Elite young lefties in national spotlight

Howard Smith/US Presswire

Clayton Kershaw will try to end the Dodgers' two-game skid this afternoon in Oakland.There are just six major-league games on the schedule today, but still plenty of intriguing games and ace pitching matchups.

Los Angeles Dodgers at Oakland Athletics, 3:35 ET

Clayton Kershaw is coming off one of his worst starts of the season, when he allowed five runs (four earned) on a season-high-tying eight hits in a six-inning no-decision against the White Sox.

Clayton Kershaw Slider
Last 2 Seasons

Kershaw, who won the pitching Triple Crown last year, ranking first in the NL in ERA, wins and strikeouts, has not been able to replicate those numbers this year.

One problem is that his slider has been hit hard. He has allowed five homers on sliders this year, after giving up just three on the pitch all of last year. His percentage of at-bats ending in a well-hit slider has also more than doubled this season compared to 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays at Washington Nationals, 7:05 ET

A pair of elite young lefties square off in Washington tonight as Matt Moore faces Gio Gonzalez. Moore and Gonzalez both are two of the best in the majors at missing bats, each ranking in the top 10 this season among southpaws in strikeout rate and miss percentage.

Highest K per 9
Left-Handed Starters

Gonzalez, who is allowing a tiny .071 batting average with two strikes, is putting up historic numbers. Only one lefty starter in major-league history has matched or bettered his rate of 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings – Randy Johnson did it an amazing seven times.

Gonzalez has also given up just one home run in 13 starts this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one other pitcher in the last 20 seasons gave up no more than one homer through his first 13 starts: Jake Peavy for the 2007 Padres.

Minnesota Twins at Pittsburgh Pirates, 7:05 ET

The Pirates put the NL’s second-best home record and the major’s best home ERA on the line tonight in their rubber match with the Twins. The Pirates' 2.37 home ERA would be the lowest in a single season since the 1988 Mets had a 2.31 ERA at Shea Stadium.

James McDonald, who was roughed up in his most recent home start, still owns a 1.75 ERA at PNC Park this season and had pitched a quality start in his first six home outings before giving up three runs in four innings against the Royals on June 9.

Lowest Home ERA in NL
Divisional Era (since 1969)

McDonald’s breaking pitches have been nearly unhittable at home this season. Opponents are 8-for-58 (.138) with 23 strikeouts in at-bats ending in a slider or curveball at PNC Park. Lefties have fared even worse; they have just one hit in 23 at-bats (.043) ending in a breaking pitch at home.

McDonald will be challenged by Trevor Plouffe, who has nine home runs this month, second only to Jose Bautista. Plouffe, however, has struggled mightily against breaking pitches from righties this season, hitting .167 (6-for-36) with just one home run.