Eric Gagne's historic three-year run

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We can speculate all we want about the methods he used to achieve it, but Eric Gagne’s three-year run of dominance as the Dodgers’ closer should never be forgotten.
From the time Los Angeles converted a struggling starter to relief in the spring of 2002 until the then 30-year-old right-hander got hurt at the beginning of the 2005 season, Gagne was a remarkably dominant force, even more so than his terrific ERAs indicated.
From 2002-04, Gagne saved 152 games in 158 opportunities. At one point, he converted 84 save chances in a row, a record that could stand for a long time even in such a highly specialized era. The previous best mark was 54, established by Tom Gordon, and the closest anyone has come since is Brad Lidge at 47.
Overall, Gagne had a 1.79 ERA in 247 innings over the three seasons. He struck out 365 and walked just 58. His WHIP stood at 0.822, and his ERA+ (ERA adjusted for the league average and ballpark factors) was 223.
Mariano Rivera has had a better three-season ERA run, but he can’t match the dominance when it comes to strikeouts or WHIP. In only one of his 15 seasons has he posted a WHIP better than Gagne’s three-year mark. The famous oddity from Gagne’s run is that he threw exactly 82 1/3 innings each year. Rivera only hit that total once, that coming in 1996 when he was serving as a setup man. That was also the only season in which he struck out 100 batters. Gagne reached triple-digits in strikeouts all three years.
There have been just 47 seasons in history in which a reliever has finished with an ERA+ of at least 180 and 100 or more strikeouts. Gagne did it three times in a row. Hall of Famer Goose Gossage (1975, ’77, ’78) is the only other pitcher on the list to show up three times.
Gagne’s 2003 season was arguably the most dominant ever by a reliever. His 1.20 ERA doesn’t beat Dennis Eckersley’s 0.61 mark from 1990 or Jonathan Papelbon’s 0.92 in 2006, but his WHIP was an incredible 0.692. Even better, his OPS+ was the best mark for anyone in the expansion era, minimum 70 innings. The league hit .133/.199/.176 off him, good for an OPS+ of 4 (100 being average). The next best marks belong to Rivera in 2008 and Billy Wagner in 1999. They came in at 10. Eckersley finished at 13 in his 1990 season.
The .176 slugging percentage against is also the best in the expansion era by a significant margin. Ted Abernathy has the next best mark at .202 in 106 1/3 innings in 1967. Wagner’s 1999 season ranks third at .212.
Gagne has little to offer outside of the three seasons. He went 11-14 with a 4.61 ERA in 48 starts and 10 relief appearances from 1999-2001. He had an excellent half-season run with the Rangers in 2007, but he ended up with a 4.28 ERA in 113 2/3 innings over his final four years.
But for three years, he was one of the game’s most compelling figures, and while he’s admitted to cheating along the way, he was getting a lot of his outs against similarly juiced hitters. For a brief period, it was an incredible ride.

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.