Stats & Info: Toronto Blue Jays

Kernels: A call to arms

July, 27, 2014
To celebrate the induction of Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux into baseball's Hall of Fame, our look at the interesting and unusual focuses on some quirky stats by pitchers this week. (Hint: Not all of them involve pitching.)

• The Toronto Blue Jays surrendered 14 runs to the Boston Red Sox on Monday. Starter Drew Hutchison gave up six before leaving in the third inning. Brad Mills didn't fare any better, allowing eight more. He's the first Jays reliever to allow eight runs since Lance Painter took one for the team in a 23-1 beatdown by the Baltimore Orioles in 2000.

Together Hutchison and Mills are the first pair of Toronto pitchers to each allow six runs in three innings or less since Luke Prokopec and Felix Heredia did it in a 16-3 loss to the New York Yankees on April 8, 2002.

• Speaking of the Yankees, Shane Greene had a forgettable outing on Monday as well, but not so much because of his pitching. The Yankees committed five errors (their most since July 2007), with Greene being three of those. Jacob Turner of the Marlins (2013) is the only other pitcher in the last nine seasons with three errors, and Greene is the first Yankee to do it since Tommy John made three on one play, 26 years ago today. On July 27, 1988, John bobbled a tapper back to the mound, threw into right field trying to recover for the out at first, and then airmailed the relay to the plate when the throw from right came back in.

• Atlanta Braves starter Julio Teheran pitched seven innings Monday, allowing one run and striking out 11. He got a no-decision because his offense only scored one run as well. He's the fourth Braves pitcher this season to strike out 11+, allow one run, and not win. Three of those performances have been against the Marlins. Prior to this year, the Braves had just four such starts in the last 18 seasons combined. The only other team in the live-ball era with four of those in a season was last year's Detroit Tigers.

• Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, never one to adhere to tradition, batted pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb eighth in their interleague series in St. Louis this week. Since interleague play began in 1997, only seven times has an AL starting pitcher batted somewhere other than ninth, and five of those are Rays.

Cobb then got hit by a pitch in Wednesday's game. If you assumed that the last AL pitcher to get plunked while not in the 9-hole goes back to before the DH, you'd be right. But it's a lot further back. It last happened on July 16, 1920, when Sad Sam Jones of the Red Sox pinch-ran in the 9th against Detroit (scoring the tying run), then pitched the top of
the 10th before coming up again in B10 and getting hit by George "Hooks" Dauss.

• Texas Rangers starter Yu Darvish technically gets credit for a complete game in Wednesday's rain-shortened affair despite recording only 13 outs. It's the shortest CG for any team since Steve Trachsel pitched four innings in the New York Mets' 4˝-inning loss to the Phillies on May 11, 2006. Overall Darvish recorded just the 10th CG of 13 outs or less in the past 70 years.

• Zack Greinke struck out four San Francisco Giants in the third inning Friday, thanks to a wild pitch which allowed Hunter Pence to reach. He's the first pitcher this year with the unusual 4-K inning, and the first Dodger since Brad Penny did it against the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 23, 2006.

• Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians had another impressive outing when he threw nine innings against the Kansas City Royals. He allowed two hits, no walks, struck out 10, and the one run that scored was unearned. He didn't win. He was even on the hook for the loss until the top of the 9th when Greg Holland blew the save and forced B9 (which Kluber also threw). The Royals eventually walked off in the 14th (more at right).
Corey Kluber

The last Cleveland pitcher to work 9+ innings with no walks and 10 strikeouts, without winning, was Bert Blyleven, who gave up five runs in a complete-game loss on July 13, 1985. That game was also against Kansas City (who won their only World Series that year).

Jays power way to improbable comeback

June, 21, 2014

AP Photo/Al BehrmanEdwin Encarnacion now has twice as many multi-HR games as any other player this season.
The Toronto Blue Jays have been known for their bats this season, entering the day ranking fourth in MLB in runs per game (4.6). But even they couldn’t have foreseen what happened Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds.

Trailing 8-0 after two innings, the Blue Jays rallied to beat the Reds 14-9. It was their second-largest comeback in franchise history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Toronto was down 10 runs in the seventh inning on June 4, 1989 at Boston before coming back to win.

Friday, Toronto’s win probability (based on teams throughout history in similar situations) dipped as low as 1.1 percent after Jose Reyes grounded out for the second out of the top of the 3rd.

Elias tells us that over the last five seasons, teams with a lead of eight or more runs were 1158-6 (99.5 percent). The Blue Jays’ victory was even more unusual in that they not only came back to win but won by five runs. It was the fourth-largest win by a team that trailed by at least eight runs in the wild-card era (since 1994).

Let’s look closer at the comeback, breaking down Toronto’s win probability at key points.

• Already trailing 6-0 in the second inning, a Jay Bruce home run gave the Reds an 8-0 lead, and the Blue Jays’ win probability sat at 1.6 percent.

• After Todd Redmond and Reyes made the first two outs of the third inning, Toronto’s win probability dipped to its lowest point at 1.1 percent.

• Edwin Encarnacion (more on him below) hit a three-run home run in the third inning to cut the Reds lead to 8-3 and increase Toronto’s win expectancy to 5.7 percent.

• Trailing 9-4 in the sixth inning, the Blue Jays’ win probability sat at 5.3 percent when Jose Bautista came up with the bases loaded. He walked to cut the score to 9-5 and increase Toronto’s win expectancy to 9.2 percent, the highest it had been since the second inning.

• Toronto’s win probability did not get above 10 percent until the seventh inning, when a Juan Francisco two-run pinch-hit homer cut the lead to 9-8. The Blue Jays’ win probability jumped all the way from 6.6 percent to 21.5 percent with the hit.

• Still down a run with two outs in the eighth inning, Toronto’s win probability was 17.5 percent until Dioner Navarro's double tied it. That increased its win expectancy to 47.7 percent, the second-largest jump (30.2 percent) of the game.

• When Erik Kratz followed with the go-ahead double in the ninth to make it 10-9, the Jays’ win probability went up to 86.9 percent, and increased to 99.5 percent after they scored four more runs that inning, including another homer by Encarnacion.

Player of the game:
Encarnacion finished 2-for-5 with two homers and six RBIs. He now has six multi-HR games this season, twice the amount of any other player (Giancarlo Stanton and José Abreu each have three). Four teams this season don’t have any player with a multi-HR game (Twins, Tigers, Nationals, Phillies).

Encarnacion continues amazing surge

May, 22, 2014
Edwin Encarnacion added two more home runs on Wednesday.

On May 5, there might have been some doubters as to whether Edwin Encarnacion could replicate what he’d done the previous two seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays. He had two home runs in 123 at-bats to that point in the season.

Those doubters have been silenced.

Encarnacion on Wednesday had his second straight multihomer game, continuing a barrage in which he has hit 11 home runs in his past 15 games, helping the Blue Jays to another win over the Boston Red Sox.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Encarnacion’s current power output is the most home runs in a 15-game span in Blue Jays history.

It is also his fourth multi-homer performance over his last 13 games, a feat that Hank Aaron, Willie May or Babe Ruth never acheived, according to Elias.

Encarnacion’s seven multi-homer games since the start of last season are tied with Alfonso Soriano for the most in the majors.

How he’s doing it
Encarnacion, who hits almost all of his home runs to left field, has hit 10 to left or left-center in this stretch and one to straightaway center.

He’s shown the ability to hit the ball wherever it has been pitched. He’s hit five home runs in the upper half of the strike zone, six in the lower half, five on the inner half of the plate (or off the inside corner) and six on the outer half.

Eight of the 11 home runs came on fastballs. The other three came on two changeups and a curveball, the latter coming on Wednesday against Clay Buchholz.

Encarnacion's tear has coincided with the Blue Jays' recent success. Toronto is 10-5 in its past 15 games.

Looking ahead
Encarnacion will face the Red Sox and Jon Lester on Thursday. Encarnacion has two home runs against Lester but is hitting only .205 in 39 at-bats against him.

Encarnacion will try to be the first player to hit multiple home runs in three straight games since Jeff DaVanon of the 2003 Angels.

13-0 Scherzer induces chases and whiffs

July, 4, 2013
A favorite opponent and a familiar result. Now Max Scherzer is a win away from matching Roger Clemens.

Scherzer's 13-0 record puts him behind only three starters in the Live Ball Era: Clemens (14-0 in 1986), Dave McNally (15-0 in 1969) and Johnny Allen (15-0 in 1937). Scherzer's next start figures to come Monday on the road against the Cleveland Indians, a team he's defeated twice already this season.

On Wednesday he faced his favorite American League opponent. His 1.59 ERA against the Toronto Blue Jays entering the game was his lowest against any AL opponent he's faced multiple times. After allowing two runs in six and one-third innings in the win, he's now 4-0 with a 1.78 ERA against the Blue Jays.

How he did it
Here's a breakdown of what Scherzer did well to beat the Blue Jays:

• Mixed up his out pitches: he recorded at least one strikeout with four different pitches for just the third time this season.

• Tough with men on base: four of his seven hits allowed came with the bases empty. With men on, batters were just 3-for-13 and all three hits came in the sixth inning when he allowed both runs.

• Got batters to swing at bad pitches: his chase percentage of 36.4 was his second-highest of the season and four of his eight strikeouts came on pitches out of the zone.

• Continued to mow down lefties: five of his eight strikeouts were against lefties. This season his 85 strikeouts against lefties are the most in baseball.

• Survived: Scherzer cruised through five innings, allowing just two hits while striking out six. In his last inning and a third, the Blue Jays went 5-for-9 (3-for-6 vs his fastball & 2-2 vs his changeup) and scored both runs.

Winning and whiffing
As the Elias Sports Bureau notes, not only has Scherzer avoided a loss in every start this season, he's also recorded at least six strikeouts in each one of them. Elias reports that Scherzer is the first pitcher to fan six or more batters in each of his first 17 starts of a season since 2000. Both Pedro Martinez (his first 29 starts) and Randy Johnson (first 23) did so that year.

Key to win streak: Inside Blue Jays bullpen

June, 21, 2013
Yes, the Toronto Blue Jays are hitting and winning, but the work of their bullpen throughout this month, and particularly during this nine-game winning streak (which got them to .500 for the first time all season), should not be overlooked.

The Blue Jays' bullpen has an 0.61 ERA in June after three more scoreless innings in relief of R.A. Dickey in Friday’s win over the Baltimore Orioles.

The numbers may be slightly distorted by six unearned runs this month, but they’ve been impressive nonetheless.

During the winning streak, Blue Jays relievers are 3-0 with four saves and have pitched 22 innings, allowing two unearned runs and seven hits. They haven't allowed an earned run in their last 27 innings.

Let’s take a look at the two relievers who have been big keys to their run of success.

The closer: Casey Janssen
Casey Janssen picked up the role of closer last season and has taken the ball and run with it through 2013. He has 16 saves in 17 opportunities, with saves and a win on Friday in his last five appearances since the season’s only blown save.
Casey Janssen
Janssen earned his first save of last season on May 9. Since that date, his WHIP of 0.80 ranks third among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, trailing only Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara.

Kimbrel and Grant Balfour are the only two pitchers with a better opponents’ OPS in that stretch than Janssen’s .495.

Janssen does this without posting hugely above-average numbers when it comes to getting swings-and-misses.

But his rate of taken pitches that are called strikes, a big factor in his success, is 40 percent since last May 9, considerably above the big-league average of about 33 percent.

Unsung star: Brett Cecil
Perhaps the most amazing work has been done by Brett Cecil, who has held opponents hitless over his last 43 batters faced (Elias notes this is a team record). Cecil got all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth inning on Friday, including Chris Davis, who hit his major-league leading 27th homer earlier in the game.

Cecil has become much more than a lefty specialist (left-handed hitters are 7-for-71 against him this season). He’s now faced 142 hitters this season in total and held them to a .132/.193/.217 slashline (all best in the majors among pitchers who have faced that many batters.
Brett Cecil
Cecil is winning with a fastball that is not overpowering (he throws it 92 mph on average). He locates it at the top of (and above) the strike zone more often than any other pitcher (60 percent of his pitches are to the upper-third of the zone and above).

He also nets misses on about half of the swings against his breaking pitches, including a curveball that he’s throwing nearly three times as often as he did the past two seasons.

The other noticeable improvement for Cecil —- a jump in his ground-ball rate of nearly 10 percentage points from the previous two seasons, up from 40 percent (in 2011 and 2012) to 49 percent, and with that a significant reduction in hard-hit contact against him.

Looking ahead: Closing in on a record
The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that this is the Blue Jays' longest streak without allowing an earned run since a 1993 run of 27 1/3 innings.

That bullpen helped lead the team to the World Series.

The team record is 28 innings, set in 1989.

Arencibia's long blast powers Blue Jays

April, 4, 2013
In the first two games of the Blue Jays-Indians series, the two teams combined to score a total of 10 runs. On Thursday night, they reached that total before the sixth inning was over.

Toronto avoided its fourth 0-3 start in franchise history with a wild 10-8 win over Cleveland. The game saw two ties and three lead changes before the Blue Jays pulled away in the final innings.

Six different players went deep, combining for seven total homers among the two teams, the most combined homers in a game in this short season. Eight of the first nine runs scored came via the longball, and a homer was hit in five of the nine innings played.

The Blue Jays hit five of those homers – it is just the second time in franchise history they hit five longballs in one of their first three games of the season. The only other time it happened was in 2001.

Who Went Deep
J.P. Arencibia was the star for Toronto with his seventh career multi-homer game. That breaks a tie with Ernie Whitt for the most games with at least two home runs by a Blue Jays catcher.

Arencibia’s second-inning homer traveled a career-long 460 feet, matching Justin Upton (on April 1) for the longest home run hit this season. His second home run in the sixth inning came off an 88-mph sinker. Arencibia had only one homer in 49 career at-bats ending in sinkers before launching that pitch over the fence.

Arencibia, who went 3-for-4 with two RBI, had only one hit in seven at-bats prior to Thursday night. He had whiffed on nearly half of his swings in the first two games (6 of 13), striking out three times.

Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Colby Rasmus also hit homers for Toronto. Bautista has now gone deep in consecutive games for the first time since last June.

Encarnacion turned on a high fastball in the fifth inning for his first homer of the season. Last year Encarnacion struggled against pitches in the upper third of the zone or above, with only six hits in 44 at-bats (.136) and just one home run.

Rasmus’ home run off righty Cody Allen was his first hit of the season, after 10 straight hitless at-bats. It came on a 95-mph fastball over the plate. Rasmus last year slugged .621 on fastballs of at least 95 mph vs right-handed pitchers, the eighth-best rate among AL hitters.

Top stats to know: Blue Jays

February, 25, 2013

USA TODAY SportsThe Blue Jays have plenty of new faces-- among them Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle
With Baseball Tonight visiting Toronto Blue Jays spring training camp today, here’s a look at notable “Stats to Know” about the team that was among baseball’s busiest this offseason.

Postseason Drought
The Blue Jays have not been to the postseason since 1993. The only AL team with a longer playoff drought is the Royals, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 1985. The Blue Jays also don’t have a 90-win season since that championship year. Every other team in the AL East has at least two since then.

New Starters Mean WAR
The Blue Jays starting rotation will likely feature three new pitchers-- R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle.

The three have combined for 47 Wins Above Replacement over the last four seasons. Each of the three ranks in the top 17 among pitchers. Johnson rates the highest-- seventh-best, with 19.1 Wins Above Replacement.

Reyes Kickstarts Lineup
Likely leadoff hitter Jose Reyes will look to fill a significant hole for the Blue Jays. Toronto’s leadoff hitters had a .294 on-base percentage and .650 OPS last season, each of which ranked fifth-worst in the majors.

Shifty Infield
The Blue Jays were among the most frequent users of defensive shifts in 2012. Baseball Info Solutions credited them with 12 Defensive Runs Saved due to shift usage last season, the highest such total in the majors.

One of the most integral players in their defense is third baseman Brett Lawrie, who led major league third basemen last season with 20 Defensive Runs Saved.

Edwin Loves the Outer-Half
Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season with 42 home runs in 2012. Encarnacion had 27 home runs against pitches that were on the outer-half of the plate (or off the plate), a rate of one for every 55 pitches seen.

From 2009 to 2011, Encarnacion had 26 homers on outer-half pitches, a rate of one for every 108 pitches seen.

A Lethal Power/Speed Combo
The Blue Jays have a chance to finish in the top of the league in both power and speed. Toronto owns three prolific base stealers in Rajai Davis, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio who rank 3rd, 6th and 13th respectively in stolen bases the last 3 seasons.

The team also features two of the most prominent power hitters in baseball as measured by Isolated Power. Jose Bautista (.286) and Edwin Encarnacion (.277) ranked 4th and 5th in the MLB by that metric last season (min. 350 PA), the only pair of teammates in the top 10.

Morrow's Continued Progress
While his ‘breakout’ season was cut short due to injury, it looked like Brandon Morrow took a significant step forward in 2012. He also seemed to make a key adjustment – pitching down in the zone rather than up in the zone, decreasing his strikeouts but increasing his effectiveness.

Marlins give up on $100 million dream

November, 13, 2012

AP Photo/Kathy WilliamsJose Reyes could be bringing his bat to a new location in 2013.
It is awards week in baseball and the award for the biggest deal of the offseason may have come Tuesday.

Let's take a look at a couple key storylines related to the potential megatrade between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins.

Marlins would be dumping money, Blue Jays spending it
It didn’t take long for the Marlins to give up on the idea of playing with a $100 million payroll.

In the previous four seasons, the Marlins ranked no higher than 24th in Opening Day payroll, but averaged 81 wins in that span.

They entered last season with a $118 million payroll, seventh-highest in the majors but finished with 69 wins. The six teams above them in payroll had much more success (with the exception of the Boston Red Sox), averaging 86 wins between them.

The Marlins win total tied for the fourth-fewest by a team with a team with a $100 million payroll (the Red Sox also had 69 wins last season).

The Blue Jays could enter new territory this season in terms of Opening Day payroll. They are one of 12 teams that has never opened the season with $100 million in commitments. Their largest payroll at the start of the season was $97.8 million in 2008, a season in which they won 86 games, but finished fourth in the mighty AL East.

What would the Blue Jays be getting for their money?
What are the Blue Jays getting for the more than $160 million they’re making in payroll commitments?

From a statistical perspective, they’re getting a group of players whose performance in 2012 was not up to their peak standards.

The biggest names in the reported deal: Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes, combined to be worth 9.1 Wins Above Replacement in 2012.

Buehrle had a 3.2 WAR, his lowest since 2006. Johnson has been worth 5.9 WAR over the past two seasons. He was worth a combined 13.2 WAR in 2009 and 2010.

Reyes, who has a history of injuries, was worth 2.8 WAR, the third time in the past four seasons he’s been below three Wins Above Replacement.

Buehrle brings a lot of mileage on his arm. He’s pitched at least 200 innings in 12 straight seasons. Buehrle’s 2,627 2/3 innings pitched in that 12-year span are the most in the majors.

One bugaboo that comes with Buehrle -- he doesn’t have a great history against the New York Yankees and Red Sox. He’s 7-16 with a 5.27 ERA combined against those teams, including 1-8 with a 6.38 ERA against the Yankees.

Johnson has a good history against the AL East (he’s 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA in nine starts against the Blue Jays division rivals).

His 8-14 record last season was primarily a product of a rough first month and a lack of run support. In his first six starts, he posted a 6.61 ERA, but in his last 25 starts, it was 3.26.

Johnson ranked 29th among the 46 NL ERA-title qualifiers with his 3.81 ERA, but his combined strikeout, walk, and home run totals produced a Fielding Independent Pitching (an ERA estimator known as FIP), of 3.40, 10th-best among that same group.

Reyes struggled early in 2012 both offensively and defensively, but closed the year strong.

The Blue Jays may look to move Reyes, who thrived in the No. 3 spot, back into the leadoff spot in the batting order. Their leadoff hitters had a .296 on-base percentage and .650 OPS last season, both fifth-worst in the majors.

The one area in which the Marlins may have won the trade would be in shortstop defense. They give up Reyes, who ranked next-to-last among shortstops with -17 Defensive Runs Saved (a stat that measures the ability to turn batted balls into outs and convert double plays).

The Marlins Yunel Escobar ranked fourth in the majors with 15 Defensive Runs Saved.

--Mark Simon, Katie Sharp and Will Cohen contributed to this post.

Extra Tex-message gives Yankees win

June, 16, 2012

Brad Mills/US PresswireMark Teixeira had the game-winning hit for the Yankees in the 14th inning against the Nationals.
For the first time this season, the New York Yankees failed to live up to their moniker – the Bronx Bombers – and still won a game, beating the Washington Nationals 5-3 in 14 innings.

Prior to Saturday, the Yankees were 0-12 when not hitting a home run, which was the longest streak of losses in games without a homer to begin a season in franchise history.

The last MLB team to start a season with such a streak was the 2003 Diamondbacks, who lost their first 12 games when they didn’t hit a homer, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Mark Teixeira provided the game-winning hit with a two-run double in the top of the 14th inning to give the Yankees the victory in the longest Interleague game in team history. The Yankees have now won eight straight and are an MLB-best 9-2 in Interleague play this season.

Andy Pettitte made his first start at age 40 (his birthday was yesterday), becoming the first Yankee to play a game both before age 23 and after age 40, according to Elias. Pettitte threw seven innings of two-run ball to lower his ERA to 2.77, which would be his best in any of his seasons in pinstripes.

On the other side of the dugout, Bryce Harper had arguably the worst day in his young major-league career.

He went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts, becoming the first teenager to strike out five times in a game since strikeouts were first recorded in the NL in 1910 and the AL in 1913.

The Yankees exploited his weaknesses against breaking pitches, throwing him 19 sliders, the most seen by any player this season. Five of his seven outs made came in at-bats ending in a slider, including four strikeouts. He also missed on nine of his 10 swings against a slider, and chased six of 11 sliders thrown outside the strike zone.

The Philadelphia Phillies continued their slide, with their 11th loss in their last 14 games after falling to the Toronto Blue Jays 6-5 on a walk-off double by Rajai Davis in the bottom of the 10th inning.

The Phillies now have eight walk-off losses this season, the most of any major-league team. Jonathan Papelbon, the owner of the biggest contract for a relief pitcher in major-league history, has not pitched in any of those losses.

Cliff Lee had allowed just two runs through seven innings and appeared poised for his first win of the season. But he imploded in the eighth inning, failing to record an out while allowing all three of his batters faced to reach base, and was charged with three runs in the inning.

Lee now is winless in his first 11 starts of the season despite a 3.48 ERA. According to Elias, his ERA is the second-lowest of any pitcher to begin a season with zero wins in his first 11 appearances – all of them starts – since earned runs became official in the NL in 1912 and in the AL in 1913.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories

Ervin Santana
1. SANTANA GETS NO SUPPORT AGAIN: FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Ervin Santana became the first pitcher in MLB history to start five straight games in which his team was shut out. The Angels lost 4-0 to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, and Albert Pujols went 0-4. Pujols has now gone homerless in 108 consecutive at bats to start the season, the longest single-season streak of his career. He's 2-20 with two singles during the Santana "shutout" streak.

2. HELP ME RONDO: FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Rajon Rondo became the first player in NBA history to record 17 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists and four steals in a playoff game. It is his seventh career triple-double in the playoffs, which is tied with LeBron James for sixth-most all-time. Rondo was suspended by the league in Game 2 of this series, and he becomes the first player in NBA playoff history to record a triple-double after missing his team's previous game.

3. TIGER MISSES CUT: Tiger Woods missed the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship - his eighth career missed cut on the PGA TOUR. He missed the cut at this event in 2010, meaning this is the first event that he's missed the cut twice during his professional career. Phil Mickelson needed to make a putt on final hole to avoid missing the cut as well - if he had missed it, it would've been the first time they both missed the cut in the same PGA TOUR event.

4. BRAVES COME BACK: The Atlanta Braves trailed the Colorado Rockies 5-0 after one inning on Friday, but came back for the 9-8 win in 11 innings. FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: it is the first time the Braves overcame a 5-0 1st inning deficit since October 1, 1991 when they beat the Reds 7-6 despite trailing 6-0 after the first inning.

5. CINCO DE MAYO: It is Cinco de Mayo, so your fifth "Top Thing to Know" is going to be five fun mini-facts about today's action:

1) The last time a horse won the Triple Crown (1978), Kentucky had just won the NCAA Tournament - sound familiar?

2) The last time a Kentucky Derby was run on Cinco de Mayo (2007), Floyd Mayweather Jr. fought Oscar De La Hoya. Street Sense and Mayweather Jr. were the winners.

3) The only time a horse won the Triple Crown when the Kentucky Derby was run on Cinco de Mayo was in 1973, when the legendary Secretariat accomplished the feat.

4) The longest active win streak on Cinco de Mayo is by the Tampa Bay Rays, who have won their last six. The longest active losing streak is by the Miami Marlins, who have lost their last five.

5) Great news for Dallas Mavericks fans, for one day at least - no defending NBA champion has ever been eliminated from the playoffs on May 5.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories

Paul Pierce
1. RARE CELTICS PERFORMANCE: Paul Pierce posted a statistical performance that hadn’t been done by a Boston Celtics player in the playoffs since 1977. Pierce finished with 36 points and 14 rebounds, the first Celtic to reach those levels in a playoff game since Dave Cowens in 1977. Tommy Heinsohn in 1957 is the only other Celtic to accomplish the feat.

2. KOBE KEEPS SCORING: Pierce wasn’t the only NBA veteran with a big scoring performance on Tuesday. Kobe Bryant, at 33 years old, scored 38 points in a win against the Denver Nuggets. FROM ELIAS: It’s the first time that two players age 33 or older have scored 35 points on the same day in the NBA playoffs.

3. WALK-OFF WIN: Let’s go to the other end of the age spectrum for this note. FROM ELIAS: Brett Lawrie, who turned 22 in January, hit his second career walk-off home run in the Toronto Blue Jays’ win over the Texas Rangers. Lawrie is the only player born in the 1990s to hit a walk-off home run. He is one of three active players to hit multiple walk-off homers before turning 23 years old. The others: Carl Crawford and Ryan Zimmerman.

4. FAMILIAR HONOR FOR POPOVICH: He’s won four NBA titles, and Tuesday Gregg Popovich was awarded his second NBA Coach of the Year award. He becomes the seventh coach in NBA history to receive that honor multiple times. Pat Riley and Don Nelson are the only coaches to win three of them. But this year’s San Antonio Spurs aren’t the same as those of the past. The Spurs averaged 103.7 points (second in NBA) this season, tying their highest average under Popovich.

Evan Longoria
5. LOSING LONGORIA: The Tampa Bay Rays will be without Evan Longoria (hamstring injury) for 4-8 weeks. Over the previous three seasons (2009 to 2011), Longoria is second among all position players in wins above replacement. Only Albert Pujols contributed more during that span. On the bright side, the Rays were 18-11 in the 29 games Longoria did not play last season. That’s a better winning percentage than their 73-60 record in games he did play.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories

Ryan Braun
1. GOING, GOING BRAUN: Ryan Braun was a one-man wrecking crew for the Milwaukee Brewers in San Diego. Braun hit three home runs in a game for the first time in his career and even added a RBI-triple in the ninth inning. Braun became the first player with a 3-HR game at Pecto Park, which opened in 2004. He also became the sixth player in the Live-Ball Era with three HR and a triple in a game, and the first since Fred Lynn in 1975. Braun’s 15 total bases set a Brewers franchise record (previous record was 14 by Richie Sexson). He also tied a career high with six RBI.

2. KEMP TOUCH THIS: Matt Kemp hit his major-league leading 12th HR of the season in the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies. Kemp's 12 HR by April 30 are the fifth-most in MLB history. Kemp finished April with a .417 BA, 12 HR and 25 RBI. He's just the third player since 1920 (when RBI became official) to hit .400 with 10+ HR and 25+ RBI in the month April (excludes any March games) joining Larry Walker in 1997 and Tony Perez in 1970.

3. KNICKS TIE RECORD: The New York Knicks tied a NBA record by losing their 12th consecutive postseason game, falling to the Miami Heat in Game 2. New York’s last win in the playoffs came more than 11 years ago on April 29, 2001.

4. MAVERICKS IN A HOLE: The Oklahoma City Thunder took a 2-0 lead in their series against the defending NBA champs with a three-point win over the Dallas Mavericks. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that it’s the fourth time in NBA history that a defending champion has lost its first two playoff games and the previous three all went on to lose the series. Keep in mind that two NBA defending champions missed the postseason entirely the following season -- the 1970 Celtics and 1999 Bulls.

5. YU GOT IT: The Texas Rangers improved to 5-0 this season with Yu Darvish on the mound with a 4-1 over the Toronto Blue Jays. Darvish gave up one earned run in seven innings and struck out nine batters to earn his fourth win. Darvish became the sixth rookie starting pitcher to go 4-0 or better in April since rules for rookie status were implemented in 1957.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories

1. THE BEST GOLFER WITHOUT A MAJOR? After the opening round of the Masters Tournament, Lee Westwood stands alone at the top at -5. Westwood has never won a major but has been a bridesmaid multiple times. This is the third time he’s opened a major with a 67, and both times he finished the major in second place.
Tiger Woods

2. TIGER ON THE PROWL Tiger Woods shot an even-par 72 at the Masters and is tied for 29th after the opening round. That might sound like he’s a ways back, but not for Tiger. The last time he was this far back after the opening round was 2005, when he was tied for 33rd. That year he went on to win the Masters, his last win there. Looking ahead to Friday, he’ll hope to repeat that 2005 success. He shot a 66 in the second round en route to his win.

3. PITCHERS DOMINATE OPENING DAY The Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians treated fans to free baseball on their Opening Day. The 16 innings they played made it the longest season-opening game in MLB history. But pitchers stole the show for the day. FROM ELIAS: Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay and Justin Masterson each allowed two hits in eight innings on Thursday while Ryan Dempster surrendered two knocks in 7⅔ innings. It was the first day on which four pitchers threw more than seven innings and allowed no more than two hits since Sept. 27, 1986.

4. NO MAGIC IN ORLANDO Dwight Howard scored just two points through three quarters in an Orlando Magic loss to the New York Knicks and finished with eight points for the game. It was just the third time this season that Howard failed to score in double-digits and two of those have come against the Knicks. His team’s woes continue: the Magic have lost five straight, their longest losing streak since Jan. 12-20, 2007.
Steven Stamkos

5. STAMKOS STALKING 60 Two big happenings in the NHL on Thursday: the eight playoff spots in each conference were decided BUT the seeding of each team is still up in the air. Also, Steven Stamkos moved one step closer to a landmark when he scored his 59th goal of the season. Stamkos has one game left, at the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, and will try to become just the second player since 1996 to score 60 goals in a season.

Brewing up a special rotation in Milwaukee

December, 19, 2010
Just when it appeared the Milwaukee Brewers were caught in the middle between contention and rebuilding, the team continues its complete overhaul of its starting pitching staff, acquiring 2009 AL Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for a bevy of prospects. While the merits of the prospects will certainly be debated, what cannot be argued is that Greinke makes the Brewers staff among the most formidable in the National League.

Greinke followed up his 2009 Cy Young campaign with a solid, if unspectacular 2010. His traditional numbers were not very good (10-14, 4.17), his K/9 rate had a significant drop (from 9.50 to 7.40, closer to his career average) and his HR/9 rate nearly doubled, from 0.43 to 0.74. But many of Greinke’s problems in 2010 were not his fault.

Zack Greinke
Greinke posted a career-high ground-ball percentage (46.0%), but he was doing so with terrible fielders responsible for getting to all those ground balls. According to Baseball Info Solutions, Kansas City was 30th in all of baseball in Defensive Runs Saved in 2010 (-88). Greinke’s FIP (3.34) was over three-quarters of a run better than his ERA. The 2010 Brewers were league-average defensively last season (-0.7, 16th in Team UZR), but that represents a drastic improvement for Greinke.

One red flag is Yuniesky Betancourt, who is coming with Greinke to the Brewers. Betancourt was the third-worst starting shortstop in MLB in 2010 based on UZR (-9.5) and the less he plays at shortstop for the 2011 Brewers, the better.

Milwaukee acquired Shaun Marcum from the Toronto Blue Jays on December 6th, giving the Brewers a right-hander with success against the power bats of the AL East. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Marcum had an impressive 2010, going 13-8 with an ERA of 3.64 and a nearly equal FIP of 3.74. He had a very low walk rate in 2010 (1.98 BB/9), despite the fact that only 48.7% of all strikes he threw were in the strike zone.

Shaun Marcum
Marcum is adept at getting hitters to chase, with nearly a third of all swings against him being on pitches outside the zone (30.4%). Marcum had a significant change in his arsenal coming off of Tommy John surgery. He threw a higher percentage of fastballs in 2010 than he had in 2008 with the Blue Jays (from 48.3% to 61.2%). He also threw a greater percentage of changeups (23.2% to 24.1%), but was more effective, with his batting average against his changeup dropping from .213 to .152.

Clearly, the Brewers can expect an upgrade in performance from their staff. But just how much? By using the Wins Above Replacement statistic, it’s possible to estimate how much of an upgrade Greinke and Marcum will be.

In 2010, the Brewers’ fourth and fifth starters -- Dave Bush and Manny Parra -- combined to give the team 47 starts, going 10-20, 5.09 ERA. That combined production was worth -0.1 Wins Above Replacement.

On the flip side, Greinke contributed 5.2 WAR and Marcum chipped in 3.5. So, assuming Greinke and Marcum repeat their performances from 2010 -- a reasonable suggestion -- the Brewers stand to gain nearly nine wins. That’s the difference between 77-85 and 86-76. Or, between non-contention and contention.

Alex Rodriguez sly like a Foxx

September, 29, 2010
RODRIGUEZWhen Alex Rodriguez went on the DL August 21 with a left calf strain, it seemed like his streak of 30 home runs and 100 RBI seasons would end at 12 straight. Upon his return September 5th, the New York Yankees slugger needed just three RBI to reach 100 RBI, but he had to hit nine HR to reach 30.

That seemed like a daunting task when you consider Rodriguez's track record. The last time he hit at least nine home runs from September 5th through the end of the regular season was in 2002. While with the Texas Rangers, he hit nine HR from that point on to finish the year with a career-high 57 HR.

But Rodriguez would go on a tear down the stretch this season, culminating with Wednesday's home run against the Toronto Blue Jays, which gave him nine since his return from the DL and 30 for the season. He became the first player since RBI became an official statistic in 1920 to have 13 straight seasons with at least 30 HR and 100 RBI, passing Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx.

It's the 14th season in which Rodriguez has hit at least 30 HR, one year shy of Hank Aaron's MLB record in that department. His 13 straight seasons of 30 HR alone is tied with Barry Bonds for the most all-time.

Elsewhere in MLB:

• With three home runs Wednesday, the Blue Jays set a single-season team record for home runs with 247. That total is good for fifth in MLB history. Their 146 home runs at Rogers Centre are the third-most at a home ballpark, trailing only the 2005 Texas Rangers (153) and 1996 Colorado Rockies (149).

Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz collected his 1,000th career RBI as a designated hitter. Ortiz is the second player in MLB history to reach the 1,000 RBI mark as a DH, trailing only Edgar Martinez (1,003).

Derek Lowe improved to 5-0 this month with a 5-1 win over the Florida Marlins. Lowe is the first Atlanta Braves pitcher to go 5-0 in September since Dave Jolly in 1954.

Kevin Millwood improved to 4-16 as he helped the Baltimore Orioles shut out the Tampa Bay Rays 2-0. Millwood allowed a season-low one hit against his fastball and the Rays missed his slider 40 percent of the time, the best rate this year for the veteran.