Top stats to know: Royals win Game 3

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsThe Royals won their 10th game in 11 games this postseason.
The Kansas City Royals have a 2-1 lead for the first time in three World Series appearances.

The only other time the Royals have had any lead in the World Series was after winning Game 7 in 1985.

Kansas City has now won 13 of its past 14 postseason games dating back to the 1985 World Series, handing the Giants their fourth loss in their past 20 postseason games, and their first loss in their past seven World Series home games.

In the process, Royals manager Ned Yost joined Ozzie Guillen (2005) as the only managers to win 10 of their first 11 postseason games.

Flawless bullpen
Once again, the Royals' bullpen came through to help save the day.

The bullpen allowed no hits in four scoreless innings. Kansas City relievers have a 1.08 ERA and opponents are hitting .136 against them since the beginning of the American League Division Series.

Greg Holland finished it off with his seventh save this postseason, tied with five other closers for the most saves in a single postseason. Holland has 27 straight saves dating back to the regular season and hasn’t blown one since July 24.

The bullpen took over after Jeremy Guthrie left the game before recording an out in the sixth inning. Guthrie is the first pitcher to start and win a postseason game without striking out a batter since Andy Messersmith did so for the Dodgers in the 1974 National League Championship Series against the Pirates, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Sixth inning is the charm
After Lorenzo Cain knocked in the first run in the first inning, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer extended the Royals' lead to 3-0 in the sixth inning. Gordon now has 10 RBIs this postseason, tying Willie Aikens for the most in a single postseason by a Royals player. Hosmer became the first player to notch a World Series RBI on his birthday since Junior Ortiz (Twins) and Rafael Belliard (Braves) did so on the same day 23 years earlier to the day.

The Royals have scored seven of their 11 runs in the World Series in the sixth inning.

The Cain RBI came after Alcides Escobar hit the first leadoff double in a World Series game since Jimmy Rollins in 2008's Game 4. The Royals scored a first-inning run in consecutive World Series games for the first time since Games 3 and 4 in 1980.

The Royals are now 10-1 this postseason, the third-best win percentage by any team in a single postseason in the wild-card era. The 2005 White Sox and 1999 Yankees were both 11-1.

The Royals are now two wins away from winning their second World Series title, and history is on their side. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that win Game 3 on the road of a World Series tied at 1-1 have won the series 75.9 percent of the time (22 of 29).

Top stats to know: World Series Game 3

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24

AP Photo/Charlie RiedelBirthday boy Eric Hosmer can join an exclusive club with a home run tonight.

The World Series moves west Friday night as the San Francisco Giants host the Kansas City Royals with the series tied at one game apiece. Here’s what you need to know about Game 3.

How important is this game?
This is the 55th time the World Series has been tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven series. In the previous 54 instances, the winner of Game 3 has gone on to win the World Series 38 times, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The road team actually has a winning record in those Game 3 scenarios at 29-25, and road teams that win Game 3 of a 1-1 series have won the World Series 22 times.

Long time coming for Game 3 starters
The Giants’ Tim Hudson (3003.0 IP, 214 wins) and the Royals’ Jeremy Guthrie (1616.1 IP, 83 wins) will each make their World Series debuts. That's the second-most combined innings (4,619.1) and wins (297) before a World Series matchup in MLB history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Cy Young and Deacon Phillippe matched up in the Fall Classic on October 1, 1903, with a combined 6,599 innings and 487 wins. For the record, that was Game 1 of the first-ever World Series.

Posey power outage
Buster Posey’s bat has gone silent this postseason. After posting a .592 slugging percentage and 22 extra-base hits over August and September, Posey has zero extra-base hits in 52 postseason at-bats, and his .288 slugging percentage is 12th out of the 19 players who have had a postseason plate appearance for the Giants.

Giants streaking at home
The Giants have won six straight World Series games at home, one game shy of tying the Yankees and Red Sox for fourth-longest streak in World Series history. No other National League team has won more consecutive World Series games at home than the Giants.

Eric Hosmer can join exclusive club
Game 3 falls on Eric Hosmer’s 25th birthday. If he can hit a home run, he’ll become just the third player in MLB history to hit a postseason home run on his birthday. Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria hit a home run against the Boston Red Sox in the 2013 American League Division Series on his birthday, and the Royals’ Willie Aikens hit two home runs on his birthday in Game 1 of the 1980 World Series on October 14, 1980.

Sprint Cup Eliminator Round preview

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24

Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesJeff Gordon sits atop the standings heading into the Eliminator Round.

The field has been trimmed from 12 drivers to eight, and while the Eliminator Round won’t feature the drama of a Talladega cutoff race, it will have the largest elimination in terms of percentage of the field, as half the remaining drivers will be ousted after the next three races.

So, what can we expect in the next three races?

If I could place a collective bet on the 248 here, I’d do it, as those two Hendrick drivers have combined to win 16 times at the Paper Clip in their career, including three of the last four races. Jeff Gordon won the Chase race last year, and Jimmie Johnson came up on the short end of a battle with Kurt Busch in the spring race.

Over the last four seasons, Johnson has 419 fastest laps at Martinsville, Gordon is second with 390. No other driver has more than 240 in that time.

And while Denny Hamlin could be a trendy pick, he’s actually trending down at Martinsville recently. He had a nine-race run at the track earlier in his career where he won four times with a 2.4 average finish, but in the last six races there, he’s averaged a 13.7 finish.

His spring race there was one of the worst he’s had. He was only the fastest driver on eight laps run, with a negative-35 green-flag pass differential.

There’s been nine races on 1.5-mile tracks this season, with the pair of Team Penske drivers putting up five wins, including Joey Logano’s Texas win earlier this year. In fact, the pair of Penske drivers have finished fourth or better in nine of their 18 starts on 1.5-mile tracks this season.

However, watch out for Brad Keselowski at the end of the race. In the final 10 percent of races on 1.5-mile tracks this season, Keselowski has a negative-34 pass differential, the worst in the series.

Nobody’s run as many fastest laps on 1.5-mile tracks than Kevin Harvick this season, but was only the fastest on two laps at Texas earlier this year. A blown engine 28 laps into the race led to a 42nd-place finish.

But if Harvick has issues again at Texas, he can definitely make up for it at Phoenix, a flat 1-mile track. Over the past three seasons, Harvick has an average finish of 3.6 there, with three wins in five races.

Harvick’s win at Phoenix earlier this season was one of the most dominant wins of the season. His average running position for the race was 1.997, just one of seven races this season where a driver had an average position of better than second.

If you’re looking for a Phoenix sleeper outside the Big 4 (Keselowski, Logano, Gordon, Harvick) who could sneak into the finale at Homestead, look out for Carl Edwards.

Edwards won the spring race at Phoenix in 2013 and was leading with two to go in the Chase race before running out of fuel.

At least one driver will make it through to the championship round on points, and if he can’t win, Logano is an excellent pick. On the next three tracks earlier this season, nobody had a better average finish on those tracks than Logano, with a 3.0.

But don’t rule out a man who won a title based on his consistency, Matt Kenseth. Kenseth had a 8.3 average finish on these three tracks earlier this season, and he’s having a better average finish than you might think.

His 12 top-5s are the same amount he had last year, when he finished second in points. He’s only had more than 13 in a season once before in his career, in 2006. His 19 top-10s are just one fewer than last year.

Westbrook's chance to shine for Thunder

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesRussell Westbrook has improved with Kevin Durant off the floor each of the past five seasons.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will be without Kevin Durant, last season’s MVP and scoring champion, until at least the end of November with a stress fracture in his right foot. That means Russell Westbrook will be tasked with carrying the team for the first month of the season, if not longer. We examine if he’s up to the task and what a Westbrook-led offense could look like for Oklahoma City.

Rare opportunity for Westbrook and Thunder
Russell Westbrook played 1,411 minutes in 46 games last season for the Thunder, but only 41 of those minutes came without Kevin Durant on the floor. If the sample size is expanded to cover the past two seasons, only 286 of Westbrook’s 4,273 minutes (6.6 percent) have come with Durant off the floor.

Furthermore, Durant played every minute for the Thunder in clutch time over the past two seasons, defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime with the score within five points. Westbrook has not played a single minute of clutch time without Durant since the 2010-11 season.

Better off without Westbrook?
Comparing how the Thunder performed with Durant and Westbrook off the court over the past three seasons, the Thunder were more efficient offensively and defensively without Westbrook than they were with Durant off the court.

Over the past three seasons, the Thunder are 15.3 points per game worse with Durant off the court than they are with him on the court, but they are actually 3.1 points per game better with Westbrook off the court than they are with him on the court in that same time.

Westbrook’s game without Durant
Westbrook is definitely the focal point of the Thunder offense when Durant is not on the floor. Over the past two seasons, Westbrook has a 45.0 usage percentage and has averaged 30.7 field goal attempts per 40 minutes when playing without Durant.

If those numbers were Westbrook's numbers for an entire season, the 30.7 field goal attempts per 40 minutes would be the second-most in NBA history for a single season behind Wilt Chamberlain in 1961-62, while the 45.0 usage percentage would be easily the highest in NBA history. The current all-time high is Kobe Bryant’s 38.7 in 2005-06.

ESPN Stats & InformationWestbrook has become more of an offensive focal point with Durant off the floor.

Westbrook and Thunder growing without Durant
Each season, without Durant, Westbrook has learned to take over even more. Westbrook's usage percentage, points per minute and field goal attempts per minute with Durant off the court have increased in each of the past four seasons.

Although Westbrook's usage percentage with Durant off the court seems like an astronomical number over the past few seasons, Westbrook has actually become more and more efficient without Durant and the Thunder offense has been more and more efficient with Westbrook on the court without Durant over the past four seasons. Westbrook’s scored 1.31 points per field goal attempt with Durant off the court last season, his highest without Durant in any of the past five seasons.

Inside the undefeated teams

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
The 2014 college football season has been as unpredictable, with four unbeaten teams remaining, the fewest through Week 8 in the past 20 seasons. Florida State entered the season as the overwhelming choice as the No. 1 team, but few would have picked Ole Miss and Mississippi State as two of the final four unbeaten teams. The top-ranked Bulldogs were not even in the AP Top 25 until Week 5.

Below, ESPN Stats & Info looks at what each team has excelled at, and what might be an area of vulnerability.

No. 1 Mississippi State

W-L vs. current AP Top 25: 2-0
Best win: vs. Auburn
Best road win: at LSU

Key Stat: Quarterback Dak Prescott has been responsible for 23 touchdowns through his first six games. That’s one more than Tim Tebow had through six games for Florida in his Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2007, when he set the SEC record by being responsible for 55 touchdowns.

Team Strength: Dynamic quarterback play. Prescott is ranked first in the ESPN Heisman Watch, and with good reason. His team is No. 1 in the AP poll, and he has gained at least 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in four of six games this season. No other FBS quarterback has more than two such games.

Potential weakness: Secondary. Mississippi State is allowing 68 more passing yards per game than any other SEC defense. Big passing plays have been an issue: The Bulldogs have allowed the most completions (25) and are tied for the most touchdowns allowed (eight) in the SEC on passes thrown 15 yards or longer, despite playing one fewer game than most teams.

No. 2 Florida State
W-L vs. current AP Top 25: 2-0
Best win: vs. Notre Dame
Best road win: at NC State

Key Stat: Florida State is 7-0 but has not been dominant in its wins. The Seminoles have trailed at halftime of three games after never trailing in the second half of any of their regular-season games last season. Their chance of winning at halftime has been 65 percent (33rd in the FBS) after leading the nation in halftime win probability by a wide margin last season (86 percent halftime win probability in 2013).

Team Strength: Jameis Winston. He ranks second among active quarterbacks (behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota) with an 86.8 Total QBR since the start of last season (minimum five starts). Winston has excelled against the blitz, completing 69.7 percent of his passes with a Power 5-high 26 touchdowns since the start of last season.

Potential weakness: Rushing between the tackles. The Seminoles are averaging 3.5 yards per rush on designed runs between the tackles, 63rd out of 65 Power 5 teams. They ranked third on such rushes last season.

No. 3 Ole Miss
W-L vs. current AP Top 25: 1-0
Best win: vs. Alabama
Best road win: at Texas A&M

Key Stat: Bo Wallace leads all SEC quarterbacks in fourth-quarter completion percentage (73.1 percent), yards per attempt (13.4) and Total QBR (90.7). In part due to Wallace’s effectiveness, the Rebels have outscored their opponents by an FBS-best 8.4 points per game in the fourth quarter.

Team Strength: Menacing defense. The Rebels’ plus-19.2 defensive efficiency is on pace to be the best in the country in the past 10 seasons. They have forced at least two turnovers in six of their seven games this season, tied for the most in FBS.

Potential weakness: Rushing. Ole Miss is averaging 3.9 yards per rush, third-worst in the SEC. The Rebels' ball carriers have been hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 39 percent of their designed rushes, the worst percentage in the SEC.

No. 23 Marshall
W-L vs. current AP top 25: 0-0
Best win: vs. Middle Tennessee
Best road win: at Akron

Key Stat: Marshall leads the nation in scoring margin (plus-30.9) and average in-game win probability (84 percent) but has played the third-easiest schedule in the FBS. The road does not get much harder for the Thundering Herd. They have the 102nd-ranked remaining strength of schedule, resulting in a 56.7 percent chance they will enter a bowl undefeated, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

Team Strength: Offensive balance. Marshall ranks second to Baylor in the FBS in yards per game (574.9) and first in yards per play (7.8), and it has shown an impeccable balance. Marshall is the only FBS school that is averaging at least 275 passing yards and rushing yards per game.

Potential weakness: Discipline. Marshall is committing the fifth-most penalties per game (9.6) for the third-most yards per game (90.0). The Thundering Herd have been penalized for at least 50 yards in every game this season, one of four FBS teams (Colorado, Akron, Tulane) to have such a streak.

Top stats to know: Broncos 35, Chargers 21

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
Peyton Manning
The Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 35-21 on Thursday night. The game featured solid performances from both quarterbacks as expected, but Peyton Manning was simply better than Philip Rivers on this night.

The Broncos have now won four straight games by an average of 18.5 points per game, while the Chargers fell to 1-3 versus the Broncos since the start of last season (including playoffs).

More Manning records
Manning threw three touchdowns and no interceptions to extend his streak of consecutive games with at least one passing touchdown to 46 consecutive games, the longest active streak and the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. Over his past three games, Manning has thrown 10 touchdowns without throwing a single interception.

In fact, another multi-touchdown game gave Manning 13 straight games with multiple passing touchdowns, tying the NFL record held by himself, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. He eclipsed the 20-touchdown mark for the 16th season in his career, passing Brett Favre for the most such seasons all time.

Historically, Manning has excelled in Thursday games, holding the records for Thursday wins (10), passing yards (3,591) and passing touchdowns (38), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Sanders’ breakout game
Manning had a favorite target and it was not Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas or Wes Welker. Instead it was Emmanuel Sanders, who had a career-high three touchdown catches against the Chargers. Manning was a perfect 9-for-9 for 120 yards, three touchdowns and six first downs when targeting Sanders.

Sanders became the fifth player to catch at least three touchdowns in a single game this season and the fourth to do it in a primetime game. Prior to Thursday, Sanders had not had a multi-touchdown game in his 62-game career.

Quick hitters
• Juwan Thompson ran for two touchdowns after having one career touchdown entering the game.

• Since 2012, the Broncos are 19-2 at home and 13-1 versus divisional opponents, both NFL bests.

• Rivers threw for three touchdowns in a losing effort, but his streak of seven straight games with at least two touchdown passes broke the Chargers franchise record set by Dan Fouts in 1981, according to Elias.

• Antonio Gates had 54 receiving yards to bring his career total to 9,610, passing Lance Alworth for most career receiving yards in Chargers history. Gates also caught two touchdown passes to bring his season total to nine, tying Julius Thomas for most this season.

Rivers and Manning duel in Denver

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
A battle for control of the AFC West takes place in Denver tonight as the 5-2 San Diego Chargers take on the 5-1 Denver Broncos. We take a look at a battle of two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and how the Chargers will try to make sure Peyton Manning stays off the field.

Quarterback duel
The spotlight tonight will rightfully be on the two quarterbacks as Manning and Philip Rivers have been among the best in the league this season, ranking first and second, respectively, in Total QBR entering this game. Manning has an 88.9 Total QBR this season, which would be a career high since ESPN Stats & Information began tracking the stat in 2006, while Rivers’ 86.2 would be far and away the best of his career.

Rivers has played six straight games with a Total QBR of at least 75. That’s tied with Manning (2006-07) for the third-longest streak of its kind (minimum 30 action plays) since ESPN Stats & Info began tracking Total QBR.

This game also features two of the three longest active touchdown pass streaks, as Manning has thrown a touchdown pass in 45 straight games while Rivers has a touchdown pass in 27 straight games. Manning’s 45 straight games are nine shy of the all-time NFL record, which is owned by Drew Brees, who threw a touchdown pass in 54 straight games between 2009 and 2012.

Broncos rolling
The Broncos enter Thursday night on a dominant three-game win streak where they have won each game by an average of 20 points. The Broncos have scored at least 30 points in each game and have nearly 450 yards per game in that stretch. It hasn’t been just the offense, however, as the defense has allowed just 243 yards per game over the past three games, best in the NFL in that span.

Chargers not turning it over
The Chargers have just three turnovers through their first seven games, the fewest in the NFL despite some teams having played one fewer game. According to Elias, that’s the fewest turnovers by a team in their first seven games in modern NFL history (since 1933). The fewest turnovers by a team through its first eight games is five, done three times (most recently by the Lions in 2011).

Chargers play keep-away against Peyton
The Chargers split both meetings with the Broncos in the 2013 regular season, but they controlled the clock like no other team has done against Manning in his Denver career. The Broncos had a time of possession of 21:57 in the Week 10 win and 21:11 in the Week 15 loss, the two lowest times of possession for the Broncos since Manning joined the team.

Gates record
Antonio Gates needs 29 receiving yards to break Hall of Famer Lance Alworth’s franchise record for career receiving yards. Gates is already the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions (746) and touchdowns (94).

Wallace’s experience an asset for Ole Miss

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23

Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesBo Wallace has thrived as a leader for Ole Miss.

Eight weeks into the season, Ole Miss is one of four unbeaten teams. The Rebels’ defense has been impressive, allowing touchdowns on just 6.5 percent of opponent drives, lowest in the FBS this season and on pace to be the second-lowest touchdown percentage in the past 10 seasons behind Alabama in 2011.

On the other side of the field, senior quarterback Bo Wallace’s experience has paced the Rebels’ offense, especially in late-game situations. Entering the 2014 season, Wallace was the most experienced SEC quarterback, with 26 starts, 11 more than any other current SEC quarterback.

Wallace’s experience has paid dividends in the fourth quarter, during which the Rebels have outscored their opponents by an FBS-high 8.4 points per game. Wallace leads the SEC in fourth-quarter Total QBR (90.7) and has the best touchdown-to-interception differential in the nation during the fourth quarter.

Wallace also leads the nation in fourth-quarter yards per attempt (13.4) and touchdowns per pass attempt (23 percent). The FBS averages for those stats are 7.0 yards per attempt and a touchdown percentage of 5 percent.

Wallace displayed his fourth-quarter flair immediately. In the Rebels’ season-opening win against Boise State, they entered the fourth quarter with a one-point lead.

Wallace then led the Rebels to touchdowns on four straight drives to put the game away. In that quarter, Wallace completed 6-of-7 for 175 yards and three touchdowns.

Against Alabama, Ole Miss trailed by seven points entering the fourth quarter. Wallace then completed 6-of-9 for 105 yards and two touchdowns to defeat Alabama.

In addition to his play in the fourth quarter, Wallace has quieted the popular question about which Bo Wallace will show up: Good Bo or Bad Bo?

He has not turned the ball over in four of seven games this season, including his last three games, which is the longest streak of his career. In the second half, he has been nearly flawless, with one turnover and 10 touchdowns this season.

Ole Miss has exceeded the expectations of many, leading the FBS in strength of record and ranking fourth in game control. Read more about strength of record and game control here: Determining the 'most deserving' teams.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ole Miss’ next two matchups -- at the LSU Tigers and at home against the Auburn Tigers -- are the Rebels’ two toughest matchups remaining before a possible conference championship game.

The Rebels have not beaten LSU when both teams were ranked in the AP poll since 1962, and they lost their only matchup with Auburn in 1972, when both teams were ranked. Nevertheless, they are projected to come away with a victory in both games.



In 2011, NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers threw 45 touchdowns and six interceptions in 502 attempts, leading the league in Total QBR (87.1) and touchdown-interception differential (plus-39, higher than all but three other quarterbacks' touchdown totals).

A Stats & Info panel selected it as the third-best season ever in October 2013, and Rodgers has been almost as good this year.

Just as in 2011, Rodgers' touchdown-interception differential (plus-17) not only leads the league, but is a higher total than all but three quarterbacks' touchdown totals. Rodgers has one interception in 211 attempts this season (0.5 percent of passes), best in the league among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.

Rodgers has thrown at least three passing touchdowns and no interceptions in four straight games, tying Tom Brady in 2007 for the longest streak in NFL history (according to the Elias Sports Bureau).

Someone has to catch Rodgers' touchdowns, and he has a pair of wide receivers whose production rivals any duo in the league.

Randall Cobb (eight touchdowns) and Jordy Nelson (six) have at least twice as many combined touchdown receptions as all but three other sets of wide receiver teammates.

Rodgers is the only quarterback in the top three in completion percentage, touchdown-interception differential and QBR targeting wide receivers this season.

When Rodgers gets to the red zone, he has found Cobb to be a very effective option.

Cobb has seven touchdowns on 12 targets (58 percent), the highest percentage of any player with at least seven targets. Though Cobb leads all wide receivers in touchdown catches, it's Nelson whom Rodgers relies on the most.

Nelson has 72 targets, more than the next two Packers receivers combined (Cobb and Davante Adams, 71).

Only Antonio Brown has more yards than Nelson, who has been almost unstoppable along the right sideline. Rodgers is 21-of-27 for 379 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions targeting Nelson along the right sideline.

The chart illustrates the success Rodgers and Nelson have had on downfield throws along the right sideline, a precise window that they’ve perfected this season.

The duo has combined for 10 completions for 286 yards and three touchdowns on those throws, all league highs. Rodgers is averaging 17.5 yards per attempt on those throws overall, almost 2 full yards more than any other quarterback (Charlie Whitehurst, 15.6).

NFL, NFC North

Top stats to know: Royals bounce back

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
The Kansas City Royals evened the World Series with a decisive win over the San Francisco Giants in Game 2.

It looked like the Giants would seize upon their Game 1 momentum by scoring early and often to put the game away. But this time, a first-inning run did not set the tone for the rest of the game.

Billy Butler leads the Royals bats back
Gregor Blanco's leadoff homer for the Giants (the first in the franchise's World Series history) didn't deter the Royals offense. Designated hitter Billy Butler tied the game with an RBI hit in the bottom of the first, then put the Royals ahead to stay with a sixth-inning hit.

Butler is the first player in Royals history to have both a tying hit and go-ahead hit in a World Series game. He's the first Royals player to have both in a postseason game since George Brett in Game 3 of the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals scored five runs in their half of the sixth inning. Omar Infante's home run gave the Royals a comfortable cushion. It was his first career postseason home run, coming in his 145th postseason at-bat.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that only two players went longer before their first postseason homer -- Mark Lemke (192nd at-bat) and Lonnie Smith (170th).

The home run came against Giants reliever Hunter Strickland, the fifth homer Strickland has allowed this postseason. Strickland and Chris Narveson are the only relievers to allow five homers in a single postseason.

It was a rare off day for Giants pitchers in such a big spot. They had allowed only eight runs in their past seven World Series games combined.

Difference-maker: Herrera's sixth inning
Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera earned the win, escaping through trouble in the sixth inning by getting two outs on nine pitches.

Eight of the nine pitches were 100 mph or faster. Herrera then threw six more pitches of at least 100 mph in the seventh inning. His 14 such pitches in this game were a career high.

Herrera improved the record of the Royals bullpen to 7-0 this postseason. Theirs is the first bullpen to start a postseason with seven straight winning decisions. The only other bullpen to win seven times in a postseason was the 2003 Marlins.

Notes, stats and streaks
This is the first time the Royals have won either Game 1 or Game 2 of a World Series.

The Royals are 9-1 this postseason and have won 12 of their past 13 postseason games dating back to the 1985 World Series. They've won Game 2 of all three postseason series in 2014.

The Giants had their seven-game World Series winning streak snapped. This was their third loss in their past 19 postseason games.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Night: Giants' busy bullpen
The Giants used five pitchers to get through the bottom of the sixth inning.

The last team to use five pitchers in an inning in a World Series game was the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, who used five in an inning in Game 7 of the World Series against none other than the Royals.

The Royals won that game 11-0 to win the World Series.

Top stats to know: World Series Game 2

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22

Ron Vesely/Getty ImagesThe Giants look to take a 2-0 series lead tonight in Kansas City.

After the San Francisco Giants took Game 1 by a 7-1 score Tuesday night, the World Series continues tonight in Kansas City, as the Royals look to avoid falling behind two games to none.

Importance of Game 2
The Game 1 winner has won 63 percent of the 108 World Series, and the historical title odds jump to 79 percent for teams that go up 2-0 (42 of 53).

Should the Giants win tonight, they'll be the 14th team to win the first two games on the road, and 10 of those previous 13 teams won the World Series.

However, of the four teams to go up 2-0 on the road since 1975, only one (the 1999 Yankees) went on to win the series. That list includes the 1985 Cardinals, who won the opening pair of games in Kansas City before the Royals came back to win their sole World Series title.

Historically, getting blown out in Game 1 at home hasn't been as devastating as you might think. The Royals are the fifth team to lose Game 1 at home by six or more runs, and the previous three all bounced back to win the World Series.

Which Peavy shows up?
Jake Peavy, who was traded from Boston to San Francisco in July, will become the third pitcher to start a game in consecutive World Series for teams in different leagues. He allowed two runs in four innings against the Cardinals in Game 2 last season.

His postseason record hasn't been good, with a 7.03 ERA in seven career starts, the third-highest postseason ERA for any pitcher with at least seven starts, behind Ed Figueroa (7.47) and Jaret Wright (7.07).

However, he's been good this year, allowing two runs in 9 2/3 innings in two starts.

Aided by the switch to the National League and pitcher-friendly ballparks, Peavy turned things around after the midseason trade. He had a 4.72 ERA and a .273 opponents' batting average with the Red Sox before posting a 2.17 ERA and a .231 opponents' batting average with San Francisco.

Throwing fire?
Yordano Ventura

Peavy's counterpart on the mound tonight, Yordano Ventura, will be the first Royals rookie to start a World Series game at any position. He looked great in seven innings of one-run ball against the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS, but he allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings against Baltimore in the ALCS before leaving with shoulder tightness.

During the regular season, Ventura threw 108 pitches at 100 mph or faster. All other regular starters threw a total of five such pitches (minimum 10 starts).

The known and the unknown
Ventura will have the benefit of unfamiliarity against San Francisco, as none of the Giants hitters have ever faced him.

But San Francisco is hitting a league-leading .377 on pitches of 95 mph or more in the playoffs, striking out only six times in 68 plate appearances.

Royals hitters will be happy to see Peavy. In 147 at-bats against him, the likely Kansas City starting lineup has hit a combined .313 with seven home runs and a .510 slugging percentage.

Designated hitter Billy Butler has three homers and a .424 career batting average against Peavy, his second-best average versus any pitcher (minimum 20 at-bats).

Shortstop Alcides Escobar has hit .409 against Peavy with two home runs, making Peavy one of two pitchers Escobar has homered off twice (Detroit's Max Scherzer being the other one).

Murray, Romo fuel Cowboys success

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDeMarco Murray’s record streak has powered the Cowboys' 6-1 start.
The Dallas Cowboys are off to a 6-1 start for the fifth time in franchise history. All four previous Dallas teams to do so reached the playoffs, and two of them won the Super Bowl.

What are the reasons behind the current Cowboys' success?

Murray the machine
DeMarco Murray's numbers this season are amazing. He is the first player in NFL history to start the season with seven straight games of at least 100 rushing yards.

DeMarco Murray
His 913 rushing yards are nearly 300 more than any other player; Arian Foster is second with 615 yards. And Murray's 187 carries are 48 percent more than second-place Foster, who has 126.

Should Murray remain on his current pace, he would finish with 2,087 yards, third-most ever in an NFL season. He is also on pace for 427 rushes, which would break the NFL record of 416 set by Larry Johnson in 2006.

Therein lies the question about the durability of Murray, who has battled injuries throughout his collegiate and professional career. In his previous two seasons, Murray played 24 of 32 games while averaging 16 carries per game. He has rushed 27 times per game in 2014.

Romo has been Manning-like
Tony Romo's bounce back after a Week 1 loss has been impressive. He leads the league in completion percentage this season (69.2 percent) and is in the top five in both touchdown passes (14) and yards per attempt (8.4).

Romo's 90.0 Total QBR during the six-game win streak is the second-best rate in the league since Week 2, a sliver behind Peyton Manning's 90.1.

Third-down success
Murray and Romo have been particularly successful on third down this season. Murray has converted 10 times on 14 third-down rushes, and Romo has completed 48 of 68 passes (71 percent) with six touchdowns and one interception.

That's far better than his 51 percent completion percentage in those situations last season, and Romo's Total QBR is an NFL-best 97.5 on third down this year.

Romo and Murray have led Dallas to the NFL's top overall third-down conversion rate (57.4 percent) as well as the best in the league on third-and-6 or longer (43 percent).

Should the Cowboys maintain that third-down rate, they would overtake the Saints (56.7 percent in 2011) as the best single-season third-down conversion team since the merger.

Keeping defense off the field
By converting so many third downs, the Cowboys have an average time of possession of 34:35 per game this season, second-highest in the league behind the Colts (36:55).

Aside from the obvious benefit of increasing Dallas' chances to score, keeping the ball has masked a defense that hasn't been any better than last season, when the Cowboys ranked 30th in the league in both yards per play (6.1) and rush yards per play (4.7).

This season, Dallas ranks 27th at 6.1 yards per play and 30th at 4.9 yards per rush.

But only the Colts defense has been on the field for a shorter time than the Cowboys this season. Last year, Dallas ranked 24th in opponent time of possession.

What does it all mean?
All these little things have added up to winning close games, as the Cowboys are 3-0 this season in games decided by seven points or fewer. Last season, the Cowboys were 5-5 in such games.

Perhaps Murray's health, the third-down success and the wins in tight games are not sustainable. But Dallas is well-positioned at 6-1 with a favorable upcoming schedule. The Cowboys next welcome the 2-5 Redskins on Monday night then host the Cardinals and face the 1-6 Jaguars in London before their bye in Week 11.

Top stats to know: Giants romp in Game 1

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
The baseball postseason was due for a game like this, one that was basically over after the first time the San Francisco Giants came to bat and the first inning Madison Bumgarner threw a pitch.

This was the first game this postseason that was not within two runs or fewer at the end of any full inning.

With Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence hitting and Madison Bumgarner dominating on the mound, the Giants cruised to a 7-1 win in Game 1 of the World Series. The Giants have won four straight World Series openers.

The Kansas City Royals' 11-game postseason winning streak ends, one win shy of the all-time record, shared by the 1927 to 1932 Yankees and the 1998 to 1999 Yankees.

Bumgarner among the all-time best
Bumgarner took a shutout into the seventh inning and was in control once he escaped one Royals scoring threat.

His World Series scoreless streak ended at 21 innings. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that it’s tied for the seventh-longest in World Series history. Whitey Ford, who turned 86 on Tuesday, holds the record at 33 straight innings.

It’s also the second-longest by a pitcher to start his career. Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson set that mark with a 28-inning streak more than 100 years ago.

Bumgarner’s road scoreless streak in postseason games also ended at a record 32⅔ innings. The Giants are 5-0 in Bumgarner’s postseason starts that were on the road.

Turning point: Pence’s home run
Hunter Pence’s home run extended the Giants' lead from 1-0 to 3-0 in the first inning.

Pence entered that at-bat 0-for-11 against James Shields, his worst current oh-fer against any pitcher.

Turning point II: Bumgarner’s escape
The Royals threatened in the third inning, putting men on second and third with nobody out, but Bumgarner got Alcides Escobar, Norichika Aoki and hot-hitting Eric Hosmer out to end that threat without a run scoring.

Those three hitters were a combined 1-for-12 in the game.

Hosmer, the cleanup hitter, was 0-for-4 and 0-for-3 against Bumgarner. Cleanup hitters are now 1-for-15 against Bumgarner this postseason.

Pablo power
Sandoval was 2-for-5 with 2 RBIs. He’s now 10-for-24 with six RBIs in six career World Series games (a .417 career batting average).

Sandoval’s double gave him 17 career extra-base hits in postseason. That surpassed Barry Bonds for the most in Giants history.

Sandoval extended his streak of consecutive postseason games reaching base to 24. Only three players in postseason history have a longer streak of reaching base (Miguel Cabrera 31, Chase Utley 27 and Boog Powell 25).

The outlook
Game 1 has been a tone-setter of late. In the past 11 World Series, the team that won Game 1 won the series 10 times. The last team to win Game 1 and lose the series was the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies.


Defense, schedule cause Seattle's decline

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21

AP Photo/L.G. Patterson
Seattle’s Richard Sherman after the Seahawks' loss to St. Louis on Sunday.
After opening the season No. 1 in the weekly NFL Power Rankings, the Seahawks have dipped to 11th following back-to-back losses. It’s the first time the Seahawks have been outside the Top 10 since Week 14 of 2012.

Seattle’s defense has taken a step back from last season’s dominating performance, but can it bounce back?

The decline
Last season, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points and fewest yards in the league, and they also forced the most turnovers. They were the first team to do that since the 1985 Bears.

This season, the Seahawks' defense ranks 19th in points per game and ninth in yards per game, while forcing the fourth-fewest turnovers.

Diving deeper, the Seahawks' defensive efficiency has taken a major hit. Expected points added (EPA) is a measure of the impact every play has on a team’s potential points, factoring in down, distance, field position, game clock and other situational factors.

The Seahawks' defense added 7.2 expected points per game last season to the team's potential scoring, best in the NFL. This season, the Seahawks' defense has cost the team 4.7 points expected points per game, 23rd in the league -- all while the offense has performed better, contributing three more expected points per game.

The problems
The Seahawks' defensive problems start up front. Although their rush defense has improved, ranking second in yards per rush allowed, the front line has not been able to pressure the quarterback.

Last season, the Seahawks had the top pass rush in the NFL, generating pressure on a league-best 34 percent of dropbacks. This season that pressure percentage has been cut in half, leading to a league-worst rating.

The Seahawks lost defensive linemen Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald in the offseason, breaking up one of the deeper defensive line rotations in the NFL.

The Seahawks had six defensive linemen playing at least half of the team’s defensive snaps in 2013, with none playing more than 57 percent of the snaps. This season only three linemen are playing half the snaps, and Michael Bennett (80 percent) and Cliff Avril (60 percent) have gotten the lion’s share.

Without good pressure, the secondary has struggled to create turnovers.

The Seahawks have two interceptions in six games this season. Last season, the Seahawks had multiple interceptions in 10 different games, leading to a league-best 28 interceptions overall.

The schedule’s impact
In defense of the defense, the Seahawks have played the season's second-hardest schedule, which has included the top four quarterbacks in the league, according to Total QBR.

Still, even the lower-ranked quarterbacks found success against Seattle. Kirk Cousins has thrown an interception in all but two games this season (Jaguars and Seahawks), and Austin Davis (along with punter Johnny Hekker) completed the highest percentage of passes (86.4 percent) against any Seahawks defense ever.

College football: Midyear disappointments

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Stanford leads a trio of disappointing teams heading into the second half of the season.
The Stanford Cardinal and South Carolina Gamecocks have fallen out of the AP Poll after starting the season in the top 15. The Michigan Wolverines did not start the season in the AP Poll, but they are 1-4 against Power Five opponents and are 17 point underdogs against instate rivals, the Michigan State Spartans.

Why I have these teams not lived up to expectations?

Stanford: running game/protecting QB

Stanford is allowing the second-fewest points per game (12.3) in the FBS this season. Yet, it has lost three games, tied for its most in four seasons under David Shaw.

One reason has been the running game. The Cardinal rank 92nd in the FBS in rushing yards per game and have not rushed for 200 or more yards in a game this season. Last season, they had six such games. Their efficiency on running plays (-2.5), which measures how many net points per game their running game contributes to their final scoring margin, ranks 109th in the FBS. They were 31st last season.

Stanford has struggled protecting Kevin Hogan. He has been sacked 14 times in seven games, matching his total from 14 games last season. All but three of the sacks have come when opponents have sent five or more pass rushers on a play. That is one more sack against the blitz than Hogan suffered in his first two seasons combined.

Michigan: offense

Michigan has been solid on defense. It ranks 14th in the FBS in yards per play and fifth in yards per rush. Yet, in five games against other Power Five teams, Michigan has been outscored by an average of 12 points per game.

The offense has been the main reason. According to ESPN’s efficiency rankings, the Wolverines offense has contributed -2.7 points per game toward their scoring margin, 92nd-best in the FBS.

Turnovers have been the main culprit. Michigan has 16 turnovers, tied for fourth-most in the FBS. The Wolverines have allowed at least three points off turnovers in every game and only Illinois (7.9) has allowed more per game (7.3) in the Big Ten.

Another issue has been production in the passing game. Michigan has thrown the most interceptions in the Big Ten and has the second-fewest touchdown passes. Three of its six passing touchdowns came in the season-opener against Appalachian State. The Wolverines rank 112th in the FBS in efficiency on passing plays. Meaning, given the same circumstances (down, distance, yard line) that Michigan passed on, the average FBS team would have scored about five more points per game than Michigan scored on its passes this season.

South Carolina: defense

Entering the season, ESPN’s Football Power Index projected that South Carolina had the best chance to win the SEC East and the second-best chance to win the SEC. These projections were partly based on a defense that was historically efficient and had recruited to replace stars such as Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.

Replacing those players, however, has not come easy. South Carolina ranks last in the SEC in defensive efficiency, which measures the points a defense contributes to the team’s scoring margin and adjusts for the offenses faced.

South Carolina has struggled getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Gamecocks have recorded a sack on 3.3 percent of their opponents’ passing plays, almost two percentage points lower than any other SEC team. They are on pace to record their fewest sacks in a season since 2004, when they recorded 12 sacks in 11 games.

Big plays have also been an issue for South Carolina. The Gamecocks have allowed the most plays of 20 yards or longer (37) in the SEC and are the only team in the conference that has allowed 20 such passes and 10 such runs.