Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano

Yankees sweep, Red Sox get swept


So much for momentum.

The Yankees finished off a sweep in Oakland with their 10th straight victory over the A’s on Wednesday, while the Red Sox lost their third in a row to the White Sox at home, giving the Bombers a two-game lead in the AL East.

The Red Sox, apparently worn out after a four-game series in Detroit that included a day-night doubleheader on Sunday, have lost four in a row to fall back to 30-26 on the season.  Before dropping the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader, they had won 13 of 15, a stretch that started when they swept the Yankees in New York on May 13-15.

Boston dropped Wednesday’s game 7-4 after Paul Konerko singled in the go-ahead run in the seventh and put the game away with a two-run homer in the ninth.  An apparent bad call by second-base umpire Marty Foster led to a two-run fifth inning for the White Sox, erasing what was a 3-1 lead for the Red Sox at the time.

On that play, Tim Wakefield picked Juan Pierre off first base, with Pierre continuing to second on the throw.  In the rundown, Dustin Pedroia appeared to perform a swipe-tag on Pierre for what would have been the third out of the inning.  Pedroia reacted as though there was a tag.  Pierre reacted as though there was a tag.  Foster, though, said no tag and refused to ask for help when the Red Sox argued.

The Yankees have won four in a row after dropping their first two games in Seattle last weekend.  Mariano Rivera finally got back into the save column with the 4-2 win on Wednesday.  He had gone three weeks without one since saving 13 of the team’s first 33 games.  He had just one opportunity during the span, blowing a 1-0 lead in a game against the Orioles on May 18.

Both the Yankees and Red Sox now have Thursday off.  The Yankees go to Anaheim to face the Angels on Friday, while the Red Sox will get their chance to take on the A’s in another series at Fenway.

Which teams improved and declined the most in 2015?

Joe Maddon
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I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.

First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:

+24 Cubs
+21 Rangers
+16 Astros
+15 Diamondbacks
+13 Twins
+11 Mets
+10 Blue Jays
+10 Cardinals
+10 Pirates

The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.

Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:

-20 Athletics
-16 Tigers
-15 Orioles
-14 Brewers
-13 Nationals
-13 Angels
-12 Braves
-12 Reds
-11 Mariners

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.

MLB games were six minutes shorter this year

Pitch Clock
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According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.

The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.

Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.

It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.