Some positivity for the non-contenders

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bluejays_090923.jpgIt’s so easy to get down this time of year. The weather is getting chilly, it’s not staying light out as late, and if your team isn’t in playoff contention – and in this dullest of September stretch runs, you pretty much know by now – the final days of the season can be quite a chore.

But it doesn’t have to be, because baseball is all about hope. Hope that a certain veteran might reach the obscure milestone that no one cares about but he. Hope that the late-season call-up will show you some flashes of greatness. Hope that if you’re not going to win this year, there’s always the next.

So to all you fans out there following an also-ran club, this one’s for you. A quick scan around the blogosphere reveals plenty of things for you to be positive about:

— In Milwaukee they may not have the playoffs to look forward to, but they’ll always have beer. And they really, really love their beer. [Miller Park Drunk]

— It’s celebration time in Toronto, where the Blue Jays have just clinched fourth place in the AL East. They should send a thank-you note to the Orioles. [The Tao of Stieb]

— In Chicago, Milton Bradley has apologized for the heap of misery he brought on his team and its fans. So what if the players learned about it by seeing the statement handed out to the media? What do you want from him, people? [Carrie Muskat via Twitter]

— Not sure who out there thinks Zack Greinke doesn’t deserve the Cy Young, but in Kansas City, they’re still stumping hard for him. [Ball Star]

— Rajai Davis has people downright giddy in Oakland. Now if they can just find some power. [Athletics Nation]

— If you can’t win in Cleveland, at least you can dominate the Eastern League. Nothing wrong with that, folks. [Waiting for Next Year]

— In Seattle, they’re marveling at Jose Lopez’s ability to hit at least 25 home runs and walk fewer than 25 times. It’s cool that guys like Joe DiMaggio and Albert Belle are also on the list. Not so cool that Jeff Francoeur and Marcus Thames are also on it. [U.S.S. Mariner]

— In New York, they’re celebrating that the Mets came up short in their quest to break the record for fewest home runs. That’s something, at least. [NYT Bats blog]

— And last but not least, they may not have much of a team in Cincinnati, but when it comes to goggles, no one tops their own Chris Sabo. [OMGReds]

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.