MLB 1-Run Games: Two New Contenders Emerge as Threats

by Grant White, SportsGrid

Close games are an inevitable part of baseball and oftentimes the difference between making the postseason and enjoying an extended offseason. Of the ten playoff teams from 2021, only three finished with a losing record in one-run games, and all but one of those teams won at least 20 one-run games on their way to the postseason. Finding a way to nailbiting victories is an indicator of long-term success.

As such, we’ll be keeping a running tally on which teams have the most one-run wins throughout the season.

Toronto Blue Jays

Record in One-Run Games: 10-5 (1-2 this week)

The Toronto Blue Jays remain the pacesetters in one-run games, with ten of their 17 wins coming by a single run. As good as they’ve been in tightly contested matchups, we’re starting to see their victories erode thanks to some suspect pitching from relievers.

Toronto went 1-2 since our last check-in, dropping a pair of one-run losses to the Cleveland Guardians despite holding leads in both contests. Jose Berrios let the team down in the series opener against the Guardians, but Adam Cimber was on the hook for the loss in the series finale after giving up the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday. That was the Jays bullpen’s ninth loss on the season, tied for the third-most in the MLB.

Jays relievers rank in the bottom half of MLB in most categories, including 18th in earned walks and hits per inning pitched, 23rd in opponent’s batting average, and 22nd in earned run average. Toronto is fortunate to have ten wins in one-run games, but unless their bullpen figures things out, close losses will start to accumulate.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record in One-Run Games: 8-4 (2-1)

It has been another successful week for the Tampa Bay Rays, going 2-1 since last week, elevating their record to 8-4 in games decided by one run. The Rays were poised to go 3-0 until a blown save on Sunday resulted in a loss to the Seattle Mariners. Still, that was the exception to Tampa’s early-season success.

Rays relievers are far and away the most-oft used pitchers in the Majors. Tampa Bay’s bullpen leads baseball with 145.1 innings pitched almost 15 full innings up on the next closest team, the Cincinnati Reds. Usage hasn’t impacted their effectiveness, as the Rays remain in the top half of the league in most traditional stats. The Rays have the 12th-best earned run average while allowing the fifth-fewest walks and hits per inning pitched, striking out 8.42 per nine innings.

Injuries have impacted the Rays rotation, but as starters begin to rejoin the active roster, we could see more effective outings from a more rested bullpen.

Minnesota Twins

Record in One-Run Games: 7-3

The Minnesota Twins came out of nowhere this week, winning three straight one-run games to improve their season record to 7-3. That gives them the best winning percentage among teams that have been involved in more than five close games.

Pitching was the key in all three of their victories, with the Twins staking themselves to early leads and letting their pitching take care of the rest. That’s been the case most of the season, with the Twins bats not quite right to start the campaign. Six of Minnesota’s nine series have come against teams below .500, yet the Twins have scored the 14th-fewest runs.

The Twins have won seven straight since dropping their first three decisions in one-run contests, but those wins look less impressive when adjusted for their opponent. Minnesota’s record could start to suffer as its competition improves.

Houston Astros

Record in One-Run Games: 7-5

No team has accomplished what the Houston Astros have over the past five seasons. The Astros have gone to the AL Championship Series five consecutive times, claimed a division title in four of those years, and eclipsed 100 wins three times. With a pedigree like that, it’s not surprising to see this team enjoy success in one-run games.

Similar to the Twins, the ‘Stros went 3-0 in one-run games this week; however, the difference was that Houston rode clutch hitting to victory. They cashed in game-winning runs in the eighth inning or later in two of their three Ws. Not surprisingly, it’s been the Astros veterans that come up in the clutch, with the winning runs coming courtesy of the top half of the batting order.

Timely hitting and the Astros go together like garbage cans and bangs. Houston has the veteran presence to continue their march up the standings, claiming victory in more tightly contested battles.