In 1968, the All-Star break arrived with Bob Gibson owning a 1.06 ERA, Luis Tiant holding a 1.24 ERA and Don Drysdale at 1.37. Those are the three-lowest ERAs for any pitcher with at least 15 starts before the Midsummer Classic.
That same year, Tiant entered the break with a hit rate of 5.19 per nine -- the second lowest for any pitcher with at least 15 starts before the break, with the right-hander's number trailing only southpaw Sam McDowell's 4.89 from 1966. And in that '66 first half, Juan Marichal owned a 0.802 WHIP at the All-Star break -- the lowest mark for any pitcher with at least 15 starts at the end of the first half in the All-Star era.
None of those marks is really in any danger of being undercut this year, but for excellence in all three areas, a trio of starting pitchers in the Senior Circuit in 2014 -- the Reds' Johnny Cueto, the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright and the Dodgers' Josh Beckett -- are assembling some noteworthy first halves of their own.
NL trio approaching historic halves
In a classic pitchers' duel in Los Angeles on Thursday, the Dodgers defeated the Cardinals, 1-0, getting a combined five-hit shutout from Beckett (seven innings, four hits), Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen. It was an essential effort, as Wainwright allowed just five hits and a run in eight innings.
Beckett owns a 2.11 ERA, a 1.004 WHIP and a 6.34 hits-per- nine rate in 15 starts this season. He ranks third in the National League in ERA, fourth in WHIP and second in hits per nine. Wainwright ranks ahead of Beckett in ERA (2.01, second in the NL) and WHIP (0.903, second in the NL), and just behind the Dodgers right-hander in hits per nine (6.42, third in the NL). Cueto leads in all three categories.
There are 28 pitchers all-time who have entered the All-Star break with at least 15 starts and the following rate stats: a 2.11 ERA (or lower), a 1.004 WHIP (or lower) and 6.42 hits per nine (or lower). With Beckett, Wainwright and Cueto potentially adding their names to this list of 28, a few points:
• Cueto would be the second Reds pitcher to enter the break hitting these criteria, joining Bucky Walters in 1944. Beckett would be the first Dodgers pitcher since Clayton Kershaw a year ago, and the seventh overall. Wainwright would be the first Cardinal since Gibson in 1968, and the third overall, with Mort Cooper in 1942 being the first.
• If Cueto, Beckett and Wainwright all do it in 2014, it would be the first year since 1968 to see three pitchers with numbers these low at the All-Star break.
Phils walk off on Utley's blast
Chase Utley delivered a two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the 14th inning to give the Phillies a 5-3 win over the Marlins.
Over the past 40 seasons, the Phils have produced 47 game-ending home runs in extra innings, with Utley being responsible for three of them. Ryan Howard has the most (four) for the club since then, and Utley is tied with Pat Burrell.
Over the past 40 seasons, Utley's was the third Phillies walk-off to come in the 14th inning. None have arrived deeper into a contest. John Kruk beats the Padres with a solo homer in the 14th on April 20, 1993, and Howard defeated the Nationals with a two-run homer on July 25, 2007.
Over this 40-year span, the Phils' 47 extra-inning walk-off home runs are tied for the fifth most, with the Mets (53), Dodgers (52), Indians (50) and Orioles (48) having more, and the Angels and Reds having the same. Over this span, Jim Thome (eight) and Albert Pujols (seven) head the individual leaders.
Weeks powers up early and often
In Milwaukee's 7-4 win over Colorado, Rickie Weeks hit his 26th career leadoff home run. Weeks' 26 are the 20th most leadoff home runs in history.
Weeks finished the game 3-for-5 and was a triple shy of the cycle. He, his platoon partner at second base Scooter Gennett, and Jeff Bianchi (two plate appearances as a second baseman) have combined to give the Brewers a .303/.340/.480/.820 line while playing second. The batting average ranks first in the NL, the on-base percentage is fourth, the slugging stands first and the OPS is first.
The Brewers improved to an NL-best 49-32 with their win over the Rockies, hitting the numerical halfway point to the season with the best 81-game record in franchise history. The previous apex had been a 47-34 mark attained by the 1979 and 2007 teams.
Altuve has an American League-leading 107 hits and 30 steals for the season, making him the first Astros player since Cesar Cedeno in 1974 to reach those two totals by the All-Star break.
Springer is the 15th first-year player (and only member of the Astros) to pound out 15 home runs by the All-Star break, with he and Jose Abreu (who has 23 for the White Sox this year) the first players to do this since Evan Longoria hit 16 in 2008.
Here and there
• The Reds' Jay Bruce contributed a pair of doubles to his team's cause in a 3-1 win over the Giants, and he has collected at least one extra-base hit in seven straight games. The streak ties Bruce with many others (most recently Joey Votto in 2009) for the fifth longest for the team in the past 101 seasons. Those with longer runs: Pete Rose (nine in a row in 1966), Wally Berger (eight in '38), Ted Kluszewski (eight in '51) and Dave Parker (eight in '86).
• Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello made his first career shutout a dominant one, allowing just three singles and three walks in a 6-0 win over the Rangers at Globe Life Park. Porcello, who picked up his 10th win of the season, was the seventh visiting pitcher to come into the ballpark (which opened in 1994) and author a shutout on three hits or fewer with none going for extra bases. He is the third pitcher to accomplish this feat in 2014, joining the Athletics' Sonny Gray and the Blue Jays' Drew Hutchison. Before this season, the most recent pitcher to have done this was Matt Garza in 2008.
• The Blue Jays defeated the White Sox, 7-0, on Thursday, getting a three-hit, three-RBI night from designated hitter Adam Lind. Starting mostly against right-handers (he's had only 102 plate appearances in 2013-14 against southpaw starters), Lind has posted a .302/.372/.503 slash line in 696 plate appearances since the start of last season. That works out to a 137 OPS+, which stands as 20th highest among players with at least 650 trips to the plate in that timeframe.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.