that Nolan Ryan got as a Ranger was 5th. Ferguson Jenkins was 2nd as a Ranger in 1974.

Today’s Leaderboard: How many guesses would you need to come up with the Baltimore Orioles as the AL team with the most walk-off wins this season? Yep, the O’s have celebrated the most with nine walk-off wins. But they’ve had their fair share of heartbreak too, with seven walk-off losses. Here are the teams who have had more walk-off elation than deflation this season:

Maybe it really is the Padres’ year.

Key Matchups: The Chicago Cubs have averaged just 2.5 runs per game over their last four games and the bats aren’t likely to awake against Tim Lincecum tonight. Cubs batters who have faced Lincecum before have combined for far more strikeouts against him (27) than hits (18). The two main scapegoats are Aramis Ramirez and Mike Fontentot; they’re both 1-13 in their career against Lincecum, combining for 10 K.

Have a “K” ready in your scorebook when Vladimir Guerrero faces A.J. Burnett tonight. Guerrero has fanned 11 times against Burnett in 45 career AB. There are nine pitchers that Guerrero has faced more times than Burnett, but only one – Felix Hernandez – has struck him out more often.

Ricky Romero has to be breathing a sigh of relief. Of the four players slugging the highest against him (min. 10 PA), three are from the Red Sox. But two won’t step in the box against him tonight – Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. Instead, Romero might want to think about a four-finger salute to David Ortiz; Ortiz is 6-13 with a home run and three doubles against Romero.

Trivia Answer: John Valentin of the Red Sox turned the unassisted triple play on July 8, 1994. Not a bad sequence for Valentin – he led off the bottom of that inning and smoked a home run!

Bonus points if you knew that the Valentin unassisted triple play game was the same one where Alex Rodriguez made his MLB debut. A-Rod, batting ninth, went 0-3. He batted ninth the rest of the season.

TMI Power Poll: top 10 switch hitters

April, 27, 2010
This week in the TMI Power Poll we focus on switch hitters. No easy task to be able to rake from both sides at the major-league level.

Despite his slow start to 2010, we have Mark Teixeira firmly in the top spot thanks to his track record. Teixeira received 8 of 9 first-place votes. Here's a look at the rest of the list:
Others receiving votes: Chone Figgins, Brian Roberts, Nick Swisher, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Guillen, Shane Victorino, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jorge Posada, Erick Aybar.

1st pitch: Strangely still at zero

April, 15, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Who is the all-time home run king while wearing No. 42 on the back of his jersey?

** On the day where baseball honors Jackie Robinson, everyone will be wearing number 42. Mariano Rivera is the last remaining player to call that number his own. Using’s Oracle of Baseball, you can get from Jackie Robinson to Mariano Rivera in a mere 4 steps. Robinson played with Gil Hodges who played with Ed Kranepool who played with Jesse Orosco who was Rivera’s teammate ever so briefly in 2003.

Quick Hits: Inspired by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira both being homerless after 38 plate appearances, here are some other players with an unexpected zero in a stat column:

* Taylor Teagarden is hitless in 18 plate appearances, which is seven more than the next player, Andres Torres.

* Pedro Feliz has nine hits but has not scored a run.

* Rafael Furcal has 12 hits but zero RBI.

* Fresh of a 100-RBI season, Nick Markakis does not have one in 39 plate appearances.

* Jason Giambi has 10 plate appearances, but hasn’t hit a ground ball.

* Albert Pujols finished second in the NL with 45 doubles this season, but doesn’t have one this year. Of course, he does have those 5 home runs.

* Carlos Pena is tied for the MLB lead with five infield hits. Denard Span, who had 40 infield hits last season, doesn’t have one.

* Ramon Troncoso has thrown 5 2/3 innings with a 1.59 ERA but has no strikeouts.

* Wilton Lopez has allowed five hits, but zero singles.

* John Danks has allowed 10 hits, but none for extra bases.

* In 2006, Jake Westbrook led the majors by inducing 35 double plays. In 14 GIDP situations this season, he hasn’t had one.

Today’s Leaderboard: April 15 is Tax Day, so let’s see which bullpens have been the most taxed this season. The Nationals have averaged 4.4 innings per game out of their pen, which is currently sporting a 5.86 ERA. The Mets have the second most used relief staff, but sport a 2.08 bullpen ERA.

Key Matchups: Notoriously difficult to strikeout, David Eckstein has yet to fan this season in 31 plate appearances. But that hasn’t traditionally been the case against Tim Hudson, who has struck out Eckstein 13 times in 66 at-bats. No other pitcher has struck out Eckstein even half as many times.

Scott Kazmir has a 2.67 lifetime ERA against the Yankees, and it’s easy to see why. Derek Jeter is a .111 (4-36) hitter against him, his worst average against any pitcher he has faced 20 times. Alex Rodriguez has hit just .125 (3-24) against Kazmir, his second worst average against any pitcher he’s faced at least 30 times. However, this might be the game where Mark Teixeira breaks out. He is 7-for-11 against Kazmir with five walks.

Trivia Answer: Mo Vaughn, who wore No. 42 for his entire career, hit 328 home runs, most of anyone wearing that number.