Giles an underappreciated superstar

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giles padres.jpg.315/.418/.614, 39 HR, 115 RBI
.315/.432/.594, 35 HR, 123 RBI
.309/.404/.590, 37 HR, 95 RBI
.298/.450/.622, 38 HR, 103 RBI
That was the four-season run Brian Giles had from the time he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1999 through 2002. Of course, it was a time of whopping numbers, so Giles never led the NL in a major category. He finished fifth, ninth, 10th and second in the NL in OPS those years, though. And all he had to show for it was two All-Star appearances and a high finish of 13th in the MVP balloting, that coming in 2002.
A 17th-round pick of the Indians in 1989, Giles had the misfortune of trying to climb his way through one of the games most stocked organizations during the early-to-mid-90s. It certainly didn’t help matters that he didn’t hit for power in the low minors. He had a breakthrough season in Double-A in 1993, hitting .327/.409/.452. A similar year followed in Triple-A in 1994, but the Indians didn’t have any room for him. He ended up posting OPSs of 869, 896 and 989 while spending most of three seasons in Triple-A. The Indians found a role for him in 1997, and he hit a respectable .268/.368/.459 in 377 at-bats that year and .269/.396/.460 in 350 at-bats in 1998. But rather than commit to him as a full-time player, the Indians, helped by John Hart at the time, instead traded him to the Pirates for left-handed reliever Ricardo Rincon that November.
Giles was an instant star in Pittsburgh, at least on the field. His 115 RBI in 1999 was the high total for a Pirate since Barry Bonds had 116 in 1991. He became the first Pirate to turn in back-to-back .300-30-100 seasons. His first four seasons rank fifth, eighth, 10th and 15th on the team’s all-time list for OPS. He ended up spending 5 1/2 years in Pittsburgh before being traded to the Padres for Jason Bay and Oliver Perez, something else that paid off big for the franchise. He currently ranks as the franchise’s all-time leader in OPS at 1018, topping Ralph Kiner at 971.
With Petco Park taking a heavy toll, Giles stopped putting up superstar numbers upon arriving in San Diego in 2003. Still, he was an outstanding player in 2005, when he hit .301/.423/.483 and finished a career-best ninth in the MVP balloting. He also excelled as a 37-year-old in 2008, hitting .306/.398/.456 in 559 at-bats. Unfortunately, he fell apart all at once last year. He hit just .191/.277/.271 in 253 at-bats before the Padres essentially told him to take the rest of the season off. Still hampered by physical problems this spring, he chose to retire Thursday rather than carry on with a long shot bid to make the Dodgers.
Unfortunately, while Giles was very clearly one of the NL’s best players for a time, he was never recognized as such. His big seasons in Pittsburgh came for sub-.500 teams that got no attention at all. He went to the postseason twice with the Padres, but he failed to excel in the spotlight. He went 7-for-27 with just two RBI as the Padres lost back-to-back NL Divisional Series to the Cardinals in 2005 and ’06. In all, he was a career .208/.311/.286 hitter in 77 postseason at-bats, most of them coming in Cleveland before he had really established himself.
I certainly don’t expect any sympathy for Giles. He made more than $80 million over the course of his career. I suspect that both he and his younger brother Marcus abused performance-enhancing drugs at various points of their careers, though there’s no evidence that Brian ever failed a drug test. Giles was also accused of domestic violence and sued for $10 million by a longtime partner, and while we have no way of knowing the truth behind her stories, there’s a pretty damning video still floating around that appears to show Giles beating the woman in a bar.
But on the field, Giles was a true star for a time, one who put a bunch of wins on the board for some otherwise lousy or mediocre teams. He ranks with Bobby Abreu, Robin Ventura and Mike Cameron among the game’s most underrated players of the last 20 years. He finishes his career with an outstanding .291/.400/.502 line and 287 homers. His 902 OPS ranks 64th all-time among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. He’s not nearly a Hall of Famer given his late start and lack of defensive value, but he did play like one when he was at his best.

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.