Pitchers keep the heat on hitters this week

It’s been called the Year of the Pitcher II, and the drop in offense this season has been well-documented. There’s been no shortage of outstanding pitching performances recently, as three of the six best-pitched games this season -- according to Bill James’ Game Score -- have come in the past week.

Justin Verlander

VerlanderOn June 14, Justin Verlander threw a two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts, allowing his first hit with one out in the eighth inning. Verlander’s Game Score of 94 is the best in baseball this season, surpassing James Shields' 93.

That same night, Shields threw a five-hit shutout to beat the Red Sox and Jered Weaver got into the act as well -- he threw his own five-hit shutout in a win over Seattle.

One night later, Josh Beckett threw a one-hit shutout, striking out six and walking nobody, tied for the fifth-best Game Score (91) this season at the time. Livan Hernandez also threw a shutout that night -- his second since July 2004 -- with six strikeouts and no walks.

Cliff Lee threw a two-hit shutout the next night, the sixth shutout in the majors in three days. Pitchers gave hitters a two-day break before Seattle’s Jason Vargas threw his second career shutout (and second this season) against Lee’s Phillies on Sunday.

Shields got back in the action Sunday as well, allowing four hits and striking out 10 in a complete game victory, but didn’t get a shutout because of an unearned run. Verlander also went the distance, allowing four hits and one run. Those performances got them a spot in our Cross-Sport Power Rankings.

Clayton Kershaw

KershawMonday night, Tim Hudson threw eight shutout innings in a win over the Blue Jays, and Clayton Kershaw threw a two-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts, racking up a 93 Game Score.

Kershaw finished his shutout by striking out the side in the ninth inning. According to Elias, the last Dodgers starter to finish a shutout by striking out the side in the ninth was Sandy Koufax in his perfect game in 1965.

With all these standout performances on the mound, teams are looking everywhere for offense, and they’ve been finding it lately from the pitchers who’ve been holding it down.

Lee got at many hits as he allowed Thursday, the first Phillies pitcher to allow two hits or fewer in a shutout and get a pair of hits since Steve Carlton in 1980 (according to the Elias Sports Bureau). He’s 8-for-20 with two doubles, four RBI and a stolen base in his past nine starts.

Daniel Hudson allowed one run in a complete game victory Friday, and added an RBI double off of Edwin Jackson -- for whom he was traded last season. The next night, Ubaldo Jimenez got his second win of the season, driving in two runs in a one-run win.

Tim Hudson

HudsonMonday night, three pitchers got it done at the plate: Jake Arrieta got his first career hit and RBI in a win over the Pirates. Kershaw drove in two runs in the Dodgers’ 4-0 win -- raising his batting average to .294 -- and he has as many hits this season as he had in his first three seasons combined.

Finally, Tim Hudson hit a two-run homer in the Braves’ 2-0 win. According to Elias, he’s the fifth pitcher in the past 40 seasons to pitch in a game and hit a home run that accounted for all of that game’s runs.