Mark McGwire: hitting coach

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an in depth article on Mark McGwire today. And — surprise! — it’s about Mark McGwire the hitting coach, not Mark McGwire the sideshow freak:

“I used to have a different swing for every type of pitch, like it was
this advanced game of pepper up there,” [Brendan] Ryan said while taking batting
practice with McGwire at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. “It’s
like in the minors, when I’d do these different impersonations of
hitters. I’d do Babe Ruth. I’d do Albert Pujols. … I’d have good
swings, but I didn’t know why, I didn’t know how it happened. “It’s like Mac has this scientific formula for what goes into a good
swing,” Ryan said, “and that’s what we’ve been working on. Knowing what
swing works”  . . .

. . . “This is not to take away from the other hitting coaches I’ve had, but
there is so much more instruction I’ve had from working with Mac,” said
[Skip] Schumaker. “I can’t imagine what it will be like to have him there,
right with us, all year. I feel kind of like an only child. I don’t
really want to share him.”

In some ways these types of things are the coaching equivalent of “best shape of his life” articles. Every year someone has been working with young players in the cage or the bullpen. Every new coach has articles written about his fresh approach or devotion to videotape or whatever.  I’m always kind of dubious of these things, especially when it comes to hitting coaches, because my pet theory on hitting coaches is that while they can do a lot of harm — see every Braves hitting coach since, I dunno, Clarence Jones — they don’t really do a heck of a lot of good relative to the praise they receive.

But McGwire is obviously a special case. For the steroids media circus, sure, but also because so many people assume that a big power hitter who struck out a lot can truly be an effective hitting coach.  Will he get the same hitting coach honeymoon others get if his guys start out raking? Will he get the same amount of blame others get when they slump? Will everything that happens with the Cardinals’ offense be seen through the McGwire-hyperbole-prism that was constructed a couple of months ago?

That may be the second most interesting question in Cardinal-land this season.

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.