Elias Says: Sept. 11, 2017

Rams rout Colts in McVay’s head-coaching debut

The Rams, who ranked last in the NFL in scoring in 2016, opened their 2017 season with a shocking 46–9 victory over the Colts. Los Angeles scored an average of 14.0 points per game last season, the lowest mark in the NFL since 2013. Only one team in NFL history scored more points in a season-opening game immediately following a season in which they had the lowest scoring average in the league. San Francisco averaged only 16.9 points per game in 1964, but opened the 1965 season with a 52–24 win over the Bears.

Sunday’s game marked the NFL head-coaching debut of 31-year-old Sean McVay. During the NFL’s modern era, dating back to 1933, only two other teams scored as many points in their head coach’s debut as the Rams scored for McVay. In 1947, the Rams defeated the Steelers, 48–7, in Bob Snyder’s first game as an NFL head coach; and in 1989, Bud Carson’s Browns routed the Steelers, 51–0.

Beast Mode is back

Marshawn Lynch gained 76 yards on 18 carries in the Raiders’ 26–16 victory at Tennessee. That was a positive first step for the 30-year-old running back in his return following a one-year “retirement.” Only two players in their 30s gained 1000 rushing yards in a season after missing the previous year: Garrison Hearst with the 49ers in 2001 (1206 yards), and Mike Anderson with the Broncos in 2005 (1014).

As for that first step, the only other players in their 30s to carry the ball at least 15 times, or to gain at least 70 rushing yards, in their return after missing an entire season were Doug Wycoff with the Boston Redskins in 1934 (20 carries for 91 yards) and Bronco Nagurski for the Bears in 1943 (16 for 84).

Stafford bounces back from worst possible start

Matthew Stafford, whose first pass of the season was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, rebounded by throwing four TD passes in the Lions’ 35–23 victory over the Cardinals. Stafford was the first player since 1970 to throw four touchdowns after suffering a pick-6 on his first pass of a game. The last player to do so was Bobby Douglass of the Bears in a 31–13 win over Buffalo.

Bethel picks up where he left off

It was Justin Bethel who picked off Matthew Stafford’s first pass of the game and returned it 82 yards for a Cardinals touchdown. Last season, Bethel scored Arizona’s final TD with a 66-yard INT return against Sean Mannion and the Rams. The only other player in NFL history to score on a pick-6 in his team’s final game of one season and opener of the next season was Darren Sharper, who did it for two different teams. Sharper scored INT-TDs in Green Bay’s finale of the 2004 season and in Minnesota’s 2005 opening game, eight months later.

Bethel, who also scored on a pick-6 in 2015, is the fourth Cardinals player to score on INT returns in three straight seasons. The others were Larry Wilson (1964–66), Aeneas Williams (1995–97), and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2008–10).

What’s new? A new Watt dominates on defense

T.J. Watt made an auspicious NFL debut, sacking his fellow rookie DeShone Kizer twice and intercepting him once in the Steelers’ 21–18 victory at Cleveland. During the 36 seasons in which the NFL has officially compiled sacks for individuals, only two other players had at least two sacks and an interception in their first game in the league, and both did so during the players’ strike in 1987: Charles Glaze with Seattle and Tommy Haynes with Dallas. (Neither of them played an NFL game after the strike was settled.)

Cowboys 1–0, Giants 0–1 ... seems like old times

The Cowboys opened their season with a convincing 19–3 victory over the Giants. It was the 10th time that Dallas played its opening game of a season against the G-men. The Cowboys have a 9–1 record in those games, losing only in 2016 by the narrowest of margins (20–19).

The Giants have failed to score a touchdown in only three of their last 60 season-opening games, all of them against the Cowboys, previously losing 31–2 in 1965 and 35–0 in 1995.

Elliott is off to the races again

Ezekiel Elliott gained 104 yards on 24 carries in the Cowboys’ victory. Elliott became the first defending NFL rushing champion to gain at least 100 rushing yards in his team’s season opener since Chris Johnson, coming off a 2006-yard season, carried 27 times for 142 yards and two TDs for Tennessee in its opening game of the 2010 season.

Fournette stars as Jags rout Texans

The Jaguars built a 19–0 lead over the first half-hour of play and cruised to a 29–7 victory at Houston. That was the second-largest shutout margin that Jacksonville has recorded in the first half of a road game. The Jags led the Bengals, 27–0, in an eventual 41–10 win at Cincinnati in 1999.

Leonard Fournette, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, gained 100 yards on 26 carries. It had been 19 years since a Jaguars player gained at least 100 rushing yards in the team’s opening game of a season. The only other Jacksonville player to do that was James Stewart (115 yards vs. Chicago in 1998).

Blount finds the end zone for Eagles

It took LeGarrette Blount less than 17 minutes to score for his new team, catching a 1-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter of the Eagles’ 30–17 win over the Redskins. Playing for the Patriots last season, Blount led the league with 18 rushing touchdowns and he tied an all-time league record with 11 one-yard TDs. That mark was set by Greg Bell of the Rams in 1988.

Blount’s touchdown reception on Sunday was only the second of his NFL career, compared to 49 rushing TDs.

A familiar combo produces Packers’ key TD

Aaron Rodgers capped a nine-play drive with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson late in the third quarter of the Packers’ 17–9 win over the Seahawks. It was the 60th TD connection between Rodgers and Nelson, which is the highest such total in Green Bay history. Late last season, they passed the team record that held been held by the Brett Favre-to-Antonio Freeman combination.

Ravens’ D shines in Cincinnati

Baltimore’s defense dominated the Bengals in a 20–0 victory at Cincinnati. The Ravens became the first road team to win a shutout in which they forced at least five turnovers and sacked opposing passers five or more times since Atlanta did so in a 41–0 win at Carolina in 2002.

No visiting team had won an opening-day shutout by at least 20 points since 2006, when Baltimore was among three teams to do it, routing the Buccaneers, 27–0, at Tampa. The others were Chicago at Green Bay (26–0) and San Diego at Oakland (27–0).

Bears rookie makes an impact

Tarik Cohen, the diminutive third-day pick from last April’s NFL Draft, was one of Sunday’s breakout players, running for 66 yards, while catching eight passes for 47 yards and a TD in the Bears’ 23–17 loss to the Falcons. The only other rookies in the last 20 seasons with at least 50 rushing yards and five receptions in a season opener were Reggie Bush for the Saints in 2006 and Kareem Hunt for the Chiefs on Thursday night.

McCoy starts fast again

LeSean McCoy gained 110 yards on 22 carries in the Bills’ 21–12 win over the Jets. It was the fourth time that McCoy has gained 100 rushing yards in his team’s season-opening game (his first in three seasons with Buffalo). The only other active player with even three 100-yard rushing games in season openers is Adrian Peterson (3). The all-time NFL record is six, by Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith.

Indians’ pitching staff over last 18 games on a historic level

The Indians defeated the Orioles 3-2 at Progressive Field, extending their winning streak to 18 games. Cleveland has allowed 32 runs during the streak—1.78 per game—the fewest runs allowed over 18 games in the last five seasons (since 2013). Three other teams in major league history, all playing in the dead ball era (before 1920), allowed 32-or-fewer runs over 18 games, all wins: the Providence Grays of the National League in 1884 (overlapping spans, fewest with 30 runs allowed), the 1906 White Sox (overlapping spans, fewest with 23 runs allowed), and the 1916 Giants (overlapping spans, fewest with 17 runs allowed). Trevor Bauer got a win, allowing two runs in 6⅓ innings, improving to 9-0 in his last 10 starts. The only other Indians pitcher in the last 40 seasons (since 1978) to have a 10 start span going 9-0 or better was Cliff Lee in 2008 (9-0).

D-Backs struck Goldschmidt with Martinez

The Diamondbacks defeated the Padres 3–2 on three solo homers, by J.D. Martinez in the second, Paul Goldschmidt in the fourth, and Martinez again in the sixth, the last breaking a 2–2 tie and providing the game-winning RBI. The home runs were number 20 and 21 for Martinez with the Diamondbacks. Despite not homering in his first two games with the team, J.D. has now set a major-league record for most home runs through 45 games with a team, the previous-high being 20 for Mark McGwire with the Cardinals (1997), followed by 19 for Gary Sanchez to begin his career with the Yankees in 2015 and 2016.

The only other player with as many homers in a 45 game span this season is Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton’s most over 45 games this season is 28! J.D. has also set a D-Backs’ record for most home runs over 45 games. The previous high was 20 for Luis Gonzalez in 2001.

Reynolds grand slam sinks Dodgers

The score was 2–0 Rockies in the top of the eighth with one out at Dodger Stadium, when Mark Reynolds hit a grand slam off Dodgers’ reliever Walker Buehler, putting the game out of reach in an 8–1 Rockies’ victory at Chavez Ravine, dealing Los Angeles their 10th straight defeat. Entering the at-bat the Rockies had been 0-for-their-last-20 with the bases juiced, which was the longest such drought in the majors this season. They had entered the game 0-for-their-last-17 with the bases full, already the longest drought in franchise history. No player had broken a teams’ drought of at least 20 bases loaded at-bats with a home run since May 19, 2003, when the Tigers’ Carlos Pena broke a Detroit streak of 20 bases juiced at-bats with a grand slam in Cleveland.

Dodgers would have to prove history wrong to win World Series

The Dodgers have now lost 10 consecutive games. They had a 10-game winning streak in June and an 11 game winning streak in July. The last team with 10-game winning and losing streaks in the same season was the 2008 Indians, who lost 10 straight in June-July and won 10 straight in August of that season. No team with a 10 game losing streak has ever won the World Series. The longest losing streak in a championship season is nine games by the 1953 Yankees.

It’s scary: we’ve risen 41 times this season and Gary has 30 of his own

Aaron Judge hit home runs number 40 and 41 and Gary Sanchez hit number 29 and 30 on the season in the Yankees 16–7 win in Texas, taking the rubber game of the series. Sanchez is 24 and the rookie Judge is 25. The duo is the second pair of Yankees, each 25 or younger, to hit 30 or more homers in the same season. In 1940 Joe DiMaggio hit 31 homers and Joe Gordon hit 30, both at age 25.

Judge became the second rookie to hit 40 homers in a season, joining Mark McGwire in 1987 (49). Judge would need to hit eight homers in 20 remaining Yankees games to tie McGwire’s rookie record. It is doable: Judge’s most homers in a 20-game span is 13, back in April and May.

St. Stephen’s streak

Stephen Strasburg defeated the Phillies, allowing two hits and one walk in eight shutout innings, striking out 10. Strasburg has not allowed a run in his last 34 innings, which is the longest streak in the majors since 2015. In that season Zack Greinke had a streak of 45⅔ in June and July, and Clayton Kershaw had a streak of 37 in July and August. Through four scoreless, Strasburg became the second pitcher in Nationals/Expos history to throw 30 consecutive scoreless innings. He later broke the former-team record: 32⅔ by southpaw Woodie Fryman for the Expos in 1975.

Braves’ late hard work sends Washington into a frenzy

The clutch work of the Atlanta Braves resulted in a party in the nation’s capital. Atlanta defeated the Marlins 10–8 in 11 innings on a walk-off home run by rookie Lane Adams; but what made the win extremely unlikely is that they trailed 8–5 entering the bottom of the ninth. The Braves had not won a game when trailing by three or more runs in the ninth inning or later since September 2, 2012, when they defeated the Phillies 8–7 after trailing 7–3 entering the bottom of the ninth. That had been the third-longest drought without a win like that. The Giants have not won a game when trailing by three-plus in the ninth inning or later since May 13, 2006, and the Rangers have a drought in those games dating back to August 1, 2012.

Adams is the third rookie this season to hit a walk-off homer in extra frames: the Padres’ Hunter Renfroe did it against the Brewers on May 15 and the Orioles’ Trey Mancini did it against the Pirates on June 7. Since the franchise moved to Atlanta in 1966, Adams is the fifth rookie to hit an extra-inning walk-off dinger, joining Darrell Evans (1971), Andruw Jones (1997), Nick Green (2004), and Adonis Garcia (2015).

That Hosmer’s so hot right now

Eric Hosmer went 4-for-4 with two doubles in the Royals 11–3 win against the Twins to salvage a 2–2 tie in that series. Hosmer now has hits in eight straight at-bats, tied with Jose Altuve, Gerardo Parra, and Logan Forsythe for the second-longest streak this season, one shy of Danny Valencia (9). The streak also tied the second longest in Royals history. Amos Otis (1970), George Brett (1980), Mike Sweeney (2005), and Mark Teahen (2006) also had streaks of eight. Joe Randa hit safely in 10 consecutive at-bats in 1999, the franchise record.

A’s put up big numbers in sweep of Astros

The A’s competed a 4-game home sweep of the Astros, winning 9–8, 11–1, 11–4, and 10–2. That was the first time in Astros franchise history that they allowed nine or more runs in every game in a series of 4 or more games. The A’s had not scored 9-plus in each game of a four or more game series since 1930, when they were the Philadelphia Athletics. In that season they had back-to-back series scoring 9 or more runs in four games: a 4-game sweep of the Browns in St. Louis (July 12–15, 1930) after which they took 3-of-4 from the White Sox (July 16–19, 1930) in Chicago.

Battery of Wacha and Molina help Cards fly to seven above .500

The Cardinals improved to seven games above .500 for the first time in 2017, shutting out the Pirates 7–0. Michael Wacha threw eight innings in the win. It was the sixth time Cardinals’ starters have gone eight-plus scoreless innings this season: Carlos Martinez has done it three times, Lance Lynn once, and Wacha twice, the other a complete game shutout in Queens on July 18. No other team’s starting pitchers have thrown 8 or more scoreless innings in a game even five times this season. Yadier Molina went 2-for-3 with a home run and five RBIs, tying a career high for Yadi. He also drove in five against the Padres on September 17, 2010.

Davies wins number 17

Zach Davies improved to 17–8 in a 3–1 Brewers’ victory at Wrigley Field, taking sole possession of the major-league lead in wins this season. It was Davies’s 30th start of the season. One other pitcher in Brewers history had 17 or more wins and eight or fewer losses through 30 starts in a season: Pete Vuckovich went 18–6 in 30 starts in 1982, the only season the Brewers went to the World Series, losing to the Cardinals in seven games. Since Milwaukee moved the the National League in 1998, Davies is now tied for second in wins in a season: Chris Capuano went 18–12 in 2005, Yovani Gallardo 17–10 in 2011, and Wily Peralta went 17–11 in 2014.

Porcello making a poor case for back-to-back Cy Young awards

The Rays salvaged the final game of a three game series at Fenway Park, 4–1. Rick Porcello fell to 9–17, allowing two runs in five innings of work. Porcello is the first defending Cy Young award winner to lose 17 games in a season since Frank Viola went 13–17 for the Twins and Mets in 1989 after winning the award in 1988 for Minnesota.

Trout: 46 runs in last 46 games

Mike Trout went 1-for-3 with a solo home run, two runs scored, and walk in the Angels’ 5–3 win at Safeco Field in Seattle to salvage the final game of a three-game series there. Trout has scored 46 runs in his last 46 games (since July 18). No Angels player had as many runs over a span of that length since Trout in 2012. Trout scored as many as 56 runs over 46 games in that season.

Abreu hits home runs 30 and 31

Jose Abreu hit his 30th and 31st home run of the season in the White Sox’ 8–1 win against the Giants. The Cuban-born Abreu hit 36 homers in his 2014 rookie season, 30 in 2015, and 25 in 2016. Abreu is the third foreign-born player to hit at least 30 homers in three of his first four major-league seasons. Jose Canseco, born in Cuba, hit at least 30 in three of his first four seasons (1986, 1987, 1988), and Albert Pujols, born in the Dominican Republic, hit at least 30 homers in his first 12 seasons, from 2001–2012.

Rookie Teoscar Hernandez has big game as Jays tame Tigers

Rookie Teoscar Hernandez went 3-for-4 with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs in the Blue Jays’ 8–2 win against the Tigers. Hernandez is the fourth Jays’ rookie with at least two homers and five RBIs in a game. The others were Carlos Delgado (4/11/1994, at OAK), Felipe Lopez (9/4/2001, vs. NYY), and J.P. Arencibia (4/1/2011, vs. MIN).