The Week Ahead: Huge hopes for Rockies

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rockies_090823.jpgRemember that cute little Colorado Rockies team back in 2007?

A modern day Cinderella, they won their final 40 games (it only seemed that way), received some help from the ghost of Tony Gwynn (actually it was his son), then beat the Padres in a one-game playoff when Matt Holliday tried to tag home plate with his face (maybe he was out, but that would ruin a great story).

From there, it was a magical run to the World Series, where the dream ended rather abruptly when Jonathan Papelbon and the Boston Red Sox took the glass slipper and “Riverdanced” the thing into tiny pieces.

Well don’t look now, but the Rockies are at it again. In the middle of June, they won 17 of 18. Currently, they’ve taken six of seven, and 16 of 23, building a three-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the wild-card race.

And remember that huge lead the Dodgers held in the NL West? Yeah that’s pretty much gone now, reduced to a mere 3 1/2 games (the second closest division race, behind the AL Central).

The plucky Rockies have even been making moves just to show how serious they are, taking a flyer on veteran pitcher Russ Ortiz as insurance for the injured Aaron Cook, and hoping that Jason Giambi will find his legs after being deemed finished in Oakland.

It makes for a huge week ahead for the boys in black. Following the fourth and final game of their series vs. the Giants on Monday, the Rockies host the Dodgers in a huge three-game set, then head to San Francisco for a rematch with the Giants.

Will Cinderella dance again? This week could gives us a strong indication.


Tigers at Angels, Aug. 24-26: The only matchup of division leaders this week, featuring the high-powered offense of L.A. vs. the tough pitching of Detroit. Go figure.

Rangers at Yankees, Aug. 25-27: Speaking of tough pitching, how about those improved Rangers? We’ll see if Yankee International Airport — I mean, Stadium — does anything to change that.

Dodgers at Rockies, Aug. 25-27: Colorado has won seven of 10 and all of a sudden the Dodgers’ NL West lead has shrunk to 3½ games. Division race, anyone?

Braves at Phillies, Aug. 28-30: Funny that it’s the Braves, and not the Mets, who are keeping the heat on Philly. Although, at 6½ games back, not THAT much heat.

Rockies at Giants, Aug. 28-30: The Rockies took two of three from the Giants this weekend, even beating Tim Lincecum. Now, the rematch of NL wild-card contenders.

Monday, 10:05 p.m. ET: Tigers at Angels (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Rangers at Yankees (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rays at Tigers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Mets at Cubs (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Dodgers at Reds (FOX)
Sunday, 1 p.m.: White Sox at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Braves at Phillies (ESPN)
*Check local listings


If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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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.