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MLB Notebook: Bucs' hurlers setting bar high

Pittsburgh proving historically stingy on hill; Rays, Dodgers rolling through July

Between 1920-2012, there were 32 instances of a team's starters finishing a season with an opposing batting average at or below .231. For those who have spent time interpreting the cyclical nature of the game in the live-ball era, it will not be too surprising to see that of these 32, 28 of them took place in between 1960-75 (with six alone in '68). There was only one example of this yearlong performance between 1920-59, and it came via the Brooklyn Dodgers, whose starters posted a .231 mark in their pennant-winning '41 season. That leaves three others since '76: the '81 Astros (.228), the '85 Mets (.228) and the '86 Astros (.222). This is the kind of recent company being kept by the starters for the 2013 Pirates, who just continue to be unimaginably stingy when it comes to allowing hits.

In the first game of a doubleheader on Tuesday, the Pirates defeated the Cardinals, 2-1, in 11 innings. Pittsburgh and St. Louis entered the game first and second in the Majors in games holding opponents to two or fewer runs, with the Bucs having 46 and the Cards having 43.

In the second game of a doubleheader, Brandon Cumpton (three hits in seven innings) and Jeanmar Gomez combined on a three-hit shutout, and the Pirates defeated the Cardinals, 6-0.

With Cumpton's effort (which saw him pick up his first Major League victory) following A.J. Burnett's seven innings of three-hit ball in the first game, Pirates starters are holding the opposition to a .231 batting average. No set of Pittsburgh starters since 1916 has posted a mark this low for a full season, with the '65 starters holding the low line, at .238.

The shutout was the 14th of the season for the Pirates, tying Cleveland for the most in the Majors. The 14 through 106 games are the second most for any Pittsburgh team since 1916, with the '92 club having 15. The combined three-hit shutout, meanwhile, gave the Bucs 11 games this season in which they have held the opposition to three or fewer hits. Those 11 through 106 games tie the 2013 Pirates with three other teams (including the 2013 Rays) for the third most for any club in the past 30 seasons.

With the their doubleheader sweep, the Pirates own the best record in the Majors, and hold a 1 1/2-game lead on the Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. Before this year, the Bucs had last swept a doubleheader against the Cards on April 23, 1978.

Rays keeping pace on mound
The Rays defeated the D-backs, 5-2, getting a five-hitter from Roberto Hernandez. Tampa Bay's starters have posted a 2.10 ERA this month, which would be the 12th lowest for any starting staff in a July since 1916.

The Rays' staff as a whole has compiled a 2.36 ERA, which would be the lowest in a July for an American League team since the hurlers on the 1933 Red Sox owned a 2.29 mark.

Tampa Bay starters have also recorded seven complete games, the most for any team in July since 1997 Astros had seven.

In the club's victory over Arizona, Wil Myers went 1-for-2 with two walks. Myers has reached safely in 31 of his first 35 games -- the third most for any player for the franchise. The top mark of 32 is shared by Rocco Baldelli and Akinori Iwamura.

The Rays, who are 25-10 when Myers starts, pushed their July record to 21-4 (.840) with the victory. Dating back to 1916, the only team to author a better winning percentage in July was the 1941 Yankees, who went 25-4 (.862).

Dodgers' surge continues
Mark Ellis hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win over the Yankees.

The Dodgers improved to 19-5 in July, for a .792 winning percentage (second best in the Majors, after the Rays' .840 mark). From 1916-2012, only eight teams have finished a July with a winning percentage as good as the one currently owned by Los Angeles: the 1941 Yankees (.862); the '45 Cubs (.813); the '38 Yankees, the '47 Yankees, the '68 Cardinals, the 2004 Cardinals (.800); the '56 Yankees (.793); and the 2012 Athletics (.792).

Since the start of play on June 22, the Dodgers are 27-6, with their .818 winning percentage the best in the Majors for this span. The Rays are playing .788 ball since then, with the third-best winning percentage since June 22 owned by the Pirates and their .625 mark.

Spearheading the Dodgers' surge has been Hanley Ramirez, who went 2-for-4 on Tuesday to extend his streak of reaching base safely to 37 games. The streak is the longest for the Dodgers since Andre Ethier posted a 37-game run in 2011.

The last Dodgers player to have a longer streak was Jeff Kent (39 games) in 2007.

Here and there
• In the first game of a doubleheader, the Brewers defeated the Cubs, 6-5, with shortstop Jean Segura (who is playing in his age-23 season) homering and doubling. In the second game, Segura helped Milwaukee to a 3-2 win with a pinch-hit single. Segura leads the NL with 132 hits. Since 1901, there have been nine shortstops in their age-23 or younger season who led their league in hits.

Shortstops in age-23 season or younger to lead their league in hits
Player Year Age Hits
A. Rodriguez 1998 22 213
G. Templeton 1979 23 211
C. Ripken 1983 22 211
H. Kuenn 1953 22 209
N. Garciaparra 1997 23 209
S. Castro 2011 21 207
J. Pesky 1942 23 205
Kuenn 1954 23 201
C. Hollocher 1918 22 161

• Mike Trout reached safely six times in the Angels' loss to the Rangers, collecting four hits and drawing two walks (Trout has reached safely in 10 straight plate appearances. The franchise record is held by Bobby Grich, who reached safely in 12 consecutive plate appearances from Sept. 14-17, 1984). Trout's OPS since the beginning of last year stands at .970. He is one of 58 players in history to collect at least 1,000 plate appearances in their age-20 and age-21 seasons combined; among these 58, his current OPS over these two seasons would be the fourth highest, behind marks from Mel Ott (1.060), Ted Williams (1.041) and Jimmie Foxx (1.034). Adjusting for league and park, Trout's 172 OPS+ would be the highest, above Ty Cobb's 168.

• The Royals -- getting a two-homer game from Mike Moustakas and a seven-inning, two-run outing from Ervin Santana -- won their seventh straight game. The seven-game winning streak is the longest for Kansas City since it notched seven consecutive victories in September 2011. The club hasn't won eight in a row since opening the 2003 season 9-0.

With one game remaining in July, the Royals are 14-10 (.583). The club last had a July that finished with a winning percentage that high in 1994, when it was 18-10 (.643).

Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions.

A.J. Burnett, Brandon Cumpton, Mark Ellis, Roberto Hernandez, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Trout