Machado stays hot, hits walk-off HR

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
1:13
AM ET

ESPN Stats & InformationManny Machado's walk-off home run Tuesday came on a curveball down in the zone.
Manny Machado
Machado
Manny Machado's first career walk-off home run helped the Baltimore Orioles outlast the Los Angeles Angels in extra innings in Tuesday's 7-6 win.

Facing the Angels’ Cory Rasmus, Machado faced three straight sliders – a ball and two called strikes.

Behind in the count, Machado sent the next pitch -- a curveball down in the zone -- 397 feet to left field for the game-winning run and his second career walk-off hit.

Machado's batted only slightly better than league average on pitches down in the zone this season (.252; MLB average entering Tuesday, .242), but seven of his 11 home runs this season have come on pitches in that location.

That continued a recent trend for Machado as this was his third home run off an off-speed pitch this month. He had just one before July.

Against off-speed pitches, Machado has batted .333 with a 1.074 OPS this month. Entering July, Machado batted just .212 with a .500 OPS against off-speed pitches.

Overall, Machado has returned to form since returning from a five-game suspension on July 5. Since then he's batting .373 with four home runs, including Tuesday's walk-off winner. In 54 games prior to the suspension Machado was hitting just .239.

Machado joined Matt Wieters (May 1) and Chris Davis (June 23) as Orioles with walk-off home runs this season.

The walk-off win was the Orioles’ eighth of the season; only the Pittsburgh Pirates have more (nine).

Is this the end for Ryan Howard?

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
2:20
PM ET

AP Photo/Alex BrandonRyan Howard has struggled to find a consistent role in the Phillies' starting lineup.
Last week Ryan Howard sat four games in a six-game stretch, including three in a row. Two of those three straight were against left-handed starting pitchers, but Thursday he sat against Tim Hudson, the pitcher he’s faced the most in his career. Howard holds a .328 career BA (22-67) with 7 HR and a 1.112 OPS against Hudson.

Howard is having the worst full season of his career including a career-low .380 slugging percentage. He turns 36-years-old in November, he’s still owed $60 million after this season and he can block trades to 21 teams.

Could this be the end of the line for the former National League MVP?

Howard Can't Hit Righties
The biggest reason behind Howard’s disappointing season is his performance against right-handed pitchers, which has always been better than his performance against lefties.

In 2009, Howard hit .320 and slugged .693 against righties. This season he's hitting .221 and slugging .356 against them.

In 2011, his last full season, he hit 30 HR in 387 AB against righties. In the past 3 seasons combined, he's hit 26 HR in 656 AB against righties.

He Can't Handle Fastballs
The book on Howard used to be a steady diet of offspeed pitches that he would chase, especially if he was behind in the count.

In 2011, Howard saw 41% fastballs, the lowest figure of any qualified hitter in baseball. But after he tore his Achilles in that year’s playoffs, pitchers haven’t been afraid to throw him heaters or pitches in the strike zone anymore.

From 2009-2011 Howard ranked 11th in MLB in slugging percentage against fastballs and 10th against pitches in the strike zone. From 2012 on he ranks 130th in slugging percentage against fastballs and 110th against pitches in the strike zone.

He’s not even punishing the slower fastballs that he used to crush. In 2010, he slugged .851 and only missed 16% of his swings against fastballs from righties that were 91 MPH or slower. This season, he’s slugging .405 and missing 22% of his swings against those fastballs.

No Power at a Power Position
Howard is giving the Phillies almost nothing at a power position. The list of first basemen with similar slugging percentages this season have never been in Howard’s class as a slugger. He currently ranks 22nd in slugging percentage among 25 players with 100 plate appearances at first base.

He’s had plenty of opportunities to produce, tied with Albert Pujols and Casey McGehee for the MLB lead at 234 plate appearances with runners on base, but his .255 batting average with runners on has him in a tie for 107th in MLB this season.

Top stats to know: Rangers beat Yankees

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
1:07
AM ET

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsYu Darvish was able to hold the Yankees offense to 2 solo homers by Brett Gardner in a win Monday.
The Texas Rangers were able to overcome a two-run deficit by scoring four runs in the fifth inning to beat the New York Yankees. Here are the top stats you need to know about Monday’s game.

Gardner owns Darvish
Rangers’ starter Yu Darvish was able to withstand a big game from Brett Gardner, who launched two home runs off of him. After picking up three hits in four plate appearances Monday, Gardner is now 5-11 in his career against Darvish in 12 plate appearances. Four of those five hits are home runs.

Gardner’s four home runs are tied for the most that Darvish has given up to any player in his career. The others to take the Rangers ace deep that many times are Mike Trout and Brandon Moss.

Darvish limits the damage
Darvish improved to 3-1 in his career against the Bronx Bombers. In 31 1/3 innings against Darvish, the Yankees have lived up to that nickname by hitting six home runs. Unfortunately for New York, all six of those home runs have been solo shots.

Monday, Darvish threw a strike on 74 percent of his pitches, the highest strike rate of his career. He also locked in when there were men on. With the bases empty, the Yankees were 7-17 (.412 BA) against him. With men on, Darvish held the Yankees to two singles in 12 plate appearances.

Jeter passes Yaz
Derek Jeter also had a big game, going 3-4 to give himself 3,420 career hits. That allowed him to pass Boston Red Sox Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski for seventh-most all-time in MLB history. Next up, and likely the only other player Jeter will pass on the list, is Honus Wagner who currently has 10 more hits than Jeter.

Did you know?
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dennis Martinez and Mike Morgan are the only two pitchers to allow a hit to both Derek Jeter and Carl Yastrzemski in their careers.

Martinez is the only one to allow a homer to both.

Top stats to know: 2014 Indianapolis Colts

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
2:19
PM ET

Sam Riche/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck and head coach Chuck Pagano look to return to the playoffs for the 3rd straight season.
SportsCenter is at Indianapolis Colts camp today. Here's a look at the most significant statistical storylines for this team heading into the 2014 season.

1. Andrew Luck joined Russell Wilson as the only quarterbacks to lead a team to 11-plus wins in each of his first two seasons. The only other Colts quarterback to lead the team to consecutive 11-plus win seasons was Peyton Manning, who did it seven straight seasons from 2003-09.

2. Since 1998 (Peyton Manning’s rookie season), the Colts have the second-best regular-season winning percentage in the NFL (64.5 percent). However, the Colts’ postseason winning percentage during that span is 45.5 percent, tied for 16th in the league. No team has more playoff losses since 1998 (12) than the Colts.

3. Luck’s 64 Total QBR since 2012 ranks eighth in the NFL, but his 54 playoff QBR is ninth out of 12 quarterbacks with multiple playoff starts over that span. No quarterback has more playoff interceptions than Luck in the last two seasons, and his minus-two TD-Int differential is tied with Andy Dalton for worst since 2012.

Pep Hamilton took steps to limit the pressure on Luck in his first year as Colts offensive coordinator. Luck’s average throw was 8.0 yards downfield last year, 25th-longest among qualified quarterbacks. Luck’s average throw was 10.0 yards downfield in his rookie year, deepest in the league.

4. Last season, the Colts ranked ninth in scoring defense (21.0 PPG allowed), the first time the defense had cracked the top 10 in scoring in the last five seasons. The Colts were undefeated last season when holding opponents to 17 points or fewer (7-0).


Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesReggie Wayne returns for his 14th season.


5. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne has been cleared to practice after a torn right ACL ended his 2013 season in Week 7. Wayne is entering his 14th season with the Colts, and his 1,006 receptions rank eighth all-time, 18 behind Isaac Bruce. In Luck’s career, he has a 69 Total QBR with Wayne on the field and 49 without Wayne.

6. Trent Richardson's Colts career has been a disappointment so far. His 2.9 yards per rush average in 14 games would have ranked 46th of 48 qualified rushers and was the lowest by a Colts’ running back with 100 rushes since 1992. The Colts were without a first-round pick in this year’s draft for the first time since 2008 after trading it to acquire Richardson.

7. On day two of the draft, the Colts selected Ohio State offensive tackle Jack Mewhort and Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief. Since Luck’s rookie season (2012), his 374 dropbacks under pressure are the most in the NFL. Last season, Colts’ wide receivers dropped 5.2 percent of their targets, fourth-worst in the league.

8. The Colts will start the season without a pair of defensive stalwarts - safety Antoine Bethea (signed with the 49ers), and pass-rush specialist Robert Mathis (suspended). Since his 2006 rookie season, Bethea’s 804 tackles led all defensive backs and his 14 career interceptions are a team high. Mathis’ 19.5 sacks led the league last year, but he will miss the first four games of the season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy.

9. The Colts will open the season against the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles, who ranked first and second respectively, in yards gained last season. Indianapolis is without Mathis to face Peyton Manning (NFL record 55 pass TD in 2013) and Nick Foles (27 TD and 2 Int in 13 games last year).

10. Andrew Luck was at his best late in games last season. His 82 Total QBR in the fourth quarter and overtime was fourth-best in the NFL, and his 10 game-winning drives since 2012 are the most of any quarterback.

Luck showed off his ability to create with his legs as well. Since he entered the league, no quarterback has more scramble touchdowns than Luck (5).

Top stats to know: Blue Jays at Red Sox

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
12:35
PM ET

Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesKnuckleballer R.A. Dickey looks to improve to 3-0 this year vs. the Red Sox.
The Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox open a three-game series tonight at Fenway Park (7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). The Blue Jays have won seven of the 10 matchups so far this season, including three of four last week in Toronto.

After beating the St. Louis Cardinals on June 6, the Blue Jays led the AL East by six games over the second-place New York Yankees and by 6½ games over the third-place Baltimore Orioles.

However, since June 7, the Blue Jays are 18-26 -- the third-worst record in the American League in that span -- and are now three games behind the Orioles for first place in the division.

Toronto hasn’t been to the playoffs since it won the World Series in 1993. Only the Kansas City Royals have gone longer without a postseason appearance.

One player who can help the Blue Jays break their postseason drought is José Bautista. In 2010, Bautista had a breakout year, hitting a major league-best 54 home runs.

Since the start of that year, Bautista’s 172 home runs are tied with Miguel Cabrera for the most in baseball.

Another player who has been a key cog in the Blue Jays' success is José Reyes, who has been aggressive this season, swinging at 47 percent of the pitches he sees. That’s his highest swing rate in the past six seasons.

Reyes is a tough batter to put away, even in an 0-2 count. From the start of the 2012 season on his .302 batting average in such a count over that time span is the highest in MLB.

As for the defending world champion Red Sox, they are in last place in the AL East. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 1998 Florida Marlins are the only team to finish last in the division or the league the year after winning the World Series.

Boston also finished last in the AL East in 2012. No team has ever finished in last place one year, won the World Series the next year, and then finished last the next year.

Dustin Pedroia has been struggling for the Red Sox; his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are all at career-worst levels.

Meanwhile, teams have used an infield shift on more than 8,800 balls in play this season, already more than all of last season (8,134), and David Ortiz has seen his fair share of shifts. The shift has certainly had an effect on him this season.

•  He’s hitting .157 on ground balls and soft line drives against the shift this season.
•  He’s hitting .333 on similar batted balls when there is no shift.
•  Only three hitters (minimum 125 PAs against the shift) have a larger difference in batting average on grounders and soft liners without the shift vs. against the shift.
•  His BABIP is .241 this season (his BABIP was .318 overall the previous four seasons).

Pitching Notes
• R.A. Dickey went 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA against the Red Sox last season. This year, he’s 2-0 with a 3.65 ERA.

•  Dustin Pedroia is hitting .167 (3-for-18) in his career against Dickey, including 1-for-his-past-12.

•  Clay Buchholz has allowed at least four earned runs in seven of his past 10 starts. Of course, in the middle of that, he threw a three-hit shutout against the Houston Astros with 12 strikeouts and no walks.

Santana continues home-run tear

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
10:28
PM ET
Carlos Santana capped off a huge series against the Kansas City Royals with his biggest game yet. He reached base all five times he came to the plate Sunday, hitting two home runs and driving in four in the Cleveland Indians’ 10-3 victory.

Huge series
In the four-game series in Kansas City, Santana was 9-for-14 (.643) with five home runs and eight RBI. He reached base safely 15 times over the four games.

Santana is the first player in baseball this season to homer five times in a series and only the sixth player in Indians history to do it. He also homered on Tuesday, giving him six homers in his pyyast six games. That’s more home runs than 20 teams over that span.

Four of Santana’s five homers in the series came against fastballs, including two on Sunday from Yordano Ventura at 97 and 100 mph.

Santana has four home runs this season on fastballs of 95 mph or faster, tied with Josh Donaldson for most in MLB. He has eight such homers over the last two seasons, two more than anyone else.

Turning his season around
After hitting only .159 with a .628 OPS over the first two months this season, Santana has turned his season around. His performance against fastballs has been a big reason why.

Santana is hitting a MLB-best .422 against fastballs (2/4-seam) since the start of June. He hit only .189 against those pitches over the first two months of the season.

Looking ahead
Despite Santana’s performance against the Royals, the Indians took just one of four games against Kansas City and have lost six of their past eight games overall.

Cleveland is 6.5 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central and 3.5 games back in the wild-card race. According to numberFire.com, the Indians have a 17-percent chance to make the playoffs this season.

But is Cleveland’s best baseball ahead? Last season, the Indians were 4.5 games back in the wild-card entering September and finished the season 21-6 to grab the first of two AL wild-card spots.

Kernels: A call to arms

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
3:48
PM ET
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
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).

Top stats to know: Dodgers at Giants

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
12:53
PM ET

AP Photo/Jae C. HongDon Mattingly has his team playing .610 ball since June 9, tied for the best mark in the NL.
Tonight on ESPN’s "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET, ESPN/WatchESPN), first place in the National League West is on the line as the San Francisco Giants host the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers go into the game with a half-game advantage in the division. Through June 8, Los Angeles trailed San Francisco by 9½ games. Since then, the Dodgers have gone 25-16, while the Giants are 15-26.

Still, it’s easy to wonder if the Dodgers have underachieved, given their MLB-leading payroll. Similar questions could be asked of the Giants, who rank sixth in payroll. Part of the reason is that several of their star players haven’t played up to their star billing this season.

Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez started the season on a tear. At the end of April, he was hitting .317 with eight home runs and an OPS of 1.021. But since May, he is batting .245, with just seven home runs in 282 at-bats. His OPS over the last three months is down to .685.

Matt Kemp
In 2011 and 2012, Kemp was one of the top outfielders in baseball, finishing second in MVP voting in 2011 and making the NL All-Star team both seasons. Since then, however, Kemp has struggled.

Over the last two seasons, Kemp’s wins above replacement is a minus-0.6, meaning he’s worth less than a minor league call-up in the same position.

This season, his WAR is minus-1.1, which ties him for the third-worst among NL position players, behind only Domonic Brown and Jedd Gyorko.

Andre Ethier
Ethier’s decline has been going longer than Kemp’s. Ethier batted .292 in 2011, but his batting average has declined each year since, down to .248 this season. His home run total has also declined, from 20 in 2012 to 12 in 2013 to just four so far this season.

Hanley Ramirez
Although Ramirez is producing much more than the previous trio, he is still well off his mark from 2013, when he had a 1.040 OPS. This season, it’s .840. Last year, Ramirez had 20 home runs in 336 plate appearances. At this year’s All-Star break, he had 11 homers in the same number of plate appearances.

Buster Posey
One of the Giants’ stars, Posey has failed to live up to his 2012 NL MVP season, when he batted .336 with a .957 OPS. Over the last two seasons, Posey is batting .288 with a .801 OPS.

The key to Posey’s success might be a positional change. In his MLB career, Posey has a .361 BA and .996 OPS when playing first base. Those numbers drop to a .292 BA and .822 OPS when he’s in the lineup as a catcher.

Pablo Sandoval
After a rough start, Sandoval has turned his season around.

Through May 10, Sandoval was hitting .173 and striking out in more than 20 percent of his at-bats. Since then, his batting average is .332, and his strikeout rate is down to 11 percent.

His free-swinging style has worked for him. This season, no batter has swung at more pitches outside the strike zone than Sandoval’s 43 percent; he ranked second in that statistic last season. But he is hitting .255 on pitches out of the zone, the third-best mark in the NL and well above the MLB average of .163.

Brickyard 400 projections

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
5:22
PM ET
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis. 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 2.5-mile oval superspeedway) and time of year.

• The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to ESPN with the Brickyard 400. Both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon will be looking for their fifth win at Indy, which would tie them with Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher for the most wins at the track in major races. However, Johnson has finished 42nd in each of the past two races. In his first 452 career Sprint Cup Series starts, he finished 42nd just twice. Indianapolis could be a good place to break that slump, though, as he’s won four of the past eight Brickyard 400s.

• In the first 16 runnings of this race, every driver who won entered this race in the top 10 in points -- with the lowest driver in points being Jeff Gordon in 1994 (10th). However, in three of the past four years, the driver who won this race entered 18th or lower in points, including Ryan Newman last year, who entered in 19th.

• Both Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya will compete in this race after running the Indianapolis 500 earlier this year, finishing sixth and fifth, respectively. They would be the fifth and sixth drivers to run both the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year; only Tony Stewart in 1999 finished in the top 10 in both races.

• This race could be a good indicator of who’s going to win the title. In eight of the past 20 Brickyard 400s, the race winner went on to win the championship. Jimmie Johnson did it in three of his six championship seasons, and Jeff Gordon in two of his four title years.

Double and Nothing

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
1:34
AM ET

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
David Price beat the Red Sox with his MLB-leading fourth 10-strikeout, no-walk game of the season, collectively pushing 2014 one step closer to history


One throws from the left, one from the right and just a few days ago it appeared that there was a chance that they could be teammates in Seattle. On Friday night David Price and Félix Hernández showed why they’re the hottest pitchers in the American League.

Pitching at home against the Red Sox, Price allowed three earned runs in eight innings to earn his 11th victory of the season, extending the Rays season-high winning streak to 8 games. He also struck out 10 batters while walking none. That gave Price four double-digit-strikeout, 0-walk games this season, breaking a tie with Chicago’s Chris Sale for the most in the majors.

Just a couple of hours later, Sale would find himself tied again, this time by Felix Hernandez who went seven innings against the Orioles, striking out 10 while walking none in a no-decision against the Orioles. Hernández did emerge with a share of an all-time record, tying Tom Seaver for the major league mark for most consecutive starts of at least seven innings pitched and two earned runs allowed or fewer.)

Price, Hernández and Sale are three of the seven pitchers (with Johnny Cueto, Jose Fernandez, Zach Greinke and Corey Kluber) who have multiple games with 10 strikeouts and no walks this season. They’re all part of the 29 individuals who have done it a total of 40 times in 2014. If that seems like a lot, it is.

Looking back to 1900, there have only been two years in which there were more individual outings with double-digit strikeouts and no walks than we’ve had with six full days remaining in July. That’s ENTIRE seasons. And those came the past two years.

The standard was set way back in 2013 when 31 individuals went to the hill 45 times to rack up 10-K’s and no walks. Cliff Lee and Matt Harvey led the way with four apiece (Harvey’s came in just 26 games due to his season being cut short by Tommy John surgery) while Yu Darvish had three. That broke the old mark of 43 such games set in 2012 when nobody had as many as four.

Now we stand at 40 and there's a lot of baseball yet to be played. History will be made. By how much the old record will be shattered is the only question.

Top stats to know: 2014 New England Patriots

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
1:12
PM ET

Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsThe Patriots will be counting on Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski again this season.
SportsCenter is at Patriots training camp Friday. Here are the top things to know leading up to the 2014 season.

1. The Patriots have won the AFC East in 5 straight and 10 of the last 11 seasons. New England is the only team since the merger to win 10 division titles over 11 seasons. Some potential milestones for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady this season:

• Belichick needs 1 postseason win to tie Tom Landry for most all-time
• Brady needs 1 regular-season win to break a tie with John Elway for third-most in NFL history
• Patriots can become first team to win 6 straight division titles since mid-1970s (Steelers – 1974-79; Rams – 1973-79)
• Patriots can become second team to win at least 10 games in 12 straight seasons (49ers – 1983-98)

2. Since Tom Brady’s first season as a starter in 2001, the Patriots have been the NFL’s most successful team with 158 regular-season wins (19 more than any other team), 18 playoff wins (6 more than any other team), 11 division titles (3 more than any other team) and 3 Super Bowl wins (1 more than any other team). However, since Brady and Belichick went 9-0 in the postseason en route to winning Super Bowls following the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, they’re just 9-8 in the playoffs.

3. Last season, Tom Brady had his lowest completion percentage since 2003 (60.5) and his fewest yards per attempt since 2006 (6.9) and ranked outside the top 20 in the NFL in both categories for the first time in his career. Brady was the league’s 11th-highest rated QB last season, with his lowest Total QBR (61.1) since 2006 (first season for which data is available).

4. One reason for Brady’s relatively average (for him) 2013 could be that he threw a career-high 163 passes to rookies, 35 more than any other QB in the NFL. When throwing to rookies last year, Brady completed 48 percent of his passes. When throwing to veterans, he completed 67 percent of his passes. Patriots rookies dropped 8 percent of Brady’s passes last year. Patriots veterans dropped just 5 percent of Brady’s passes.

5. Along with more experience at wide receiver, a healthy Rob Gronkowski should help Brady be more productive in 2014. Gronkowski, coming off surgery to repair torn knee ligaments suffered in Week 14 last season, led all tight ends with 85 receiving yards per game last year. In his 4 seasons with the team, Brady has 42 touchdowns vs just 6 interceptions when targeting Gronkowski. Over that span, Gronkowski’s 42 receiving TDs are the most by a TE in the NFL and second most by any player behind Calvin Johnson.

6. After appearing in 16 games in each of his first 2 seasons, Gronkowski has missed 14 games with injuries over the last 2 years. Over that span, Brady has a Total QBR of 78 with 33 touchdowns and 8 interceptions when Gronkowski is on the field and a Total QBR of 60 with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions when he is off the field. He’s missed even more in the red zone, where Brady has a Total QBR of 94 over the last 2 years with Gronkowski in the game and a Total QBR of 67 with him on the sideline.

7. The Patriots “bend but don’t break” defense has allowed the most yards in the NFL over the last 3 seasons (386 per game) but ranks seventh in the league in points allowed over that span (21.1 per game). A key for the unit is the ability to generate turnovers. Over the last 3 years, the Patriots lead the league in takeaways (104) and turnover margin (+51).

8. Less than a week after Pro Bowl CB Aqib Talib left for the Broncos via free agency, the Patriots signed 5-time Pro Bowl CB Darrelle Revis to a 2-year deal with $11.5M in guaranteed money. New England also signed former Pro Bowl CB Brandon Browner, who will be suspended for the first 4 games of the season, from the Seahawks. The Patriots allowed Peyton Manning to pass for 400 yards in last year’s AFC Championship loss.

9. Returning to the Patriots defense will be nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who tore his Achilles in Week 4 last season and missed the rest of the year, and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who tore his ACL in Week 5. From Weeks 6-17, the Patriots allowed the fourth most rush yards per game (142) and fifth most yards per rush (4.6) in the NFL. Rookie first-round pick Dominique Easley, coming off his own season-ending injury (torn ACL at Florida), is expected to push for playing time on the defensive line.

10. Patriots Top Transactions This Offseason
Draft picks: DT Dominique Easley, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RB James White
Additions: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, DE Will Smith, LB James Anderson, WR Brandon LaFell
Departures: CB Aqib Talib, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Brandon Spikes, S Steve Gregory

Kluber dominant in no-decision

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
1:25
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Ed Zurga/Getty Images Corey Kluber took a perfect game into the seventh against the Royals but left with a no-decision.

Corey Kluber had a perfect game bid of 6 ⅓ innings Thursday, the longest of his career, eclipsing his previous career-long of 4 ⅓ innings which he set on May 14 of this season.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first Indians player to take a perfect game into the seventh inning since Charles Nagy in 1991, and the first Indian to take one 6 ⅓ innings since Len Barker threw a perfect game on May 15, 1981.

The Barker perfect game is the last no-hitter thrown by the Indians, a drought of over 33 years. The only team with a longer active drought is the Padres, who have yet to throw a no-hitter in their 45-year history.

Kluber has enjoyed facing Kansas City this season, he has a 2-1 record with a 1.15 ERA and 0.57 WHIP in four starts against the Royals. In three of those games, including Thursday,
Kluber struck out 10 or more batters. He is the only pitcher this season with a double-digit strikeout game against the Royals, who entered the day with a 15.6 strikeout rate, by far the lowest in the major leagues.

All of Kluber’s pitches were working on Thursday, but he had the most success with his breaking pitches. Royals hitters were 0 for 16 in at-bats ending with his breaking balls, including eight of his 10 strikeouts.

He also kept the ball away from Royals hitters, throwing 57 of his 107 pitches to the outer third or farther away. The Royals were 0 for 14 in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location.

Kluber’s night ended after nine innings, allowing no earned runs, striking out 10 and walking none, making him just the fourth pitcher in the last 20 seasons to reach all of those marks in a no-decision. He is the first Indians pitcher since Pedro Ramos in 1963 to get a no-decision while pitching nine innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks.

The unearned run allowed by Kluber came on a defensive misplay by left fielder Ryan Raburn in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Indians entered Thursday with -58 Defensive Runs Saved, 16 fewer than any other team in baseball.

Dozier Mobley/Getty ImagesJeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, and has added three more since.
This Sunday, NASCAR will go racing at one of the most historic tracks in motorsports, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And two of NASCAR’s most-accomplished drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, will have the chance to do something that only one other driver has ever done at the Brickyard, visit Victory Lane five times in a major race.

No driver has won the Indianapolis 500 more than four times -- A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser each have four wins in that race. But Johnson and Gordon will look to join Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher, who won the U.S. Grand Prix five times when the race was held at Indy.

With four wins apiece, both Johnson and Gordon have more Brickyard 400 wins than any other team combined in the race. Those two are responsible for all eight of Hendrick Motorsports’ wins in this race, while no other team has more than three.

The teammates will be on the short list of favorites for the race. Gordon is a regular in the top 10, with 16 in 20 Brickyard 400 starts. Johnson has won this race in four of the past eight years, and finished second behind Ryan Newman last year.

Those two don’t just have elite results, but they’ve been among the most dominant drivers in terms of raw speed. Since 2008 at Indianapolis, Johnson has paced the field with 153 fastest laps run, while Gordon is third with 97. From there, it’s a drop, as the fourth-place driver has 49 fastest laps.

Who else should we be watching for Sunday afternoon?

Busch and Montoya make return visit
The driver between Johnson and Gordon in fastest laps run is Juan Pablo Montoya, who will attempt to make the field in a third Team Penske entry this week.

Both Montoya, who finished fifth in the Indianapolis 500 earlier this season, and Kurt Busch (who was sixth), will attempt to be the fifth and sixth drivers to run both the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season.

Both also have a chance to join Tony Stewart as the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in both races in the same year. Stewart finished ninth in the 1999 Indianapolis 500, and seventh in the same year’s Brickyard 400.

Wider range of winners?
For the first 16 runnings of the Brickyard 400, every winner came from the top 10 in points, with the lowest points position of a winner being 10th, when Jeff Gordon won in 1994 for his second of 89 career wins.

But in the past four seasons, three of the winners entered 18th or lower in points, with Ryan Newman winning last year after entering 19th in the standings.

That being said, 40 percent (eight of 20) of the time this race’s winner has gone on to win the championship that same season.

Top stats to know: 2014 Denver Broncos

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
10:50
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SportsCenter will be in the Denver Broncos camp on Thursday to visit with the AFC champs. Here's a look at the most significant statistical storylines for this team heading into the 2014 season.

1. The Broncos will attempt to accomplish something that hasn’t been done in over 40 years: win a Super Bowl after losing it the previous season. The last team to accomplish that was the 1972 Dolphins, who beat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII to complete a perfect season after losing to the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.

2. Since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver two seasons ago, the Broncos have the best regular-season record in the NFL (26-6). They will look to win a fourth straight division title for the first time in franchise history, and will also attempt to become the first AFC West team to win a Super Bowl since 1998.

3. Peyton Manning threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes last season, and with 18 more this season will pass Brett Favre (508) for the most in NFL history. Manning threw more touchdown passes in 2013 than each of the other 31 teams scored total touchdowns last season.

What made Manning so effective last season was that he threw the ball effectively to all areas of the field, as this image below shows.



4. The Broncos lost wide receiver Eric Decker to the Jets in free agency. Decker was the Broncos’ most effective deep threat last season, leading the team with 24 receptions and 6 touchdowns on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield. Only A.J. Green, Josh Gordon and DeSean Jackson had more touchdown catches on such throws last season.

5. The team drafted Cody Latimer and signed Emmanuel Sanders to help replace Decker, but more responsibility will likely fall on the shoulders of Demaryius Thomas. He was second in the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions last season and the team is currently negotiating with him on a long-term contract extension, since he is an unrestricted free agent after 2014.

6. Montee Ball is currently listed as the top running back on the depth chart, replacing Knowshon Moreno, who signed with the Dolphins in free agency. Ball averaged 2.55 yards after contact per rush in the team’s last eight games in 2013, the fourth most in the NFL during that span. Ball also had more rushing touchdowns (3) than Moreno (2) during that span despite having half the number of rushes.

7. Along with a returning Von Miller, the Broncos made some big acquisitions on the defensive side. Perhaps the biggest is DE DeMarcus Ware, whose 63.5 sacks in the last five seasons are second in the NFL behind Jared Allen. Miller and Ware each had at least 35 sacks from 2011 to 2013, meaning (via the Elias Sports Bureau) the Broncos will be the third team since 2000 to have two players that each had 35 sacks in the previous three years.

8. The Broncos also acquired cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. Talib has 19 interceptions in the last five seasons, tied for seventh in the NFL since 2009. Ward had 112 tackles last season, second most on the Browns and 40 more than any Broncos defensive back.

9. The Broncos particularly needed help in the secondary. They had the 27th-ranked pass defense last season (254.4 yards per game) and allowed 58 completions on balls thrown at least 15 yards downfield, tied for the fourth most in the NFL.

10. The Broncos open up the season with three straight games against 2013 playoff teams: home games against the Colts and Chiefs followed by a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle in Week 3. The Broncos' five scheduled prime-time games are tied for the most in the league.

Pence gets exactly the pitch he needed

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
12:41
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Wednesday on ESPN.com, writers discussed the importance of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval to the San Francisco Giants’ playoff chances. But let’s not forget their wins above replacement leader, Hunter Pence.


Pence’s bloop three-run double against Jonathan Papelbon gave the Giants a lead and an eventual 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

Papelbon has now pitched twice against the Giants in the past two days and allowed four earned runs. He has allowed only five runs in 38 1/3 innings against every other team in the majors combined.

Pence’s hit made him 3-for-4 in his career against the Phillies closer and gave him an NL-best 125 hits this season. He’s also now 10-for-25 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Inside the at-bat
Pence survived a close call on a 2-2 slider that was just below the bottom of the strike zone, than fouled off another pitch before hitting a 93-mph tailing fastball near the inside corner into a vacant spot down the right-field line.

That was probably the last place in which Papelbon wanted to attack Pence with two strikes.

Pence has 16 hits, second-most in the majors, and made only 17 outs on pitches that fit the following criteria:
    - 93 mph or faster
    - on the inner third of the plate
    - from a right-handed pitcher


Both Pence’s double and Posey’s game-tying home run on Tuesday came against that type of pitch from Papelbon.

Pence’s 2014
Pence has lived up to the big contract he signed with the Giants last season (five years, $90 million), hitting .304 with 13 home runs and an .840 OPS in 2014. He leads the NL in runs scored and is someone who is thriving at a time when offensive numbers are declining.

Pence’s basic skills (strikeout rate, walk rate, home run rate) are almost identical to what they were last season, but the results have actually been a little bit better, thanks to a .300 batting average when he hits a ground ball (last season, he hit .263).

Pence currently ranks fifth among those whose primary position is right field with 3.3 wins above replacement (his defense rates a hair below average). Last season, he ranked as the ninth-best right fielder, with 3.9 WAR.

Stat of the night (amazing but true)
The last time a Giants player got a hit to break a scoreless tie in the ninth inning or later in Philadelphia was May 15, 1989, when Will Clark hit a go-ahead home run against Steve Bedrosian in the 12th inning.

Amazingly, the Giants lost that game on a three-run, inside-the-park home run by Bob Dernier in the bottom half of that inning.

However, they would go on to win the National League pennant.

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