Five managers on the hot seat

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1. Eric Wedge (Indians) – The Indians might have been more justified in
firing Wedge a month ago, before injuries to Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal
Cabrera, Aaron Laffey and Anthony Reyes gave the team a better excuse
for its poor record. The Indians have been underperforming all along,
though. They’re nine games under .500 even though they’ve scored just
nine fewer runs than their opponents over the course of the year
(308-317). Wedge was too slow to try to put a better defensive team on
the field, and he deserves some of the blame for the bullpen woes. It’s
time for a change.

2. Manny Acta (Nationals) – Acta won’t survive into 2010 if the
Nationals amass baseball’s worst record for the second year in a row.
He’ll be lucky to make it into August unless his team puts together a
winning streak soon. Acta seems more open to new ideas than most and
has shown a willingness to experiment, but he’s done a poor job of
handling what’s been baseball’s worst pitching staff.

3. Cecil Cooper (Astros) – I don’t think the Astros are
underachieving at 25-30 one-third of the way through the season, but GM
Ed Wade and owner Drayton McLane likely disagree. Cooper’s status has
been the subject of speculation since almost the beginning of the
season, and he actually seems a little safer now than he did a month
ago, as the Astros have been winning recently. I still think he’s
likely to go if the Astros don’t move up from last place in the NL
Central to at least fourth by the All-Star break.

4. Trey Hillman (Royals) – The Royals’ surprisingly strong start
raised expectations and thus may have hurt Hillman’s case for sticking
around. Kansas City always figured to be a 75-win team, but that might
not fly after an April in which an AL Central title looked like a
legitimate goal. Hillman’s faults are obvious: he does as poor of a job
of running a bullpen as any manager in baseball and he pays little
attention to platoon advantages on offense or defense. I don’t see him
landing another major league managerial job once the Royals let him go.

5. Bud Black (Padres) – Truly a pleasant surprise, San Diego is just
four games under .500 despite possessing what looked like baseball’s
weakest collection of talent at the beginning of the year. Only the
Nationals and Orioles have worse run differentials than the Padres, who
have scored 221 runs and given up 271. That Black has coaxed the team
to a 26-30 record is quite an achievement. Still, Black is managing a
team that is expected to eventually have a new owner in Jeff Moorad.
CEO Sandy Alderson is gone, and it seems likely that more changes will
come after the year. Black will likely survive the season, but if the
Padres opt to go in a different direction at GM over the winter, then
they may bring in a new manager as well.

Others – Fredi Gonzalez has my vote for baseball’s worst manager,
but the Marlins won’t want to have to pay two managers at once again. …
Jerry Manuel’s Mets are playing better lately, so he should be safe
unless his mouth gets him in trouble. … A’s manager Bob Geren has
plenty of support from good friend Billy Beane and can’t be blamed for
assembling baseball’s most injury-prone team.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.