Daily Dose: Nolasco goes out with a bang

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Ricky Nolasco put on a show Wednesday, setting a Marlins record with 16 strikeouts and nearly made history with nine punchouts in a row. Tom Seaver holds the all-time record with 10 straight strikeouts, but Adam LaRoche snapped Nolasco’s streak with a double. Jake Peavy in 2007 and Mickey Welch in 1884 are the only other pitchers in baseball history to get nine straight strikeouts. And yes, that says 1884.
Nolasco followed up his breakout 2008 by getting off to a brutal start this year, going 2-5 with a 9.07 ERA in nine outings to earn a demotion to Triple-A. Since returning in early June he’s been fantastic, going 11-4 with a 3.82 ERA and 158/31 K/BB ratio in 141.1 innings. Not only are his 16 strikeouts Wednesday the most of any pitcher this year, Nolasco now has 381 strikeouts in 397 innings since the beginning of 2008.
While his 5.09 ERA makes it likely that Nolasco will be tremendously undervalued for 2010, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Boston trotted out the junior-varsity lineup Wednesday after clinching the Wild Card and Roy Halladay predictably tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout. He finished nine of 32 starts this year to lead baseball, going 17-10 with a 2.79 ERA and AL-high 239 innings. If the Blue Jays shop him again this winter and decide on a reasonable asking price this time Halladay will have at least ended his Toronto career fittingly.
* Justin Masterson suffered his sixth straight loss Wednesday as Mark Buehrle and a couple relievers combined to shut out the Indians, but finished his disappointing year by allowing one run and racking up a career-high 12 strikeouts in a complete game. He may still eventually end up in the bullpen, but Masterson has a 4.32 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 144 innings spread over 25 career starts.
* Earlier this week John Russell confused a lot of people by yanking Zach Duke from a blowout when he was one out short of a complete game. Duke had thrown just 103 pitches, which is why it was amusing to see the Pirates’ skipper leave Charlie Morton in for a 119-pitch complete game Wednesday. Morton blanked the Cubs after giving up 10 runs in his previous start against them, finishing with a 4.55 ERA in 18 starts.
* Not that he would’ve had much of a role anyway, but Jamie Moyer is officially out of the Phillies’ playoffs plans after being diagnosed with three torn muscles in his groin and abdomen. Moyer suffered the injury while pitching in relief Tuesday and finishes the year at 12-10 with a 4.94 ERA in 162 innings. He turns 47 years old next month, but the Phillies are on the hook to Moyer for $8 million in 2010.
AL Quick Hits: Carl Pavano had been 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA against Detroit this year, but the Tigers roughed him up Wednesday while all but clinching the division … Joba Chamberlain needed 91 pitches to record 11 outs Wednesday, failing to make it out of the fourth inning to finish 9-6 with a 4.78 ERA … Cleveland fired Eric Wedge and his entire coaching staff Wednesday after seven seasons on the job … John Buck hit his fourth triple of the year Wednesday after managing a grand total of three through his first 525 games … Tim Wakefield allowed five runs in three innings Wednesday, making him a question mark for the playoffs … Randy Ruiz continued his impressive audition for 2010 by going 4-for-6 with two bombs Wednesday … Carl Crawford said Wednesday that he hopes to work out a long-term deal with the Rays … A day after hitting three homers, Adam Lind was out of Wednesday’s lineup due to a Jonathan Papelbon pitch to the elbow … Josh Beckett (back) threw a 62-pitch bullpen session Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s start.
NL Quick Hits: Raul Ibanez smacked his seventh homer of the month Wednesday as the Phillies clinched their third straight division title … Jose Reyes tore his hamstring while running the bases earlier this week and may need surgery … Bronson Arroyo tossed 8.1 innings of one-run ball Wednesday, finishing the season with 13 straight Quality Starts … Hiroki Kuroda has been scratched from Saturday’s start with a sore neck, so Clayton Kershaw will take his place … John Smoltz allowed six runs and a season-high five walks in four innings Wednesday, putting his playoff rotation spot in doubt … Freddy Sanchez underwent season-ending knee surgery Wednesday and aims to be ready for spring training whether or not the Giants pick up his $8.1 million option … Corey Hart may be done for the season after X-rays revealed two fractured fingers … Pedro Martinez rejoined the rotation Wednesday by giving up three runs in four innings, including a pair of J.R. Towles blasts … Justin Maxwell’s walk-off grand slam Wednesday handed Francisco Rodriguez his seventh blown save.

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.