Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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Youkilis throwing bat.jpg1. Yankees: The only critical thing I can say is that for the past few years the Yankees have gotten off to slow starts and everyone with half a brain has said “don’t panic, it’s early.” I suppose that’s a two-way street and that we shouldn’t become overly optimistic before the break of May. But really: does anyone think that this Yankees team is as likely to crater as last year’s team was to rebound? I don’t. 

2. Rays: Lost in all of the Boston navel-gazing is the fact that the Rays are a pretty awesome team.

3. Twins: Second best in runs scored per game in the A.L., second best in runs allowed per game in the A.L.

4. Giants:  With Zito and Sanchez pitching like they have the rotation has gone from really good to phenomenal. And while I don’t think the offense is going to hold up, right now they’re third in the NL in runs scored. With their pitching, anywhere in the top 10 will keep them in it all season.

5. Phillies:  The recent mini-skid drops them down a couple of notches, but taking care of the Braves in the next three games would easily restore their early-season luster. 

6. Cardinals:
For all the ink that was spilled over Saturday’s game, it was only one game and I assume everyone in Cardinals Nation is pretending it simply didn’t happen. More germane: the fact that the team directly behind St. Louis in the Central is a pretender, and the no one else below them looks particularly good.

7. Athletics: I feel like I’m sleeping on the Athletics having them this low, what with their rotation and everything. I suppose I’m just flashing back to last season, however, when every time I looked up Gio Gonzalez was getting creamed or something. But you know what? Throw a bunch of young arms at the wall and a few are going to stick. Braden, Gonzalez and Anderson have stuck, Sheets and Duchscherer are providing some special veteran seasoning and this A’s team boasts some pitching you just don’t want any part of.  We’ll know soon whether I’m truly underestimating them: the Yankees come into town for three starting tomorrow.

8. Marlins: Two of three from the Phillies is nice indeed. The Phillies were quoted yesterday saying that they truly view Florida as a contender. If the past few years have taught us anything it’s that we discount Florida at our peril. My thing, though, is that you’re not going to go far in life betting on things like Nate Robertson being a pillar of your rotation, and I don’t think that anyone can ride Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla to glory.  We’ll see, but I still think that this team does the slow fade thing over the course of the season.

9. Braves: They survived the west coast swing, which usually kills them, they absorbed an utter shellacking by San Diego and a no-hitter from Ubaldo Jiminez, and at the moment their offense consists of three guys, one of whom is 20 years-old and is bound to slump eventually. The fact, then, that they’re only a game back is practically a miracle. The Phillies series is bigger for the Braves than it is for Philadelphia.
10. Tigers: You don’t lose two of three to the Royals and keep your lofty ranking.

11. Blue Jays: Losers of four of five and, in my mind at least, a
little less than halfway towards finding their true level. At least
insofar as the Power Rankings are concerned.

12. Rockies: The no-hitter from Ubaldo Jiminez was nice, but
having their closer back would be nicer. Or at least having their
current closer not walk so many damn guys.

13. Padres:
Three wins in a row for the Padres, courtesy of the Diamondbacks’ awful
bullpen. But you know what’s cooler than that? The
Padres are now giving away free programs at all home games
. I find
that very cool for some reason.

14. Dodgers: The play of
the year happened over the weekend: no, not Manny’s pinch-hit homer, but
Ned Colletti designating Russ Ortiz for assignment.

: Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana’s excellent outings over the
weekend are a nice couple of steps on the journey back towards the top
of the pitching rankings, which is where this team needs to be in order
to do what’s expected of them.

16. Pirates: A very
deceiving 7-5, as they have been outscored by 22 runs this season, which
is the second worst in the NL.  Don’t get used to them being in second
place in the Central.

17. Indians: Four wins in a row has
everyone vibing optimistic, and now they’re getting Russell Branyan and
his attendant power added to the mix. I fear that a nine-game road trip
through Minnesota, Oakland and Anaheim is going to bring everyone
crashing back to Earth, however.

18. Mariners: Two of
three from Oakland and Detroit and now three games against the hapless
Orioles may prove to be the springboard back to respectability.

: Four losses in a row, and now they face an angry Boston
Red Sox team. Not sure if it’s a good Boston Red Sox team, but
they’re certainly angry.

20. Diamondbacks:  Their bullpen
is an utter mess. How messy? They gave up 14 runs in 7.2 innings vs.
the Padres over the weekend.

21. Royals: Reason to worry?
Zack Greinke did not top 94 mph with his fastball and averaged 91.2 mph
for the game against the Twins on Friday night.

22. Brewers:
Pitching, it was the Brew Crew’s downfall last year, and so it appears
to be again this year.

23. Cubs: After losing two of three to the Astros I should do
what they sometimes do in college football rankings and give them a
ceremonial last place slot. But hey: Soriano
isn’t going to be hopping anymore

24. Mets: Ike
Davis’ callup is a reason for optimism. Know what would be even better?
Firing Jerry Manuel and moving Jenrry Mejia to the rotation.

25. Nationals: Pfun Pfact: Ivan Rodriguez is leading the NL in
hitting. Bet you didn’t know that. And hey, between him and Livan
Hernandez pulling his mini-Hershiser act, at least the team is trying to
be interesting until Strasburg comes.

26. White Sox: A
suddenly sputtering offense and a four game losing streak has the White
Sox off to their worst start in 13 years. If only someone had predicted
this maybe it could have been avoided. Oh, wait, everyone predicted

27. Red Sox: This is being covered everywhere — including
— so I’ll spare you. Come back next week, though, as we’ll
have the results of [bleeping]
Brookline High’s
game against
this Thursday. 

28. Reds: The starting
pitching — expected to be a strength — has been terrible. Where have
you gone Aroldis Chapman, Reds’ Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

: The Astros have hit three home runs this year. Three.
That’s only three more than you’ve hit.

30. Orioles: The
team is skidding, the manager is on the ropes and the owner is
sorta-kinda-but-probably feuding
with the historical face of the franchise
.  I remember back when
Orioles fans were looked at with jealousy. Now I pity them.

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.