Peter Gammons who, lest we forget, was working the news and rumors beat when Rosenthal and Heyman were watching “Superfriends” in their mammas’ rumpus rooms, has a number of nuggets this early afternoon:
— The Yankees are content to enter spring training with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes ready to work as starting pitchers, slotting in David Robertson and Damaso Marte as Mariano Rivera’s primary setup men. Whether this is (a) the actual strategy; or (b) leverage for a future John Lackey negotiation (“starters? why would we need starters?”) is unclear, but it’s the right choice in my mind. Give those two every conceivable chance to start and don’t pull the plug unless and until they unequivocally fail in the role.
— Contrary to all of the Granderson-Jackson-Cabrera speculation, Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch simply won’t allow a fire sale. This matches up with my handicapping of the situation last week. It’s easy to react emotionally in the early part of the offseason, but a clear-eyed assessment of the Tigers’ place in the universe right now suggests that they can and will strongly contend for the next few years, and that’s something they should focus on.
— People are questioning Aroldis Chapman’s integrity and character for leaving the agents who “got him out of Cuba.” Um, maybe. But it’s worth remembering that Chapman’s defection was not exactly some harrowing journey at sea. He walked to the lobby of his European hotel and got in a car. There’s always two sides to every story. Do we know what Chapman’s agents promised him on the market? Do we know whether they’ve been honest with him? Do we know if there is some personal animus between the parties? Players leave agents all the time. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad. If I was interested in Chapman, I’d simply ask the guy what the deal was and go from there.
— Billy Beane is a Killers fan. I’m too old to know if that makes Beane old or not, or cool or not. The last album I bought was a Stax/Volt soul compilation, so I’m a little bit out of the loop with these things.
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.
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.
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.