Better late than never: Best late-inning MLB teams

Jason Logan
“Go the distance”

The ghostly voice in 1989’s Field Of Dreams, one of the most beloved baseball movies, prompted Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella to do just that while taking in a ball game at Fenway Park – “Go the distance”.

Sure, the voice was hinting at a long-dead baseball player, but going the distance is quickly becoming a motto of these six teams, who have excelled when the going gets tough.

They’ve played their best ball in the late innings, either shutting opponents down or turning it up at the plate in the final three frames. And, as the schedule wears on and the summer temperatures take their toll, these clubs will have plenty left in the tank to come through for bettors with the game – and the money – on the line.

Best late-inning bats

Philadelphia Phillies (.267 BA 7+ inning, averaging 1.52 runs 7+ innings)

There’s a reason why the Phillies have 18 comeback wins this season, including two in their series sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers this week. Philadelphia is the best hitting team in baseball from the seventh inning on, sparked by late-game heroics from speedster Juan Pierre (.383 BA 7+ innings), Carlos Ruiz (.336) and Ty Wigginton (.303), who has recorded 23 of his 36 RBIs in the final three innings.

Cincinnati Reds (.262 BA 7+ innings, averaging 1.55 runs 7+ innings)

Even without slugger Joey Votto, the Big Red Machine continues to chug along. Cincinnati is the hottest team in baseball with seven straight wins and owns the second-best record in the National League at 58-40. Much of that success comes from an ability to break opponents’ backs late in the game. The Reds have bats like Scott Rolen (.339), Jay Bruce (.267) and Votto (.333) to step up in the crunch.

Kansas City Royals (.265 BA 7+ innings, averaging 1.32 runs 7+ innings)

The Texas Rangers are a better late-inning team than the Royals, but how often do you get to read something positive about Kansas City? Despite a 3-7 record in their last 10 outings, the Royals remain one of the better hitting teams from the seventh inning on. In fact, they’re one of the better hitting teams in baseball – period (.267 BA – fifth in the majors). However, K.C. has trouble cashing in those baserunners, hitting into 29 double-plays after the sixth.

Best late-inning arms

Oakland Athletics (2.62 ERA 7+ innings, 11 blown saves)

The A’s have left Back To The Future flaming tire treads as they've climbed the standings in July. Following Thursday’s loss to Toronto, Oakland is 16-3 this month with a 2.72 July ERA. That run has lot to do with the Athletics’ knack for slamming the door on foes, with the best late-inning ERA in baseball. The bullpen touts a collective 2.84 ERA, led by relievers Ryan Cook (1.70 ERA) and Grant Balfour (2.93 ERA).

Pittsburgh Pirates (2.80 ERA 7+ innings, six blown saves)

The Bucs' surprise success lies with their underrated staff. Pittsburgh is the biggest breadwinner of the season so far, raking in 21.29 units. The Pirates’ pitching has made bettors feel safe and secure in the late innings while also posting a solid 21-16 record in one-run games. The bullpen has the second-best collective ERA in the bigs (2.58 ERA) and has only blown six saves this season. Closer Joel Hanrahan could be MLB bettors’ MVP this season, with 30 saves and a 2.23 ERA.

Baltimore Orioles (2.91 ERA 7+ innings, 12 blown saves)

It’s no big surprise that the top three late-inning pitching teams are also among the top money teams in baseball. Baltimore jumped out to a hot start in the American League East and has since cooled a bit. But the O’s maintain their steady play in the championship rounds, with the help of a bullpen that ranks second in the AL (3.05 ERA). Baltimore is 19-6 in one-run games and has gone 10-2 in extra-inning affairs this summer.

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