Since the beginning of the 2006 season, 81 pitchers have made at least 150 starts in the big leagues. Arranging those 81 in order from highest to lowest ERA+ over this nine-year span, Clayton Kershaw holds the seat reserved for the king of the mountain.
Royals right-hander James Shields owns a nice spot in the organization of these names and numbers, with his 110 ERA+ tying him with two others for 33rd. Nice, but not astounding, nor outstanding.
However, when it comes to looking at a pitcher at his very best, Shields grows a bit in esteem when compared to his peers since 2006. Since the start of that season, he's had five games in which his pitching line has produced a game score (an equation used to measure a pitcher's dominance) of at least 90, tying him with Justin Verlander for the most in the Majors. Shields has also had nine games with a game score of at least 85 -- the fourth most since '06, behind totals from CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez.
On Thursday night in Houston, Shields wasn't quite at his best, but his performance against the Astros was another reminder that when Shields is good, he is often spectacularly good.
Shields dominant vs. Astros
Shields had 12 strikeouts (including seven straight at one point), allowed one run on four hits in eight innings and picked up the win, as Kansas City topped Houston, 5-1. It was the 22nd career double-digit strikeout game for the right-hander.
Since Shields' debut in 2006, his 22 games with at least 10 strikeouts tie him with Jake Peavy and Kershaw for the ninth most. Tim Lincecum (35) and Sabathia (31) occupy the first two spots in line, and next behind them are Lee (29) and Verlander (28). Johan Santana and Hernandez each have 27 since '06, and Cole Hamels and A.J. Burnett each have 23.
Shields' effort Thursday produced a game score of 80. Since 2006, the righty has had 18 outings with a game score at least that high, tying him with Jered Weaver, Verlander and Kershaw for the sixth most. Hernandez owns the most (28), followed by Sabathia and Roy Halladay (24 apiece), Lee (23) and Peavy (19).
Lester tops tough-luck Sale
In a matchup of two of the top southpaws in baseball, Boston's Jon Lester got the better of Chicago's Chris Sale, and the Red Sox beat the White Sox, 3-1.
Lester, who picked up the win, allowed one run on seven hits in eight innings, struck out nine and didn't walk a batter (game score of 73). Sale, in a no-decision, allowed one hit and one run with 10 strikeouts and three walks in seven innings (game score of 78).
The most recent tilt between these two teams to feature a pair of left-handed starters each posting a game score of at least 73 took place on May 25, 1983. In that affair in Chicago (a 2-0 Red Sox win), Bruce Hurst threw a three-hit shutout and his counterpart, Britt Burns, twirled eight innings of four-hit, no-run ball. Before that game 31 years ago, the previous occurrence occurred on June 4, 1957, when Billy Pierce of the Pale Hose took on Boston's Dean Stone, also in Chicago.
Since 1914, there have been 30 occurrences -- Sale's performance on Thursday marking the latest -- of a pitcher failing to record a win in a start in which he finished with at least 10 strikeouts and only one hit (or no hits) allowed. There were four such games in 2013 -- the most for any season since 1914 -- with Sale's the first of 2014. Nolan Ryan accounted for two of the 30 since 1914, and he is the only pitcher to appear on this list more than once.
Hot start for pair of Twins
In the second game of a doubleheader, the Twins used a six-run rally in the eighth inning to defeat the Blue Jays, 9-5.
Brian Dozier got the Twins' scoring started in the first with a leadoff home run. Dozier has five long balls this season, tied with Mike Trout for second most in the American League behind Toronto's Jose Bautista, who also clubbed his league-leading sixth homer in this game.
Dozier, who has hit four of his five home runs while batting in the top spot in the order, has a long way to go to match the franchise mark for the most home runs in a season as a leadoff hitter. In 1986, Kirby Puckett hit 25, and Jacque Jones matched that total in 2002. In 74 games batting leadoff last year, Dozier hit 12.
Minnesota's Chris Colabello doubled twice and drove in three runs in the second game of the doubleheader after also collecting a double and an RBI in Game 1. Colabello, who leads the AL in both doubles (nine) and RBIs (19), had 10 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in 181 plate appearances as a 29-year-old rookie in 2013.
Here and there
• Adam Wainwright went the distance on a two-hitter as St. Louis blanked Washington, 8-0. Wainwright has 17 career complete games, with four of them seeing the right-hander allow exactly two hits (his lowest total allowed). Since 2007, there have been 102 two-hitters thrown in the Majors, with Wainwright's four tying him with Hernandez and Shields for the most.
• After losing, 1-0, on Wednesday, the Phillies returned the favor on Thursday with a 1-0 victory against the Braves. The win was Philadelphia's 10th 1-0 victory all-time at Citizens Bank Park, and the club's first at home since toppling the Athletics on June 24, 2011. The Phillies' lone run Thursday against the Braves came on an eighth-inning single, and the club ended the game without an extra-base hit. In the Citizens Bank Park era (since 2004), the Phils have gone 8-35 when not having any doubles, triples or homers in a home game.
• Hitting ninth as the starting designated hitter, Cleveland's Lonnie Chisenhall produced four hits -- an interesting line relative to his role and position in the batting order. Since the inception of the DH rule in 1973, that role -- when placed in the ninth slot of the starting lineup -- has produced three previous four-hit games: Willie Davis in '79, Rick Leach in '88 and Dee Brown in 2003.
• Hyun-Jin Ryu improved to 3-1 on the year, as the Dodgers defeated the Giants, 2-1. Ryu, who allowed four hits in seven scoreless innings, also had starts this season of seven scoreless innings and three hits allowed, and seven scoreless innings and two hits allowed. Since 1914, Ryu is the fourth pitcher to have three starts featuring at least seven scoreless innings and four or fewer hits allowed through his club's first 16 contests. The others: Ray Caldwell in 1914, Bob Feller in '47 and Dave McNally in '72. No pitcher has had more than three.
• Aided by a 5-4-3 triple play in the second inning vs. the Rays, the Yankees' Sabathia worked seven innings of two-run ball and picked up the win. Sabathia has been on the mound for each of the Yankees' past three triple plays (which have all come in April), with the two previous instances occurring up on April 22, 2010, and April 12, 2013. Before this stretch, the Yankees had most recently turned a triple play on June 3, 1968.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions.