The Kansas City Royals began their Monday evening of baseball activities by officially losing that suspended game to the Cleveland Indians, although they made it interesting by scoring a run and having the tying run at second when Omar Infante popped out to end the game.

So the Royals headed into the regularly scheduled action two games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central and one game ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the second wild card.

Then, in the bottom of the first inning, leading 1-0 after the Indians gifted the Royals a run with some shoddy defense, Danny Duffy was suddenly staring at the bases loaded, no outs, and Royals fans watching with their guts in their throats.

When you've lost for 30 years, a moment like this feels like the moment of the season, at least until the next one tomorrow or the day after that. Remember, Duffy had lasted one pitch in his previous start on Sept. 6 before leaving with shoulder soreness. So when he walked Michael Bourn on five pitches and Jose Ramirez lined a single into left and Michael Brantley singled off Duffy's glove to load the bases, I imagine Royals fans saw three decades of misery flash before their eyes: George Brett's final years; Hal McRae's tirade; the trades of Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye; that first 100-loss season in 2002, soon followed by three more; Runelvys Hernandez; a guy named Eduardo Villacis, barely out of A-ball, called up to start a game at Yankee Stadium (he pitched poorly) and released two weeks later; Dee Brown; Emil Brown; Adrian Brown; a 19-game losing streak; the time Chip Ambres dropped a fly ball to lose the game; The Process; Jeff Francoeur; Ned Yost deciding that pinch hitting Carlos Pena was a good idea.

Yes, when you've lost a lot your brain goes to dark areas with bad thoughts. With the bases loaded, it seemed like everything in 2014 was on the line. Nobody knew that the Mariners were on their way to a 14-4 blowout loss in Toronto, or that Detroit would lose 2-0 to the White Sox.

And then Danny Duffy pitched out of it, and saved the Royals' season.

The key pitch was the first one to cleanup hitter Carlos Santana, a 95 mph fastball up in the zone. Santana had destroyed the Royals on the season: .350 with seven home runs entering that at-bat. He was looking fastball, got his arms extended ... and just missed, sending a pop fly harmlessly into shallow center that second baseman Infante corralled.

Duffy battled Yan Gomes: a fastball at the knees that Gomes thought was low; a sharp-breaking curveball for a strike; a 96 mph fastball fouled off -- yes, Duffy's stuff is as electric as that of any lefty in the game, as evidenced by the .201 average against him entering the game -- and then a curve fouled off. At 2-2, Duffy threw another curve, at the letters, Gomes took it and plate ump Lance Barrett rang him up.

That brought up Mike Aviles, a former Royal. Of course. It was a great nine-pitch duel, Aviles fouling off four pitches with two strikes. Duffy threw four straight curves and Aviles hit the fourth one to right field for the third out.

Disaster averted. A 24-pitch inning that Royals fans should tuck away in their back pockets, to remember if the team goes on to make its first playoff appearance since 1985.

From there on, Duffy was great, holding his pitch count down enough to last six innings with no runs, and hand the ball over to rookie Brandon Finnegan (the 17th overall pick in June from TCU who now has five scoreless appearances in the majors) for the seventh, Wade Davis for the eighth and Greg Holland for the ninth. It was a 2-0 victory and now the Royals are two up on Seattle and just one game behind Detroit. The Indians, essentially needing a sweep to stay in the wild-card race, dropped 3.5 games behind the Royals.

The Royals haven't locked up anything, of course. Royals fans know that. There's still plenty of time for some inappropriate bunting from Yost. But Duffy will get another start, the back of the bullpen is terrific, the Mariners have appeared to hit the wall and there is at least a little breathing room.

So the wild card looks good. And the division title is still up for grabs. Twenty-four pitches to remember.

Commissioner Bud Selig, in one of his final acts before handing the reins of leadership over to Rob Manfred, announced a special committee to study implementing new rules to speed up the game for 2015. Of course, baseball receives a lot of criticism for the pace of its game, as if people have suddenly realized baseball isn't a constant assault of movement like hockey or lasts longer than a luge run.

Anyway, before getting to Selig's latest blue-ribbon panel, three stories to check out:
  • Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk with a long and impassioned commentary from earlier this month that challenges all the "baseball is dying" stories. Craig addresses the pace-of-game issue as well as other criticisms such as low World Series TV ratings and the belief that kids don't find baseball "cool."
  • Joe Posnanski with a blog on instant replay, specifically the issue that arose on Saturday in the Tigers-Royals game.
  • My own blog from a couple weeks ago on Bill Veeck's ideas to speed up the game. From 1962.

The three links are related. Baseball is dying in part, say the critics, because it's too slow for this generation of quick-twitch fans and future fans. Of course, one reason the average game time has increased is instant replay. As Posnanski notes, however, we demand perfection from our sports officials, so pick your poison: Faster games or incessant reviews? The Veeck link points out that these issues have been discussed for decades. (Craig has some great quotes along these lines in his piece as well.)

But check out the members of Selig's panel: John Schuerholz, Sandy Alderson, Joe Torre, Manfred, Red Sox partner Michael Gordon, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. Players association president and former big leaguer Tony Clark is also on the committee. Umm, first, I'm not sure why two owners from the Red Sox are on the committee, considering the Red Sox have long played the slowest games in the sport, along with the Yankees (Boston has the longest average game time this season at 3:17). I guess that maybe makes them experts in why game times have steadily grown past the three-hour mark.

You see the problem with the committee though, right? These are the same power brokers -- Selig included -- who have been involved in the sport for a long time, decades for most of them. These are the same guys who allowed the average game time to creep longer and longer, often in all-consuming pursuit of that extra dollar, as in the case of longer commercial breaks between innings. They've allowed postseason games to start late at night on the East Coast, with even more commercials and longer breaks between innings, so many World Series games last three-and-a-half hours or longer now and end past midnight on the East Coast.

So I ask: How about somebody from outside the game? How about Joe Sheehan or somebody like him to represent the fans? How about the kids from the Jackie Robinson West Little League team? Do they think games last too long or are too boring? Is Tom Werner really interested in speeding up games? His attendance is fine and longer games equals more concession sales. How about a representative from a less successful franchise? How about some active players, those who will potentially be affected by any rules changes?

Look, I have no doubt the committee is sincere in its desire to speed up the game, and while baseball is hardly dying, speeding up the game is an important issue to consider. But it's also mindful that knocking five to 10 minutes off the average game isn't going to suddenly bring droves of new fans to the game. I'd think you'd have to look at 30 or 40 minutes to really make any kind of impact. And I'm not sure even that would matter all that much.

Anyway, good luck with finding ways to make significant impact on game time. (Yes, a pitch clock would help some, as would requiring batters to remain in the batter's box.) Still, for starters, you're talking about cutting into commercial time between innings. Will Selig approve that idea?


If you adhere to the quaint notion that winning records and job security go hand-in-hand, Frank Wren deserved a whole lot better than he got from the Atlanta Braves.

In the first five years of Wren's tenure as general manager, the Braves won 86, 91, 89, 94 and 96 games. During that same span, the franchise ranked 11th, 15th, 15th, 16th and 18th in Opening Day payroll among the 30 Major League Baseball clubs. So under the most fundamental of accounting measures, Wren helped the team improve in the standings even as his bottom line was progressively being squeezed.

But the Braves failed to win a playoff series and ended this season with a cringe-worthy collapse, and upper management didn't hesitate to make the general manager the first of what could be several fall guys for a disappointing narrative. The new world order in Atlanta became official Monday morning with the news that Wren has been dismissed, special assistant John Hart will replace him on an interim basis and the team will immediately begin a search for a permanent general manager.

Fair? Not hardly. But there's a reason Wren isn't the only baseball general manager with silver hair. The stress of the job is enough to make a man grow old before his time.

Speculation around Wren's future had been swirling since Aug. 23, when Braves CEO Terry McGuirk told Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that "everyone is accountable" for the team's performance. If McGuirk was looking to provide stability or inspiration, the message failed to resonate. The Braves had just won seven of eight games when McGuirk gave his state of the team address. Since then, they've gone 8-18 and averaged a feeble 2.31 runs per game on the road to elimination.

Amid the Braves' sorry performance, it's hard to ignore the undercurrent of discord in the organization. When Bobby Cox gave his Hall of Fame induction speech in Cooperstown in late July and pointedly omitted Wren's name on the list of people he wanted to thank, it publicly substantiated the notion that the relationship between the two men was beyond strained.

Cox, whose personal biography appears on Page 179 of the Braves' media guide, has maintained a low profile in his capacity as special assistant to the general manager. But his presence on a three-man transition team with club president John Schuerholz and Hart lends credence to the rumors that he's bored with his current role and would like a more prominent voice moving forward.

Where do the Braves go from here? They have a ready-made internal candidate to replace Wren in assistant GM John Coppolella, a bright young executive with experience on both the scouting and analytical sides. Coppolella worked for the Yankees before coming to Atlanta, so he's eminently familiar with the rigors of life in a demanding market.

Other candidates are sure to surface in, oh, five minutes. On Sunday, Mark Bowman of floated the name of Royals GM Dayton Moore, who grew up in the Atlanta organization before leaving for Kansas City in 2006.

As Wren relinquishes his Turner Field parking space, it's clear that his missteps in the free-agent realm paved the way for his demise. The Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami signings failed to pan out, and Dan Uggla gave the Braves two years of Uggla-caliber production before going south. He's gone now, but every painful swing and miss by B.J. Upton reminds Braves fans that the $46 million left on his contract are a sunk cost.

Amid those high-profile whiffs, Wren clicked on trades for Michael Bourn and Javier Vazquez, pilfered Justin Upton from Arizona and made a number of astute low- to moderate-level acquisitions. This year, the Atlanta rotation was decimated by spring training Tommy John surgeries for Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen and Gavin Floyd's season-ending elbow injury in June. The Braves also suffered a major body blow in February when Jim Fregosi, a charismatic presence and in many ways the glue of the front office hierarchy, died from complications after suffering multiple strokes. It left a bigger void in the Braves' leadership team than anyone can imagine.

Wren has never been one to mince words or dance around difficult decisions, and his personal style is perceived as abrupt by some people within and beyond the Atlanta organization. But he's a stand-up guy who was always "accountable," as McGuirk might put it, and he's going to make another team's front office better by joining it.

In the meantime, the Braves have a course to chart that extends well beyond Wren's replacement. How do they fix that pathetic offense in time for the 2015 season? And do they stick with manager Fredi Gonzalez, who's a bigger lightning rod for social media discontent than Wren could ever dream of being? Even if Gonzalez survives, it's a given that his coaching staff will have a markedly different composition next season.

It might give Braves fans a nice, warm feeling to see proven winners Cox, Schuerholz and Hart overseeing the bridge to a new regime. But the three wise men better make some prudent decisions moving forward, or it won't be long before the scrutiny begins to land on them. It's all about gratification in baseball. And even legends and Hall of Famers don't get a pass.

Eric and I discuss the possible return of Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers and how they should deploy him.

One week left: 10 games to watch

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Some races were cleared up over the weekend, but the AL wild-card standings remain a three-for-two proposition, the Pirates and Giants are battling for home-field advantage in the NL wild card, and the AL Central, NL Central and NL West haven't quite been locked up yet. Not many contenders are playing each other this week, but here are 10 important games to keep an eye on.

1. Monday: Kansas City Royals (Danny Duffy) at Cleveland Indians (Carlos Carrasco)
Actually, this kind of counts as two games, as the teams will play the bottom of the 10th from the suspended game of Aug. 31. After tonight, we can thankfully stop mentioning the Royals have a suspended game to complete. (Dear Baseball Gods: No rain in Cleveland tonight, please.) The Royals will bat with the Indians up 4-2. Due up for the Royals: Mike Moustakas, Erik Kratz and Alcides Escobar. Salvador Perez was the designated hitter in the game, so he's not eligible to hit for Kratz.

The regular game presents a tough matchup for the Royals, as Carrasco is coming off a two-hit, 12-strikeout game and has a 1.17 ERA since joining the rotation in August. Look for Ned Yost to employ many one-run strategies. If the Royals lose both games Monday and the Mariners win, they'll be tied for the second wild-card spot.

2. Monday: Los Angeles Angels (C.J. Wilson) at Oakland Athletics (Jeff Samardzija)
Despite their struggles, the A's are still in the wild-card driver's seat after taking two of three from the Phillies over the weekend while the Royals and Mariners both dropped two of three. In this three-game series against the Angels they'll start Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Jon Lester, so they have their best starters lined up. Samardzija would love a little run support.

3. Tuesday: Chicago White Sox (Scott Carroll) at Detroit Tigers (David Price)
[+] EnlargeDavid Price
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDavid Price gave up five runs on eight hits in his last start against the Twins.
The Tigers finish with a seven-game homestand against the White Sox and Twins, so it would take a big collapse for them to lose out on the division title at this point. But they would love to see a strong outing from Price, who has a 5.81 ERA over his past five starts with 45 hits in 31 innings. Price would go again on Sunday if needed, but Brad Ausmus would love if he doesn't have to use him and presumably lines him behind Max Scherzer in the Division Series.

4. Wednesday: San Francisco Giants (Tim Hudson) at Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw)
If the Giants have any chance of winning the NL West, they're going to have to sweep the Dodgers. That would include beating Kershaw on Wednesday. Good luck. He's 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA against the Giants in three starts this season and 13-5 with a 1.44 ERA in his career.

5. Thursday: Oakland Athletics (Jason Hammel) at Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis)
Yes, the A's were swept last week at home by the Rangers, but you have to like their playoff chances since they finish with four games against the Rangers, even if they are on the road. Hammel struggled after first coming over to the A's but has been very good over his past five appearances, with a 2.18 ERA. If he gets the A's off to a good start, look for them to run over the Rangers and host the wild-card game on Tuesday.

6. Friday: St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha) at Arizona Diamondbacks (Trevor Cahill)
This will be Wacha's last chance to impress Mike Matheny enough to earn a spot in the postseason rotation. In three starts since returning from the DL, he's pitched 11.2 innings and allowed nine runs with seven strikeouts. The fastball velocity has been the same, and he was up to 78 pitches in his last outing, but he hasn't displayed the swing-and-miss stuff of earlier in the season or last October. Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller seem like the favorites to start the first three games, so it's Wacha or John Lackey for Game 4 (assuming the Cardinals hold on and win the division).

7. Friday: Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver) at Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma)
Weaver makes his final tune-up start before the playoffs and with Matt Shoemaker still an uncertainty -- the Angels are hoping he can start one of the season's final two games -- and Hector Santiago struggling his past two starts (17 baserunners and 10 runs in three innings), the Angels have considered going to a three-man rotation for the first round. This game may not mean much more for the Angels than trying to secure home-field advantage for the ALCS if they get there, but it could mean everything for Seattle. Iwakuma is scheduled to start, but he looks like he's hit the wall, with a 9.18 ERA over his past six starts.

8. Saturday: Pittsburgh Pirates (Francisco Liriano) at Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon)
With a wild card all but locked up, the Pirates have two things to play for this week: Home-field advantage over the Giants for the wild-card game (they're tied entering the week, with the Pirates holding the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series) and the slim chance of catching the Cardinals for the NL Central (down 2.5 games). The Pirates are also a team without an obvious No. 1 starter. Liriano has allowed just three runs over his past five starts so he may be the guy you want in the wild-card game, except you may not want a lefty facing a Giants lineup that includes Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Mike Morse from the right side. If Liriano starts on Saturday, he's unlikely to go in next Wednesday's wild-card game on three days' rest. It could instead go to Gerrit Cole, currently scheduled to start the regular-season finale.

9. Sunday: Kansas City Royals (Yordano Ventura) at Chicago White Sox (Chris Bassitt)
The rookie right-hander may be starting with a chance to give the Royals their first playoff trip since 1985. He's gone at least six innings in 10 consecutive starts and doesn't appear to be tiring even though he's pitched 23 more innings than he did last year between the minors and majors. In his start, his fastball averaged 98 mph and touched 100.

10. Sunday: Los Angeles Angels (C.J. Wilson) at Seattle Mariners (Felix Hernandez)
King Felix is lined up to make two starts this week, and it's likely the Mariners will need him on Sunday considering they begin the week 1.5 games behind the Royals and two behind the A's. Wilson just blanked the Mariners on one hit over seven innings, although the good news for Seattle is Wilson would probably be on a short leash, as he's the likely Game 2 starter in the Division Series if Shoemaker can't go.
Eric Karabell and David Schoenfield talked about the the season's final week and answered your questions about all things in baseball.

Five things we learned Sunday

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
We're starting to see a little clarity. I think. Check the standings, playoff odds and remaining schedule at the Hunt for October page.

1. The A's with their biggest win of the season.

Of course, they needed their biggest win after weeks of biggest defeats. The Oakland A's entered extra innings against the Phillies knowing the Seattle Mariners had already lost, so they had a chance to increase their lead over Seattle to two games while maintaining a half-game lead ahead of the Kansas City Royals. Oakland's much-maligned bullpen tossed 4.2 scoreless innings -- kudos to Bob Melvin for letting closer Sean Doolittle pitch two innings -- and then Josh Donaldson hit a two-run walk-off home run to dead center to give Oakland the 8-6 win. As the Oakland announcer says, "The A's finally got a hero today." It may provide the lift they needed to get them into the wild-card game. Oakland finishes with three at home against the Los Angeles Angels and four at the Texas Rangers.

2. Hisashi Iwakuma, meet the wall.

On Aug. 19, Iwakuma tossed eight scoreless innings to beat the Philadelphia Phillies and lower his ERA to 2.57. King Felix was getting all the attention for the Mariners but Iwakuma wasn't far behind. But since then, he has been a disaster. On Sunday, he got knocked out in the fifth inning, unable to hold a 3-1 lead and the Houston Astros eventually rolled to an 8-3 win. In his past six starts, he's 2-3 with a 9.12 ERA, raising his season number to 3.54. The Mariners are now 1.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals for wild card No. 2. (Or one game, if you want to count that suspended game as a loss for the Royals, which you really shouldn't do until it's official, one way or the other, because this is baseball and crazy things can happen.)

With Chris Young also looking like he's done, Lloyd McClendon is going to have to think of some desperate measures for his pitching staff this week. That means more than just quick hooks for his starters, but maybe even trying a couple of bullpen games -- starting Tom Wilhelmsen or another reliever, for example. It doesn't help that the Mariners will have had just one day off in September and now have to travel to Toronto and then back home to face the Angels to wrap the season.

3. Pirates playing for wild-card home-field advantage.

Pittsburgh essentially eliminated the Milwaukee Brewers with a 1-0 victory behind Vance Worley's eight scoreless innings and also pulled into the wild-card lead with the San Francisco Giants at 84-71. Edging out the Giants is important: The Pirates finished 51-30 at home and are 33-41 on the road. The Pirates won the season series over the Giants, so they get the tiebreaker if the clubs finish with the same record. While Pittsburgh is still just 2.5 behind St. Louis for the NL Central, they finish with four in Atlanta and four in Cincinnati, so they need a good road trip to win that home-field edge, let alone catch the Cardinals.

4. Matt Kemp just about wraps up the NL West.

Kemp went 4-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs in an 8-5 win over the Cubs. Kemp since the All-Star break looks a lot like 2011 MVP candidate Kemp: .310/.374/.594. Oh ... Yasiel Puig is also starting to heat up: .419 with two home runs and four doubles over his past 10 games. The Dodgers took three of four in the series, with only a bullpen collapse on Saturday preventing the sweep. The lead over the Giants is now 4.5 games with the Dodgers hosting the Giants on Monday through Wednesday, the Giants obviously needing a sweep to have a shot at the division title. The pitching matchups: Jake Peavy versus Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner versus Zack Greinke and Tim Hudson versus Clayton Kershaw. (Catch the final two games on ESPN.)

5. Stephen Strasburg may have locked up Game 1 of the division series.

Strasburg threw 84 pitches in seven scoreless innings in a 2-1 win over the Marlins and speculation out of D.C. has Matt Williams selecting Strasburg as his Game 1 starter for the playoffs, even though Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann and Tanner Roark all have lower ERAs. Strasburg is 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA over his past eight starts, with 49 strikeouts and just seven walks in 52.2 innings. He's topped 200 innings for the first time, but his fastball velocity has held strong, 94-95 mph and touching 97-98. After being benched two years ago, he still hasn’t made his first postseason start. I can’t wait.

Teams make the playoffs with expected production from their stars, with young players who improve, maybe a couple rookies who step up. But on almost every playoff team, you can find a guy who came out of nowhere to offer a major contribution.

Vance Worley is one of those guys. Where would the Pittsburgh Pirates be without the journeyman right-hander? The Pirates all but wrapped up a wild-card spot with Sunday's 1-0 win over the Brewers, giving Pittsburgh the series victory and moving the Pirates into the wild-card lead with the San Francisco Giants, 4.5 games over the Milwaukee Brewers. Worley went eight innings and allowed just four hits before a sellout crowd at PNC Park, improving his season numbers to 8-4 with a 2.93 ERA over 17 appearances (16 starts).

Worley wasn't even supposed to be out there on Sunday. Charlie Morton had replaced him in the rotation earlier in the week, but Morton's hernia flared up in his start so Worley was back out there against the Brewers. Worley pounded the strike zone with 63 strikes in 82 pitches, relying on his sinking fastball, a cutter and a slider, with an occasional curve.

[+] EnlargeVance Worley
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesVance Worley was an afterthought, more or less. Now he might be the captain of the All-Surprise Team.

"A little rest was good for me," Worley said after the game. "This is the deepest I've gone into a season the last couple of years, so it gave me some time to get my feet back under me, to gather up some of the energy I used up early in the season."

Worley is a journeyman right-hander because his fastball velocity doesn't light up the radar gun, but this is a guy who has had intermittent success in his four seasons in the majors. Of course, none of that came last year with the Twins, who had acquired him from the Phillies. In 10 starts with Minnesota, Worley got pounded like few pitchers in recent history, going 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA and .381 batting average allowed -- the highest average allowed by a pitcher with at least 40 innings since Mike Torrez in 1984.

With numbers like those, it's no surprise the Pirates were able to purchase Worley from the Minnesota Twins late in spring training. There was no downside for the Pirates, and he started the year in Triple-A before joining the Pirates' rotation in mid-June when Francisco Liriano went on the disabled list. He tossed seven scoreless innings against the Miami Marlins in that game and has been solid ever since.

Worley is one member of what we'll call the All-Surprise Team. Or maybe we can call it the lucky pickup team. Should the Pirates receive credit for Worley turning into gold? Hard to say. The Twins had actually put Worley on waivers and nobody claimed him until the Pirates made the cash deal. In the end, it's still a lot of luck. I'm pretty sure the Pirates didn't envision Worley making 16 starts with a sub-3.00 ERA. Here are some other members of the lucky pickup team:

Steve Pearce, Orioles
Pearce began the season with the Baltimore Orioles (they had originally claimed him off waivers from the New York Yankees in 2012) but only appeared in three games before they released him on April 27. The Toronto Blue Jays actually claimed Pearce, but he had the right to refuse the deal and instead become a free agent and apparently had an agreement to sign back with Baltimore. Two days later, with Chris Davis injured, the Orioles re-signed him. Pearce has responded with 20 home runs in 327 at-bats -- after hitting 17 in 743 career at-bats spread out over seven previous seasons. A new, closed stance has done wonders. Among American League hitters with at least 350 plate appearances, he's fourth in wOBA behind Jose Abreu, Victor Martinez and Mike Trout.

Chris Young, Mariners
Young has faltered a bit of late, including a bad loss in a vital game against the Houston Astros on Saturday, but the big right-hander is 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA. That's one more than he had from 2009 to 2013. That the Seattle Mariners ended up with Young was a result of their own penny-pinching ways. Originally, they had signed Randy Wolf as their token veteran to fill out the back of the rotation. Wolf had made the team out of spring training but the Mariners refused to give Wolf a guaranteed full-year contract, instead insisting he sign a 45-day contract. Wolf refused and the Mariners released him, picking up Young, who had been cut by the Washington Nationals. Now that was a stroke of luck, as Wolf ended up making just four poor starts with the Marlins.

Justin Turner, Dodgers
ESPN researcher Mark Simon wrote about Turner last week. The Los Angeles Dodgers' infielder has hit .332/.397/.467 in 310 PAs while starting games at all four infield spots. The Dodgers signed him as a free agent in February after the New York Mets non-tendered him, apparently because they tired of him not running hard. The Mets saved $500,00 or so, replacing Turner's $1 million salary with a minimum-salaried player. The Dodgers got themselves one of the year's best utility infielders.

Josh Harrison, Pirates
Harrison wasn't a free pickup since he was already in the Pirates' system, but nobody could have projected the 26-year-old to have this kind of breakout season. He entered 2014 with a .250 career average in 575 PAs and actually played more in Triple-A in 2013 than with the Pirates. Now he may win a batting title.

[+] EnlargeTanner Roark
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesFifth starter? Hardly. Tanner Roark has a 2.85 ERA.
Tanner Roark, Nationals
After beating out Ross Detwiler and others for the final spot in the Nationals' rotation, Roark has gone 14-10 with a 2.85 ERA in his first full season in the majors. The 27-year-old has actually been in the Washington system since the 2010 trade deadline, but his production this year was certainly a surprise. Plus, consider how the Nationals acquired him: For Cristian Guzman, whose major league ended that year with a .152 average in 15 games for the Rangers. Think Texas could have used Roark the past couple of seasons?

Matt Shoemaker, Angels
We've written about Shoemaker here before, so you know what kind of season he's put together, helping the Angels surge to the AL West title even after Garrett Richards went down. He's certainly the definition of free talent: The Angels signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Michigan in 2008. But consider this: Before the season, Baseball America rated the Angels' farm system the worst in the majors and Shoemaker wasn't listed as one of the team's top 30 prospects. Thirty. Riding a terrific splitter/changeup, he's 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA.

J.D. Martinez, Tigers
For all the moves the Tigers have made, this has perhaps been the biggest as Martinez has been worth 3.9 WAR with his .320/.363/.570 line with 23 home runs and 76 RBIs. Released by the Astros in spring training, Martinez made some minor tweaks to his swing and the results have obviously been impressive. After a hot start and prolonged slump, he's been red hot again in September, hitting .394 with six home runs. (Note: I missed Martinez upon first publishing the piece. Apologies to Tigers fans!)

Pat Neshek, Cardinals
The veteran reliever pitched OK in 40 innings with the A's last year, but that was also the most he had pitched since 2007. So it wasn't a surprise that teams weren't pounding down his door with offers over the winter. He finally signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals in February, with an invite to spring training. He made the team, pitched his way into a setup role and even made the All-Star team. He's 7-1 with a 1.39 ERA and a 65/8 strikeout/walk ratio.

What do these guys prove? For starters, all the analytics out there can't project every player, and that's a good reminder that players aren't robots, their statistics always predictable within a small range. And as much as we praise front offices for building a winner or criticize them for building a loser, there is still a fair amount of luck involved. It's hard to really praise the front office for any of these performances.

None of these guys may do this again next year, but that's not important now. They did it this year and helped their teams into the playoffs or into contention.

Back in spring training, Lance Lynn was sort of the forgotten guy in the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation. There was Adam Wainwright, the ace and Cy Young contender; there was Michael Wacha, coming off that dynamic postseason run and entering his first full season; there was Shelby Miller, the much-heralded first-round pick coming off an excellent rookie season; even Carlos Martinez seemed to get more attention, as fans and writers wondered whether Martinez would transition from hard-throwing eighth-inning reliever to the rotation. You even had Jaime Garcia and Joe Kelly.

While Wainwright has had another big year, the others all suffered issues: Wacha just returned from a DL stint; Miller was inconsistent much of the season but has pitched better down the stretch; Martinez is still in the bullpen; Garcia got hurt again; and Kelly was dealt to Boston in the John Lackey trade.

Meanwhile, Lynn has gone from forgotten man to most important man. He's 15-9 with a 2.68 ERA entering his Sunday night start on ESPN against the Reds. The win-loss record shouldn't necessarily be a surprise, as Lynn ranks third in the National League in wins since the start of 2012 with 48, trailing only Wainwright (52) and Clayton Kershaw. Maybe more importantly, as Wainwright hit some rough patches after the All-Star Game, Lynn has pitched the best baseball of his career, with a 7-3 record and 1.89 ERA in 14 starts since the beginning of July.

Is Lynn a different pitcher than the one who recorded a 3.97 ERA in 2013? A quick glance may say that's not the case: His walk and strikeout rates are similar to last year (his K rate is actually down slightly, from 23.1 percent to 20.5 percent); he's allowed a few fewer home runs (14 in 201 2/3 innings last year, nine in 191 2/3 innings this year), but that wasn't a major problem last year. His FIP -- fielding-independent pitching -- is 3.18, nearly identical to his 3.28 mark of 2013.

Lynn's batting average on balls in play has declined from .323 in 2012 and .321 in 2013 to .293, about the league average. So is it simply a pitcher with better luck or better defense behind him? It's not always that simple, and in Lynn's case, there are some obvious reasons for his lower ERA.

One major reason is he's avoided the blow-up inning that has plagued him the past two seasons. In 2012-13, Lynn had 24 innings where he allowed three-plus runs; that's happened just just six times in 2014. This suggests a pitcher who has performed better out of the stretch. Indeed, with men on base, batters are hitting .219 against him with just one home run; in 2013, opponents hit .248 with seven home runs with runners on.

Another thing I noticed is that Lynn is throwing his fastball more with runners on: from 71 percent in 2012 to 74 percent last year to 84 percent this year, according to ESPN data. This is a definitely change in approach. Two years ago, he threw his curveball 19 percent of the time with runners on, but that's down to 5 percent this year. Lynn has both a four-seamer and a good two-seam sinker -- one reason he doesn't give up many home runs -- and it simply appears he's trusting these pitches more, especially the sinker, which he's also thrown more in general since the beginning of July. Which makes sense: Brooks Baseball has batters hitting .249 against the sinker after hitting .332 against it last year.

Some of that probably is improved infield defense: Jhonny Peralta has rated very well at shortstop this year, better than Pete Kozma; Kolten Wong and Mark Ellis rate better than Matt Carpenter at second; and Carpenter rates better than David Freese at third. Overall, the Cardinals have gone from minus-39 defensive runs saved to plus-61.

But Lynn also has improved against left-handed batters. It used to be that he was afraid to challenge them, resulting in high walk rates and home runs when he did go after them. Through the years against left-handed batters:

2012: .272 average, .456 slugging, 11 HR
2013: .259 average, .404 slugging, 6 HR
2014: .235 average, .350 slugging, 4 HR

Again, Lynn is simply throwing more fastballs -- 70 percent two years ago compared to 80 percent this year -- relying on fastball movement and command and fewer curveballs/sliders/changeups. Against lefties, he likes to pound the outside corner with his fastballs, but in checking his heat maps, this looks like a guy with much-improved command from 2012:

LynnESPN Stats & InformationLynn's fastball location versus lefties in 2012
LynnESPN Stats & InformationLynn's fastball location versus lefties in 2014

To me, this adds up to a better pitcher. Yes, there is perhaps some good fortune going on here -- Lynn has held batters to a .133 average with runners in scoring position since July 1 -- but he's better against left-handed batters, and he's made some minor adjustments in his approach.

Don't focus on the static strikeout rate. A hard sinker may not get a bunch of whiffs, but it gets ground balls and limits home runs. I believe that Lynn is a better pitcher in 2014. Next up: He'll get a chance to show it in the postseason, where he's struggled in the past -- in five starts, he's never made it through six innings and three times got knocked out before the fifth was over.

Five things we learned Saturday

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

Check out the latest standings, playoff odds and upcoming schedules at our Hunt for October page.

1. Tigers win appeal, beat Royals. Larry Vanover, Tyler Collins and Raul Ibanez. That unlikely trio served as the three key principles in a contest that might go a long way in determining the winner of the American League Central. In the sixth inning, with the score tied at 1, runners on second and third, and two outs, Kansas City Royals infielder Omar Infante hit a line drive that was caught by Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler. In an attempt to double up Eric Hosmer at second, Kinsler threw the ball to shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who missed the throw. With the ball trickling into left field, Royals catcher Salvador Perez scampered home and scored what appeared to be the go-ahead run. The problem is Perez never retouched third base before he ran home.

Crew chief Larry Vanover called a meeting of the umpiring crew before he spoke with replay headquarters in New York. After a few minutes on the headset, the umpires reconvened for another chat. The play had been determined unreviewable, but the call was overturned. Perez was called out. The matter in which the call was made is still up for debate, but the ruling appeared to be correct, as Perez did not make contact with the bag.

A half-inning later, with the score still tied at 1, September call-up Tyler Collins came through with a pinch-hit, RBI single for Detroit to break the tie. Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning, the Tigers handed the ball over to embattled closer Joe Nathan.

After recording a leadoff out, Nathan allowed back-to-back singles to put a man in scoring position with one out. A groundout advanced the runners 90 feet and left pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez to face Nathan. Nathan, 39, retired Ibanez, 42, on two pitches to end a strange game and perhaps the Royals' chance of winning the AL Central.

The Royals, however, maintained their standing in the wild-card race after losses by the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners.

2. Williams makes history in win over A's. The A's fell 3-0 to Philadelphia, and a trio of Phillies pitchers completed the shutout led by journeyman Jerome Williams. This season, Williams has worn the uniform of the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers and his current club, and he has beaten Oakland while wearing each set of threads. He is the first pitcher in major league history to accomplish that feat.

Williams' latest victory over the A's was a seven-inning effort. He allowed four singles and a walk while striking out three. The veteran right-hander has a 2.45 ERA in just over 50 innings with his new club and has likely earned himself another look for next year.

For the A's, it's the latest in a line of disappointing losses. The team with the best record in baseball on July 31 is clinging to a half-game lead in the AL wild-card race. Lefty Scott Kazmir will take the ball for Oakland in the series finale.

3. Seattle routed in missed opportunity. With the A's and Royals losing, the Mariners had a golden opportunity to advance their place in the wild-card chase with a win over the Astros. Instead, the Mariners were crushed 10-1 and remain tied with the Royals for the final playoff spot in the AL.

M's starter Chris Young has been a pleasant surprise this season, but he was beaten around the ballpark Saturday. Houston belted a pair of two-run home runs off Young in the first inning to take an early 4-0 lead. In the fourth inning, they smashed two more -- back-to-back solo shots that chased the Seattle pitcher. In total, Young was charged with seven runs -- half of them home runs -- on eight hits.

The first home run against Young came off the bat of Astros' designated hitter Chris Carter. The former A's farmhand launched his 37th home run of the season; he now has 18 home runs in 58 second-half games. Power has always been Carter's calling card, but the 27-year-old is showing an improved approach at the place, which includes cutting down the number of swings on pitches out of the strike zone.

4. Dodgers' bullpen squanders a big lead. After scoring 14 runs on Friday, the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared to be headed for double digits again Saturday. With two runs in the first and four more in the third, Los Angeles jumped out to a 6-1 lead over the Chicago Cubs. They would add another run and take a 7-2 into the bottom of the seventh inning.

Facing left-hander J.P. Howell, the Cubs nearly erased their deficit and scored four runs in the frame, including a towering, three-run shot off the bat of Arismendy Alcantara. The rookie's 10th home run traveled 394 feet to deep left field and came on an 86 mph fastball. The Dodgers escaped the inning with the lead but would watch it fade for good in the eighth.

Chris Coghlan capped off the comeback with a two-run homer to put the Cubs ahead by the final score of 8-7. It was the second homer of the afternoon for Coghlan, who reached base in all five of his plate appearances. The Dodgers' Adrian Gonzalez also had a multihomer game in the loss. Los Angeles has already clinched a spot in the postseason but still has to fight off the Giants to win the division crown and avoid the play-in game.

5. Brewers strike late to stay relevant. Speaking of the play-in game, the Milwaukee Brewers kept their slender hopes of making the wild-card game alive with a victory over the team they are chasing, the Pittsburgh Pirates. A scoreless affair until the ninth inning, the Brewers used a fielder's choice, a double and a sacrifice fly to push across the lone run of the game.

In the top of the ninth of a scoreless game, Elian Herrera reached based for the Brewers after failing to advance Ryan Braun on a bunt attempt. Herrera moved to third following a Lyle Overbay double and crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Logan Schafer.

Seven Brewers pitchers, including Francisco Rodriguez, combined for the shutout. Rodriguez needed just six pitches to nail the final three outs in his 43rd save. The win brings Milwaukee to within 3 1/2 games of the Pirates, with another head-to-head matchup coming Sunday.

Tommy Rancel blogs about the Tampa Bay Rays at the SweetSpot network affiliate The Process Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @TRancel.

Royals botching both little, big things

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20

Ultimately, you place responsibility for a team’s success or failure on its players. But a manager’s job is to put his players in the best position to succeed, and after the Royals lost a second straight game to the Tigers in their weekend showdown series, you may be asking -- again -- if K.C. skipper Ned Yost can deliver on that.

That’s because the Royals are up against a basic problem: They may have to scrabble and scrape after runs with little-ball tactics, but even after a full season with this roster, they don’t seem all that familiar with using them to their advantage. You can understand why the Royals use one-run strategies: They’re last in the league in Isolated Power (.114 through Friday), and last in the league in walk rate (6.3 percent). That said, Saturday’s loss was a classic case of a manager’s overcompensation making a bad offense worse.

[+] EnlargeNorichika Aoki
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThere may have been no easier way to cool off Norichika Aoki's hot bat than his manager having him sac bunt repeatedly.
Let’s start with today’s edition of “Ned Yost, bunting fool.” It’s easy to pick on Yost because, as Earl Weaver quipped, if you play for one run, that’s all you’re likely to get. Twice, the Royals settled for less, short-circuiting any chance they had at a big inning against Max Scherzer, twice making sure that Scherzer vs. Shields was going to be the pitchers’ duel you’d expect.

Take Yost’s first-inning, no-out bunt with Norichika Aoki after Alcides Escobar’s leadoff double. Scherzer struck out the next two batters. Was the bunt a bad idea? Of course it was, without even getting into Aoki’s hot bat of late (13-for-20 in his previous week, .436 in September). But it was exacerbated by what seems like a lack of situational awareness in lineup design. The guy due up after Escobar on the lineup card Yost signed, Josh Willingham, is an adequate big-inning player because of his walk rate and his Isolated Power, but he strikes out more than 27 percent of the time and gets a hit in less than 18 percent of all plate appearances. He gets balls in play half the time he’s up, well below league average. He is not exactly the guy you bank on delivering a fly ball on demand. He didn’t.

Fast-forward to the third inning, this time with two speedsters -- Jarrod Dyson and Escobar -- aboard and nobody out, with Aoki up. Rather than double steal after designing his lineup to bundle up speed, he ordered Aoki to bunt again. Aoki bunted. Willingham fouled out to first base.

Alex Gordon couldn’t come up with a two-out RBI in either circumstance, but he plates just 15 percent of all baserunners, just slightly above league average. Not that Royals fans need another reason to see red, but referring to more of this kind of minutiae, Gordon has plated 54 percent of all runners on third with less than two outs. As if it didn’t already make more than enough sense to bat Gordon third just to make sure he’s more likely to get another at-bat. Bat Gordon third? Just do it already.

As is, the Royals scored their first run off Ian Kinsler missing a ball he should have come up with. And then there was the lost opportunity of the sixth inning, when the Royals blew another scoring chance because Salvador Perez didn’t retag third base after Omar Infante’s lineout to second base. It was a broken-play situation, because Kinsler threw past Suarez covering second, but Perez blew a baserunning basic.

James Shields doesn’t have the best track record of shutting down the Tigers’ bigger boppers: Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez had a combined .512 career slugging average against Shields. But the Royals’ ace delivered as well as you might hope against them this time around, limiting them to 3-for-12 with Hunter homering. If that had been the extent of the damage, that would have been great news for the Royals.

Unfortunately, where Shields didn’t do himself any favors was getting beaten by the back end of the Tigers’ roster in the seventh by surrendering a two-out walk to Eugenio Suarez, putting two men into scoring with a wild pitch, and getting beat by consecutive singles from Tyler Collins and Rajai Davis. Maybe Yost took the “Big Game” thing a few batters too far, but I’d cut him some slack here. Shields’ pitch count wasn’t huge (he finished with 103), and he was merely trying to finish his third time through the Tigers’ order. Three runs in six-plus innings is usually good enough for a team looking to win; thanks to the Royals’ self-inflicted handicaps on offense, it wasn’t.

Even late, the game was in reach, because it isn’t like the Joba Chamberlain-Joe Nathan eight-nine duo is doing the Tigers many favors lately. Chamberlain made it a one-run game in his frame, and then Nathan put two runners into scoring position in the ninth. You may wonder what manager Brad Ausmus was doing, leaving Joakim Soria warming up in case he’d have to clean up Nathan’s mess instead of preventing one from happening in the first place. But here again, the Royals couldn’t cash in, pinch-hitting Raul Ibanez (.546 OPS) to end the game as a pinch-hitter for Willingham (.750). With Gordon on deck.

It would be easy to say it’s time to hand the AL Central title to the Tigers after they beat the Royals again, but a win Sunday would put these two teams back within two games with a week to play. Anything could still happen. But if the Royals are supposed to achieve big things, they certainly can’t afford to keep blowing the little things.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

With Clayton Kershaw having a season for the ages, where does his year rank among the best ever? Here's my top 20 pitching seasons of the past 50 years. Does Kershaw crack the list? Eric Karabell and I discuss the best seasons in the video.


Five things we learned Friday

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
Check out the latest standings, playoff odds and upcoming schedules at our Hunt for October page.

1. Max Scherzer versus James Shields on Saturday could be for all the marbles. Kansas City began Friday just a half game behind Detroit in the American League Central, but they were blown out by the Tigers 10-1. Detroit chased Royals starter Jason Vargas in the fourth inning and joined the Nationals as the only teams in baseball with four players who have driven in at least 80 runs this season when Torii Hunter collected his 80th RBI of the season.

On this night, Victor Martinez joined Miguel Cabrera in the 100 RBI club when he drove in Cabrera in the first inning. That was his 45th RBI since the All-Star break, and he continues to build his case in the American League MVP race.

2. The Brewers' chances are slim to none, and slim is packing its bags. Milwaukee took a 2-0 lead into the eighth inning at Pittsburgh, only to see Jonathan Broxton allow a three-run home run to Russell Martin and watch their offense go down 1-2-3 in the ninth inning. The loss was Milwaukee's third straight and 12th in the month of September, and it spoiled a brilliant outing for Yovani Gallardo.

The Brewers needed to sweep this series, and Gallardo was up to the task. He struck out 11 and scattered five hits over seven scoreless innings. Nonetheless, John Holdzkom was awarded the first win of his major league career, and Mark Melancon saved his fifth game in two weeks.

Milwaukee now trails Pittsburgh by 4½ games for the second NL wild-card spot, and the Brewers are in need of a miracle to get to the postseason. The win was the fifth in a row and 12th in the past 14 games for Pittsburgh. The Pirates are still within striking distance of the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central title, but the two teams do not play again during the regular season, and St. Louis will face the Cubs and Diamondbacks in the final week.

3. Clayton Kershaw is (somewhat) human. The Cubs began the day with a .239 team batting average, which was fourth worst in baseball, and they had a league-worst 23.9 percent strikeout rate. Kershaw entered the game with a league-best .190 opponents' batting average and a 31.6 percent strikeout rate. The matchup, on paper, could not have looked more lopsided. Kershaw had made 17 consecutive starts in which he threw at least seven innings. He had made 16 consecutive starts in which he did not allow more hits than innings pitched.

Both of those streaks came to an end against the young and free-swinging Cubs lineup. While Kershaw was still able to pick up his 20th win of the season, he allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings of work. Kershaw did not have his usual command of the strike zone, and he threw 59.4 percent (63-of-106) of his pitches for strikes, which marked just the second time this season that he had thrown fewer than 60 percent of his pitches for strikes. His last regular-season start will come Wednesday night in the critical series against the Giants.

4. A repeat is looking likely for St. Louis. John Lackey took the mound for the first time in nine days, as his latest start was skipped due to his having a dead arm. In his previous three starts, Lackey had permitted 22 hits and 13 runs in 14 1/3 innings.

On Friday, he looked like the version of Lackey the Cardinals acquired from the Red Sox. He pitched into the eighth inning and allowed six hits and one run while striking out five batters. It was the 13th win in September and sixth in the past seven games for St. Louis. Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn will take the ball in the final two games of the series as the Cardinals look to take advantage of a favorable schedule the rest of the way and repeat as NL Central champs.

5. Mariners handling the calm before the storm. Seattle has a tough road next week, as they have a four-game series at Toronto and then host the Angels to wrap up the regular season.

Last week, the Mariners dropped two of three at home to the Astros, and they can ill-afford a repeat this weekend in Houston. Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino were not going to let that happen, as each homered Friday in support of Taijuan Walker in a convincing win over the Astros.

Five Mariners had multiple hits, and both of Ackley's hits were home runs. Seattle is a half-game out of the second AL wild-card spot. A sweep of the Astros this weekend would strengthen the Mariners' odds in the final week, and they started the weekend off on the right note.

Jason Collette writes for The Process Report, a blog on the Tampa Bay Rays, and also contributes to FanGraphs and Rotowire.
Facing the Los Angeles Angels' Triple-A lineup Thursday (all the starters rested after the Angels clinched the AL West title Wednesday night), Felix Hernandez crushed: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K. He lowered his ERA to 2.07.

And he didn't get the win. The Mariners did finally capture the victory when Logan Morrison hit a three-run homer in the ninth, but Hernandez was left with a no-decision.

That's now three no-decisions this season for Hernandez in games in which he allowed zero runs, on top of four no-decisions and a loss when he allowed one run. Plus two no-decisions and two losses when he allowed two runs. You get the idea: The Mariners don't score many runs for their King.

[+] EnlargeFelix Hernandez
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsWhat more can Felix Hernandez do? (Maybe his run support would improve if they let pitchers hit in the American League.)

From ESPN Stats & Info: This was the 16th time in his career that Hernandez has fanned 10 or more batters, allowed zero earned runs and did not receive the win. The pitchers with the most such games over the past 100 years:

Nolan Ryan: 19
Chris Short: 18
Vida Blue: 17
Felix Hernandez: 16
Jake Peavy: 16
Sam McDowell: 16
Bob Veale: 16

Also, from ESPN Stats & Info: The Mariners have scored three runs or fewer in more than half of his career starts. Highest percentages since 1969:

Jon Matlack: 54.1 percent (172 of 318)
Steve Rogers: 52.7 percent (207 of 393)
Felix Hernandez: 52.5 percent (158 of 301)
Mike Scott: 52.1 percent (166 of 319)
Nolan Ryan: 51.7 percent (390 of 754)

Interesting list. Matlack spent his best years in the 1970s with some mediocre Mets clubs, pitching in Shea Stadium, a low run-scoring environment. In 1974, he tossed seven shutouts and still went just 13-15. He then finished with some bad Rangers teams in the late '70s and early '80s. Rogers pitched his entire career with the Expos from 1973 to 1985. They were well above .500 from 1979 to 1985, so a lot of those games must have come early in his career. He led the NL in losses in 1974 (even though he was an All-Star that year) and 1976, when he had a 3.21 ERA. Scott and Ryan both pitched in the Astrodome, where runs were hard to come by. Ryan spent a lot of years in Anaheim, another pitchers' park, and he had some awful offenses behind him in his early Angels seasons. He went 19-16 in 1972 for a team that averaged just 2.93 runs per game, an offense that makes the 2014 Mariners look like the 1927 Yankees.

Then we have Jeff Samardzija of the A's. On Wednesday, he tossed eight scoreless innings, left with a slim 1-0 lead and then saw Sean Doolittle cough up the lead in the ninth. He's now 6-12 despite a 2.98 ERA. You know how many pitchers have ever started 30 games, had an ERA below 3.00 and won six or fewer games? One! Some poor sap named Fred Glade for the 1905 St. Louis Browns. His nickname: Lucky.

(Actually, Glade wasn't some poor sap. He came from a wealthy family who owned a milling business that would eventually become part of ConAgra.)

Samardzija has allowed zero runs five times this year -- twice with the A's, three times with the Cubs -- and has received a no-decision each time. He's allowed one run five times and is just 2-0 in those games.

Going back to 1969, here are the pitchers with the most starts in a season of allowing no runs without getting the win:

Dustin Hermanson, 1997: 6 (33.1 IP)
Roger Clemens, 2005: 6 (40 IP)
Clayton Kershaw, 2009: 6 (38.2 IP)
Jimmy Key, 1985: 5 (27 IP)
Chris Young, 2007: 5 (25 IP)
Jeff Samardzija, 2014: 5 (35 IP)

Samardzija has eight games where he allowed no runs or one run and failed to get a win. Since 1969, two pitchers have had nine such games in a season: Kershaw in 2009 and Jose DeLeon in 1991. (Felix also has eight such games this year.)

Talk about two unlucky pitchers.

And yet we still hear some people talk about how there is an "art" to winning games.

Sure, it's called pitching well and getting run support.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
A hearty congrats to the Orioles, Nationals and Angels as they prepare for the postseason, especially Orioles fans, who have been waiting since 1997 to once again don the AL East crown. Meanwhile, former doormats (Pirates, Royals, and Mariners) are all sprinting towards the playoffs while past postseason regulars (Yankees, Red Sox, Braves) have wilted. The A's, on the other hand, cannot seem to stop the slide. And how about the performances of Carlos Carrasco and Jake Arrieta? Wow. And wow.

What did we learn this week? The SweetSpot staff has been diligently helping us learn something every day.

On to the best from around the SweetSpot Network this week:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
D-backs have free agent options, limited flexibility in 2015: A recent report has D-backs leadership pointing at a $100 million payroll for next season. Jeff Wiser examines how that restraint may play out in the offseason. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
The Orioles don't have an MVP candidate, so who's the MVO? Pat Holden determines who has been the most valuable Orioles player in 2014. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Free agent wishcasting: The White Sox have been done for a while now, but have lots of money. Nick Schaefer takes a long look at potential free agent targets. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Projecting Michael McKenry: Ryan Hammon evaluates Michael McKenry, who has played his way into the starting catcher mix for the Rockies. Included is a chat with him about what he plans on working on this offseason and other topics. Follow on Twitter: @RyanHammon.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
What's going on with Glen? All-Star closer Glen Perkins is unraveling late in the season. Parker Hageman digs deep to figure out what's ailing the lefty. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Will Kevin Long be the sacrificial lamb? With the Yankee offense reduced to a punchline this season, William Tasker discusses Long's role in the situation and whether the hitting coach should end up taking the fall. Follow on Twitter: @FlagrantFan.

San Francisco Giants: West Coast Bias
Would Tim Lincecum make the Giants' postseason roster? Dave Tobener takes a look at what has been a horrendous year for Tim Lincecum, and how he stacks up against the other options Bruce Bochy has for assembling a postseason pitching staff. Follow on Twitter: @gggiants.

Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.