Top stats to know: Angels at Red Sox

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
12:52
PM ET

Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesGarrett Richards goes for his 14th win tonight. He had 11 in his first 3 years combined in the Majors.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Boston Red Sox play the third game of their four-game series tonight on Wednesday Night Baseball (7 ET on ESPN2/WatchESPN). The Angels have won the first two games of the series.

Soaring Angels
After play on June 5, the Angels were tied for second place in the AL West with the Seattle Mariners, 5½ games behind the Oakland Athletics. Since June 6, Los Angeles has gone a major league-best 43-22 and sit atop the division, a half game ahead of the A’s.

A big reason for the turnaround has been their bullpen.

Another key for the Angels has been the performance with runners in scoring position. Through June 5, LA hit .245 with RISP. Since then, they are hitting .288, second-best in the majors.

Pitching Matchup
Garrett Richards, who’s turning in a career-year this season, will take the mound for the Angels tonight. In three August starts, Richards is 2-0 with a 1.19 ERA

One reason he’s having a career year has been the effective use of his slider. Richards is tied for the AL lead this season with 85 strikeouts in at-bats to end in his slider. Look for that success to continue tonight as Boston is hitting a major league-low .179 in at-bats ending in a slider from a righty.

Clay Buchholz will start for Boston tonight. He has a 5.79 ERA this season, more than three times higher than his 1.74 ERA he posted in 16 starts last season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no pitcher in major-league history has had his ERA triple from one season to the next while throwing at least 100 innings in each of those seasons.

Buchholz is throwing his cutter much more frequently this season, and it’s getting shelled.

He’s allowed two home runs this season with that pitch, after allowing just three in the previous five seasons combined. Perhaps the velocity loss has something to do with it.

Misc.
• Mike Trout is hitting .378 with five home runs and 14 RBI in his career against the Red Sox. That’s his second-highest batting average against an opponent in his career (min. 50 plate appearances).

• Josh Hamilton is 2-for-22 (both hits are doubles) in his career against Buchholz. His .091 batting average is his second-worst among the 28 pitchers he’s faced at least 20 times.

• David Ortiz is hitting .455 with three homers and eight RBIs in the last six contests.

His 402 home runs as a Red Sox are 50 shy of tying Carl Yastrzemski for second on Boston’s all-time list (Ted Williams holds the franchise record with 521).

Martinez surges, Nathan skids; both integral

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
1:57
AM ET
Detroit Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez seems to be showing signs of breaking out of the three-week slump that caught him right out of the All-Star break.
J.D. Martinez
Martinez

Martinez hit another late-game homer in the Tigers' extra-inning win over the Tampa Bay Rays, this one a go-ahead solo shot in the top of the eighth inning.

The Rays would eventually come back against the Tigers bullpen, but Detroit would scratch out a win and survive another dicey closing effort from reliever Joe Nathan.

Martinez is hitting .355 with 11 hits and four extra-base hits in his last eight games.

His homer on Tuesday night came on a pitch on the inside corner, which Martinez crushed to straightaway center field.

Martinez has nine homers and a .626 slugging percentage against pitches on the inner-third of the plate or off the inside corner. The latter ranks sixth best in the majors.

Late-game penchant
Martinez has hit 11 of his 17 home runs in the seventh inning or later this season. That’s tied for the most homers that late in a game with Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins and Lucas Duda of the New York Mets.

Six of his 11 late-game homers have come when the score was within two runs either way.

How Nathan saved it
It was a rough 11th inning for Nathan, who earned his 26th save of the season despite allowing a run.

It was the sixth time this season Nathan allowed at least one run in a save, the most such saves in the American League. Addison Reed is the major league leader with seven.

Nathan actually had a good run for about three weeks (coincidentally, it was when Martinez was struggling), in which he allowed no earned runs in 11 of his 12 appearances. He’s since allowed three earned runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings over his last five appearances.

Nathan’s pitches have lost a little extra oomph from a few weeks ago. He hasn’t gotten a swing and a miss against the 40 fastballs he’s thrown in those last five games. Opposing hitters didn’t get any hits against his fastball from July 20 to Aug. 8 but have five hits against it since then.
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MLB

How Miller's injury impacts Ohio State

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
2:02
PM ET

Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsOhio State will have a huge void to fill with QB Braxton Miller out for the season.
ESPN and media reports indicate that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is out for the 2014 season after re-injuring his right shoulder in practice Monday.

Miller was one of several early favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. He was tied for third with Georgia running back Todd Gurley on the most current Heisman Watch on ESPN.com behind only Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.

How valuable was Miller?
Miller was the only Big Ten quarterback to rank in the top 35 in Total QBR last season (he ranked 13th). He had the seventh-highest QBR among returning FBS quarterbacks (91.3).

Miller has been among the elite rushing quarterbacks in FBS over the past two seasons. His 2,339 rushing yards ranked second in FBS (Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois ranked first with 3,735 yards), nearly 200 yards more than Johnny Manziel in that same time.

A knee injury in Week 2 against San Diego State hindered Miller early in the season, but he averaged 131.6 rushing yards per game in the last five games.

Miller improved incrementally as a passer from 2011 to 2013 as the chart on the right shows.

He led the Big Ten in touchdown passes and ranked second in completion percentage and yards per attempt.

Miller and Drew Brees are the only players to win Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year multiple times.

Potential replacements
Senior backup Kenny Guiton graduated after last season, leaving Ohio State without an experienced backup behind Miller.

Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett is listed as the team’s top backup. He was a four-star recruit in the Class of 2013, and was ranked the No. 11 dual-threat quarterback in that class.

Barrett’s senior season in high school was cut short by a torn ACL.

Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones (two career pass attempts, both against Purdue) is the only quarterback other than Miller on the Ohio State roster who has attempted a pass in an FBS game.

Jones has played a total of 39 snaps against three opponents (Florida A&M, Penn State and Purdue).

Other losses
Losing Miller would be one extra thing the Buckeyes' offense will need to replace.

The team is dealing with a near total makeover up front.

Gone are second-team All-American left tackle Jack Mewhort, first-team Big Ten center Corey Linsley, first-team Big Ten left guard Andrew Norwell and right guard Marcus Hall.

The Buckeyes' backfield stud, Carlos Hyde, is also gone. He was a second-round draft pick by the 49ers.

Hyde had a little more than 138 rushing yards per game, which was fifth in FBS last season. Over 57 percent of his rushes went for five or more yards, second best in FBS.

Miller was already looking for a new favorite weapon. Corey Brown led Ohio State in every major receiving category last season.

His 63 catches, 771 yards and 10 touchdowns were all best on the team. He was targeted 87 times in 2013, 14 more than any other wideout.

Ohio State’s schedule
Ohio State was favored in each game in the ESPN Football Power Index, with only one of its 12 opponents ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 (at Michigan State).

Before Miller’s injury, FPI projected the Buckeyes with a 41 percent chance to win the Big Ten, nearly twice as likely as the next-closest team (Wisconsin, 22 percent).

LaRoche finally gets biggest type of hit

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
12:45
AM ET
Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche has been getting big hits all month. On Monday, he got the one big hit that had eluded him throughout his career.

The Nationals won another kooky thriller by beating the Arizona Diamondbacks on LaRoche’s first career walk-off home run.
Adam LaRoche
LaRoche
LaRoche entered the day with 235 career regular-season homers, the second most of any player who didn’t have a walk-off home run. The only player with more is Mark Teixeira, who has 361, though Teixeira did hit a walk-off homer in the 2009 ALDS against the Minnesota Twins.

The hit continued a big run through August for LaRoche, who has a .306/.419/.677 slash line for the month, with six home runs and 12 RBIs in 17 games. His 1.096 OPS ranks third-best in the National League this month, trailing only Starling Marte (1.154) and Giancarlo Stanton (1.144).

He also entered the day with the seventh-highest Win Probability Added in the majors for the month. That stat, found on both Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com, measures situational performance.

This marked the second time in three days that he hit a key home run late in a game. On Saturday, LaRoche hit a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth inning against Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Tony Watson in a game the Nationals would go on to win.

How he’s hitting
LaRoche is doing this by crushing a pitch in a specific area, the outer half of the plate (and a little bit off the outside corner).

Five of LaRoche’s six home runs this month have come on pitches to that location. He entered the month with only six total home runs on outer-half pitches this season.

LaRoche’s value
LaRoche has been a big part of the Nationals’ success. Washington is 63-41 when he starts, 7-12 when he does not.

His 2.4 Wins Above Replacement are his second most in any major league season.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Day
The Nationals' three consecutive walk-off wins matches a franchise record set by the Montreal Expos from June 26-28, 1988.
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MLB

Kernels: Football numbers highly frequent

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
9:15
PM ET
It's mid-August, which means football season is closing in rapidly. Perhaps that explains all the 7's and 14's we found in our weekly look at MLB's interesting and unusual happenings.

• Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates to earn his 14th win on Thursday. The strikeouts were a season high for Tigers pitchers and the second such game of Scherzer's career. He struck out 14 batters and allowed no runs in a 2010 game with Oakland, but threw only 5T in that affair. He's the first Tiger to throw eight innings, allow three hits or less, and strike out 14, since Mickey Lolich won a 1-0 game with the Milwaukee Brewers on August 23, 1970.

Speaking of the Brewers, Mike Fiers did his best Max Scherzer impression later on Thursday, also striking out 14 in only six innings against the Chicago Cubs. It was the fourth 14-strikeout game in Brewers history (Yovani Gallardo had one in 2012), and the first where a pitcher allowed zero runs.

As for two zero-run, 14-strikeout games on the same day, that hadn't happened since May 25, 2001, when Kerry Wood threw a one-hitter for the Cubs against the Brewers, and Boston's Hideo Nomo was separated from a perfect game against the Blue Jays only by a Shannon Stewart fourth-inning double.
* The Texas Rangers won their game on Tuesday when Adam Rosales drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 14th. By inning, it was the latest "walk"-off in franchise history, and the latest in the majors since Mike Cameron drew one for the Marlins (scoring Emilio Bonifacio) on September 4, 2011.

•  The San Francisco Giants benefited from a controversial replay call and went on to score seven runs in the seventh on Wednesday. It was their highest-scoring inning at home since Game 2 of the 2010 World Series, and their highest in the regular season at AT&T Park since September 7, 2008, when they hung a 10-spot on the Pirates.

The Boston Red Sox had their first seven-run inning of the season as part of Thursday's win, creating a string of four straight days with a seven-run inning (the Mariners on Monday and Angels on Tuesday both put up seven-run sixths). It's the first such string of four consecutive days since August 20 through 23, 2011.

•  The Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians played 21 innings of doubleheader on Wednesday after Tuesday's contest was washed out. Game 1 featured a walk-off homer by Zach Walters, the Indians' second walk-off homer in a doubleheader in the past 25 years. Shin-Soo Choo had the other in 2011.

The nightcap went 11 scoreless innings before Tuffy Gosewisch's RBI single in the top of the 12th stood up for a 1-0 win. It's the first 1-0 extra-inning game to occur as part of a doubleheader since September 26, 1998, when the Marlins walked off against the Phillies in the 13th on an Alex Gonzalez homer.

Arizona reliever Randall Delgado gave up Walters' walk-off but then was the pitcher of record in the second game when the Diamondbacks scored in the 12th. He's the first pitcher to get a win and a loss in the same day since the Phillies' Geoff Geary split a doubleheader with Atlanta on September 3, 2006.

•  From the "touchdown-plus-field-goal" department, Rangers starter Colby Lewis worked six innings in Saturday's game against the Angels. Although he gave up 10 hits and five runs, his pitching line also had the quirk of featuring 10 strikeouts. He's the eighth pitcher in franchise history to allow 10 hits and record 10 strikeouts, and the first in over two decades. Roger Pavlik held the Red Sox to two runs on 10 hits in an eight-inning win on August 24, 1993.

•  Minor-League Minute: Perhaps you've seen the play that left Twins top prospect Byron Buxton with a concussion (but amazingly nothing worse) earlier this week. The right fielder manages to hang onto the ball despite being shaken up. Pay close attention after the collision, though. There's a runner on first. In the wide shot you can see that he comes all the way around and scores.

Yes, it's a three-base sacrifice fly. While it may have happened in the minors, since sacrifice flies were first tracked separately in 1954, there is no known instance of a major-league player ever scoring from first base on a sac fly with no error.




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MLB

Oh, to be Young (and a winner) again

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
9:00
PM ET
Seattle Mariners pitcher Chris Young is having one heck of a comeback season.
Chris Young
Cabrera
Young, who has dealt with a multitude of injuries throughout his career, picked up his 12th win on Sunday and matched his career high for wins in a season. He previously won 12 in 2005 with the Texas Rangers.

The win moved the Mariners ahead of the Detroit Tigers in the wild-card standings and continued an impressive August run.

Young is 7-2 with a 2.45 ERA and an 0.91 WHIP in his past 12 starts. He has won four straight decisions.

What makes him so good?
As Fangraphs writer Bradley Woodrum noted, Young is inducing an inordinate number of infield popups, which is a notable factor in his success.

But also significant is a midseason change in Young’s strikeout and walk numbers.

In his first 13 starts of the season, Young struck out 35 and walked 32 in 73 1/3 innings. In this 12-start run, he’s struck out 57 and walked only 15. He has also cut his home runs allowed from 11 to eight.

Young wins with a fastball that averages only 85.2 mph this season, a speed faster than only Mark Buehrle (83.6) and R.A. Dickey (81.9) among ERA-title qualifiers.

But opposing hitters are only batting .238 against the pitch in 2014, which ranks 11th best in the majors.

Young typically thrives in big ballparks. He has a 2.35 ERA at Safeco Field. Sunday’s win at Comerica Park (also relatively spacious) dropped his road ERA to 3.93.

How he won Sunday
Young allowed no runs in six scoreless innings in Sunday’s victory, struck out four and walked only one. He kept his outfielders busy, as he induced 13 fly balls and pop ups, only one of which went for a hit. He also limited line drives and yielded only one.

Young got outs by effectively working the top and bottom of the strike zone. He threw 41 pitches in the upper third of the zone or higher, netted six outs and yielded only one baserunner. His 33 pitches in the lower-third of the zone (or below the knees) netted eight outs (one shy of his season high) and permitted only two baserunners.

Super starters
Mariners starting pitchers have allowed three runs or fewer in each of their past 15 games and seven earned runs over 54 2/3 innings (1.15 ERA) over their past nine games.

The Mariners now lead the majors in overall ERA (2.94) and rank second in starter’s ERA (3.20). Their starters' ERA of 1.69 in August is easily the best in the majors.
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MLB

Top 10 rank does not portend playoff spot

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
3:45
PM ET
There were no surprises near the top of the AP preseason college football poll. It’s the same group of teams we’ve been discussing on the Internet and the airwaves for at least the last six months.

So now is a good time for a history lesson.

As much as we may have convinced ourselves that the top teams in this poll will probably still be there at the end of the season, recent years tell us otherwise. If you look at the AP’s top four teams to end the regular season – because those would theoretically have been the picks of a selection committee – more of them since 2007 came from outside the preseason top 10 than from within it.

In fact, there has been only one year in the last seven (2011) in which more than two of the preseason top-10 teams finished the regular season ranked in the top four.

Taking it a step further, over the last two seasons, three of the eight teams to finish the regular season in the AP top four were unranked in the preseason poll; only two of the eight were ranked in the preseason top 10 (Alabama in 2012 and 2013).

So take another look at the current preseason top 10 and try to imagine only one of those teams reaching the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Recent history is telling us that’s more likely than three of them making it.

This bodes well for among others, No. 18 Michigan, which we've noted in this piece, could get off to a hot start this season.
And if you believe in unlucky numbers, here’s a trend to give any Oregon fan nightmares. In the 16-year BCS era, the preseason No. 3 team in the AP poll never finished the regular season ranked in the top four. But Florida State fans shouldn’t rest easily either. Only once in the last seven years has the AP preseason No. 1 team been in the top four to finish the regular season (Alabama in 2013).
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NCF

Top stats to know: Lester, A's vs. Braves

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
3:27
PM ET
Jon Lester will try to prevent the Oakland Athletics from getting swept by the Atlanta Braves on "Sunday Night Baseball."

This is the kind of game for which Lester was brought in -- to be a stopper when a team hits a little bit of a skid.

Lester is 13-7 with a 2.51 ERA this season, 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA for the Athletics.

He is 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA over his last 11 starts (during which his teams are a combined 10-1).

Let’s take a look at some of his statistical storylines sure to be talked about on tonight’s broadcast.

What makes Lester so good?
Lester has increased his strikeout rate while decreasing both his walk and home run rates this season. He has 169 strikeouts in 164 2/3 innings. He ranks fourth among left-handed starters with a 25 percent strikeout rate.

The reason for the jump in his strikeout rate could be related to his curveball. Lester’s effectiveness with the curve in two-strike situations has jumped considerably from past seasons.

Last season, Lester threw 145 two-strike curveballs and struck out 21 batters. This season, he has thrown 159 and struck out 45.

What’s different about Lester?
Lester has done a few things differently this season.

• He has increased the use of his cutter, from around 24 percent of his pitches in 2012 and '13 to nearly 31 percent this season (his second-most thrown pitch after the four-seam fastball).

• He has reduced the use of his changeup significantly. He threw it between 9 and 11 percent of the time each year from 2010 to 2013 but is throwing it only 3 percent of the time this year.

Lester has shaved 50 points off his batting average allowed vs. right-handed batters in part because of an increased willingness to come in on them. His rate of inside pitches (those on the inner third of the plate or off the inside corner) has gone from 35 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2013 to 49 percent this season. (Clayton Kershaw is the only lefty starter who throws inside more often.)

Key matchups
The Braves have several hitters who have done significant damage against left-handed pitching this season.

Third baseman Chris Johnson enters 33-for-76 against lefties this season (a .434 batting average). Justin Upton is hitting .313 with seven home runs in 83 at-bats versus southpaw pitchers.

And pesky infielder Tommy La Stella has gotten off to a nice start against lefties with 18 hits in his first 53 at-bats.

In Johnson’s case, the key may be to throw a few wide of the strike zone and hope he chases them. He has swung at 37 percent of pitches out of the zone from lefties the past two seasons. Johnson is hitting .522 when he makes contact with a pitch from a lefty over the past two seasons.

Upton tends to be choosier than Johnson against lefties, but he is a little vulnerable in the upper half of the zone. He is 6-for-48 in at-bats ending with a pitch in the upper half (or above) from a lefty over the past two seasons, with misses on 35 percent of his swings.
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MLB

Pure Michigan 400 Projections

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
5:43
PM ET
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Michigan. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 2-mile d-oval superspeedway) and time of year.

•  Brad Keselowski (third-place finish in the spring race, top-five in happy hour practice and qualifying this week), Kevin Harvick (finished second in each of the last three Michigan races) and Greg Biffle (won two of the last four Michigan races) should each be strong on Sunday. Our point-projection model favors Keselowski by a hair over Harvick (by just 0.005%), but with Harvick leading the most laps.

•  Jimmie Johnson, who won the spring race at Michigan this season, has led just seven laps in seven starts with an average finish of 26th. Johnson’s scored the 28th-most points in the Cup Series during that stretch - while teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon rank first, second and third in points.

•  Dale Earnhardt Jr. is once again atop the standings, the fifth time he’s paced the field in the standings this season. By comparison, in over 300 starts between 2005 and 2013, Junior had the points lead just three times. That seems like a distant memory as Earnhardt Jr.’s three wins this season are tied for the lead, while his 10 top-five finishes are the most in the series. In his career, he’s a two-time winner at Michigan, and each of his past five Cup wins have come at tracks at least two miles in length.

•  Seven drivers have already clinched a Chase spot (Johnson, Keselowski, Gordon, Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Logano, Harvick) but there are many more who have a lot of work ahead. Greg Biffle is one of those drivers. He’s outside the Chase but has been very successful at Michigan; since 2005, he leads all drivers at Michigan in average running position, percent of laps running in the top 15 and driver rating.

•  Since 2008, seven Michigan winners have taken the lead within 10 laps of the finish, including Jimmie Johnson in his victory earlier this season. Those seven winners have been seven different drivers: Johnson, Logano, Biffle, Hamlin, Vickers, Martin and Earnhardt Jr.

Prince Paxton

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
3:20
AM ET
At Safeco Field there's no questioning who's King. That's Felix Hernandez who is currently riding a streak a modern major league record 16 game streak in which he's pitched at least seven innings while allowing two runs or fewer. However there is a Prince emerging in the Pacific Northwest and his name is James Paxton.

Sidelined since April 8 by a lat injury, Paxton returned to the Mariners' rotation on August 2 and has been a shot in the arm for a team with its sights on its first postseason appearance since 2001.

How good has Paxton been thus far in his short career? Awfully good. In fact after rendering the Tigers lineup hapless on Friday night, he owns a career ERA of 1.88 through nine career starts with an unblemished record of 6-0. To put that in perspective, the only pitcher over the past two seasons to make at least eight starts with a lower ERA than Paxton's is reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw who enters today's start with a 1.81 ERA since the start of 2013.

Paxton's calling card is his ability to keep the ball down. Against Detroit on Friday 71.7% of his offerings were in the bottom of the strike zone or below. This season only two pitchers, Wade Miley of the Diamondbacks (three times) and the aforementioned Hernández managed a greater percentage of low pitches in any game.

As a result Paxton owns the lowest fly ball rate of any pitcher who has made as many as five starts this season. A mere 12.7% of the balls put in play against him are in the air.

So while the Tigers (David Price) and Athletics (Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel) raided their youth to bolster their staff for the stretch run, the Mariners instead add an ace-quality arm from their own disabled list. So far he's every bit the pitcher they hoped he'd be.



Strasburg's fastball starting to come around

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
12:14
AM ET
This may not be the dominant pre-surgery Stephen Strasburg that Washington Nationals fans flocked to see in his rookie season.

But in two of his past three starts, Strasburg has shown he can pitch like the ace it was thought he would become.

Strasburg snapped a streak of five straight road decisions lost in beating the New York Mets on Thursday night. Much like Doug Fister chopped the Mets' hitters up and limited hard contact in the series opener, Strasburg made things look pretty easy through seven innings in the series finale.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the Nationals have won 11 straight games at Citi Field, the franchise’s longest road winning streak versus any opponent. Also of note, he has given up five hits or fewer in each of his six career starts against the Mets.

What worked best for Strasburg
Nationals manager Matt Williams said after the game that the key for Strasburg was to work down in the strike zone on both sides of the plate.
Stephen Strasburg
Cabrera
Strasburg did that through the first five innings, throwing 49 of 63 pitches in the lower half of the strike zone or below the knees.

The Mets managed a meager 2-for-16 with five strikeouts to that point and didn’t threaten much after Strasburg worked higher up in the zone the last two innings.

Save for his previous start against the Braves, in which he gave up three home runs with his heater, Strasburg’s fastball has hummed pretty well of late. In his three other starts since July 29, he has retired 43 hitters and allowed only nine hits and walks with that pitch.

The good days for Strasburg’s heater were few in the early part of the season. Even now, opponents are hitting .305 against the pitch this season, an average that ranks in the bottom 15 percent of those ERA-title qualifying pitchers.

Looking ahead
The good news for Strasburg is that Washington’s schedule is such that he should get a lot of starts at Nationals Park the rest of the season. His next two should come on a 10-game homestand, likely against the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants. That would mean he could have to make only one on a nine-game road trip, setting him up for two more home starts on the Nationals next home swing.

Strasburg is 7-2 with a 2.41 ERA at home this season, 2-8 with a 4.77 ERA away from Nationals Park.

He has been able to get away with more at home this season, allowing only seven home runs in 86 innings, compared to 11 homers in 77⅓ road innings.
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MLB

Royals rotation ruling the Central now

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
1:09
AM ET

Before the season started, you probably would have pegged the Detroit Tigers' starting rotation as having a major edge over the rest of the American League Central.

But with injuries to Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, the Royals' starting staff has slipped past the Tigers.

Royals starters have posted a 2.46 ERA over the last two weeks, second among all major league rotations. The Royals have gone 12-2 wand held opponents to a .260 on-base percentage, second-best in the majors over that span. Each of their top four has been really good of late.
Left-hander Jason Vargas won Wednesday with efficiency, throwing a 97-pitch shutout and retiring the last 23 Athletics hitters. He’s the first Royals pitcher to throw a complete game of fewer than 100 pitches in more than four years (Luke Hochevar was the last in 2009). It was Vargas’ second shutout in his past three starts against the Athletics.

Vargas went to his fastball as often as in any start this season (66 of 97 pitches), but kept the Athletics off balance in two-strike situations, with 12 of his 25 offerings being offspeed pitches. Oakland hitters were 1-for-12 in two-strike situations.

The most encouraging thing about Vargas since his return from the disabled list at the start of the month? In three starts, he’s thrown 18 1/3 innings and walked no one. He went to three-ball counts on four hitters on Wednesday and retired them all.

The rest of the pitching royalty
Three other pitchers have carried the Royals through their successful run.

James Shields is two wins shy of matching his 2013 total, and is by far Kansas City’s biggest asset. The Royals' pitcher operates much like fellow American League ace Felix Hernandez. Although Shields went 1-3 in five starts in July, he gave up more than three earned runs in only one outing. He had the largest win streak of anyone in the rotation (five games earlier this season) and owns the best strikeout-to-walk ratio on the team (3.88).

Behind him is Yordano Ventura, who has strung together three straight good starts, posting a 2.37 ERA and holding opponents to a .205 batting average over his past 19 innings.

Two of those have come at Kauffman Stadium, which seems to be his comfort zone. In 14 home starts this season, he’s had a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed only six home runs in 75 innings. On the road, his strikeout-to-walk rate is 2.2-to-1, and he’s yielded seven homers in 58 innings.

The key for Ventura will be how many bullets he has left in his arm for the stretch run. Opponents hit .167 (18-for-108) in at-bats ending against his fastball when it’s 98 to 99 mph. When it’s 94 to 97 mph, they hit .330 (66-for-200).

Another youngster is left-hander Danny Duffy, who has come up big for the Royals since his return from Tommy John surgery. He’s in the midst of a six-start run in which he’s posted a 1.95 ERA.

Duffy has been among the best pitchers this season at finishing off hitters with two strikes. Opponents are hitting a meager .131 in those situations. He’s also allowed only 24 percent of opponents who put a ball in play against him (that didn’t go over the fence) to reach base. Only Chris Young (23 percent) of the Seattle Mariners has a better rate.
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MLB

Top stats to know: 2014-15 NBA schedule

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
6:05
PM ET

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant needs 593 points to pass Michael Jordan for 3rd on the all-time scoring list.
The 2014-15 NBA schedule has been released and we have the chance to take a quick look at the top stats to know for this upcoming season.

The return of Kobe
After missing all but six games last season, Kobe Bryant will make his debut on Tuesday, October 28 when the Los Angeles Lakers play host to the Houston Rockets.

Bryant has scored 31,700 career points and if he scores at least 593 points, he’ll pass Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

If he averages 20 points per game, he could pass Jordan on the scoring list around the 29th or 30th game of the Lakers season.

Those games happen to be at the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day and at the Dallas Mavericks the next day.

Last season, Bryant missed the Lakers season opener for the fifth time in his career. Ironically the Lakers have won all five of those openers.

They would prefer to have him in the lineup though as his 27.2 PPG in season openers is the most among active players and seventh-highest in NBA history (Michael Jordan holds the record, 30.8 PPG).

The King returns
Making a return of a different kind will be LeBron James, who returns to the Cleveland Cavaliers after spending the last four seasons with the Miami Heat.

LeBron will make his season-debut on October 30 when the Cavaliers play host to the New York Knicks.

Another highlight for him will be on Christmas Day when he and his teammates travel to South Beach to take on the Heat (5 ET/ABC).

When LeBron returns, he’ll do so as the second-leading scorer (26.7 PPG) among active players at the American Airlines Arena, trailing only Kevin Durant (27.6).

LeBron's teams have not lost on Christmas day since his rookie season in 2003 (7-1 record). That year, the Cavaliers lost to the Magic.

Champions quest for repeat
The defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs open their season hosting the Dallas Mavericks on October 28. The Spurs are 16-4 in their last 20 home openers.

Since Tim Duncan debuted in 1997, San Antonio is 16-1 in season openers, the best winning percentage (.941) among all teams in season openers over this time (their only loss was to the Suns in 2008).

The Spurs and Heat will face off for the first time since the NBA Finals on February 6 (9:30 ET on ESPN) in San Antonio.

Over the last four seasons (including regular and postseason), the New York Knicks (3-4) and Heat (9-10) are the only teams the Spurs have a losing record against.

Notable rookie debuts
Maybe Andrew Wiggins should get some advice from his father on avoiding first game jitters. Andrew’s dad - Mitchell Wiggins - scored 26 points in his first career game with the Bulls in 1983.

Wiggins, who reportedly will be traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, begins his pro career on October 29 at Memphis.

As for other notable rookies, Jabari Parker and the Milwaukee Bucks open at the Charlotte Hornets on October 29, while Nerlens Noel (who missed all of last season after recovering from a torn ACL) makes his long-awaited debut with the Philadelphia 76ers on October 29 at the Indiana Pacers.

Top stats to know: Yankees at Orioles

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
1:31
PM ET

Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsPineda will start for the first time since April 23, when he was ejected for having pine tar on his neck.
The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles complete their abbreviated series tonight at 7 ET (on ESPN/WatchESPN). The Orioles won the opener on Monday 11-3; Tuesday’s game was rained out.

Pitching Matchup
Michael Pineda makes his return to the Yankees lineup for the first time since April 23, when he was ejected and then suspended 10 games for having pine tar on his neck.

While serving his suspension, Pineda strained a muscle behind his pitching shoulder and missed the next three-plus months.

In 2011, Pineda averaged 94.5 mph on his fastball, good for fourth highest among qualified pitchers that season. This season, he’s averaged just 91.8 mph and touched 95 mph just 12 times in his four starts.

Perhaps seeking to make up for his lower velocity, Pineda has thrown his changeup twice as much as he did in 2011.

Batters failed to record a hit on that pitch in seven plate appearances, with three strikeouts this season.

Chris Tillman will take the mound for the Orioles. He has allowed three or fewer runs in 12 straight starts, four starts longer than his previous career-high streak.

Tillman has thrown his fastball a career-high 63.9 percent of the time this season.

He’s allowed a career-best .235 batting average with that pitch to go along with a career-high 37.5 percent ground ball rate.

In addition, he’s limiting home runs and extra base hits with his heater as well.

Miscellaneous
• The Yankees are 38-26 in games decided by two or fewer runs this season, the best win percentage (.594) in baseball. The Orioles are right behind them, ranking third best with a .587 win percentage (37-26).

• Brett Gardner has a 4.2 WAR this season, most on the team. If you prorate that out over 162 team games, he would finish with a 5.8 WAR.

The last Yankees outfielder other than Gardner (he posted a 7.3 WAR in 2010) to post a season like that was Paul O’Neill (5.8 WAR in 1998).

• Chris Davis excelled on pitches on the outer half of the plate last season, hitting over .300 while slugging 36 home runs. However, this season he has struggled, hitting only .190 with 16 home runs.

• J.J. Hardy has hit at least 22 home runs in each of the last three seasons. To reach that mark this season, he’s going to have to go on a tear, as he’s hit only six so far.

Donaldson, Moss bats finally come alive

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
1:04
AM ET
Some of the key components of the Oakland Athletics lineup have been cold of late -- very cold.

Josh Donaldson was homerless in his past 11 games and is hitting only .216 in his past 55 games.

Brandon Moss had a two-RBI game on Monday but was 4-for-44 in the 12 games prior to that.

Tuesday they took care of that and took care of the Kansas City Royals' eight-game winning streak in the process.

Donaldson and Moss were a combined 7-for-9 with two home runs and six RBIs.

Both homers came from Donaldson, who has managed an excellent season despite this prolonged offensive slump. He entered the day ranked second to Mike Trout in Wins Above Replacement among American League position players, with 5.9.

When Donaldson was going well last season, he drove pitches on the inner half of the plate (and off the inside corner) to the tune of a .329 batting average. Seventeen of his 24 home runs came against pitches to that area.

Donaldson hadn’t drilled those pitches well throughout this offensive drought. But he got back to doing so on Tuesday. All three of his hits, including both homers, came against inner-half pitches.

In Moss’ case, he’d seen a steady diet of outside pitches the past couple of weeks, and that served as an easy means of getting him out. But the past two days, he’s gotten four hits against pitches on the outer half of the plate, or just off the outside corner, three of which he took to the opposite field.

Donaldson and Moss weren’t the only ones with breakthrough games. DH John Jaso, who was 2-for-his-past-28, had two hits and a pair of runs scored and Josh Reddick, who was 2-for-his-past-18, had three hits and a run scored.

It was as if the Athletics had been cured of some sort of malady that befell the entire team. They entered the day hitting only .204 over their previous 12 games but managed 20 hits for the first time all season.

Note of the Night
Athletics starter Jon Lester was the beneficiary of this offensive barrage, as he improved to 9-3 against the Royals for his career.

Lester is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA against the Royals since July 20. Other starting pitchers are 3-12 with a 4.60 ERA against the Royals over that span.
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