Astros fail to reload in Roy Oswalt deal

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They were in a bad position all along, but the fact that the Astros had to kick in $11 million of the $23 million that Roy Oswalt is guaranteed and still didn’t get a top talent in return has to be viewed as a failure on GM Ed Wade’s part.
J.A. Happ isn’t nothing. The 27-year-old finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting after going 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 166 innings last season. He was declared off limits when the Phillies went after Roy Halladay both at the trade deadline last year and over the winter. However, the elbow injury he suffered in April changed things dramatically. It was called a strained forearm, but Happ still hasn’t fully recovered more than three months later. While he returned to the majors this week, his velocity fluctuates and his command has been off.
Happ was never a particularly good bet in the first place. He put up excellent strikeout numbers in the minors, but a good portion of those K’s came off a curveball he decided to scrap a couple of years ago. His slider and changeup are both quality pitches, but he doesn’t overwhelm with an 88-91 mph fastball and he’s always walked too many batters. He’s also a flyball pitcher, and now he’s going to another ballpark that’s particularly kind to right-handed power hitters. At best, he’s a long-term No. 3 starter. He could well be more of a No. 4 or 5, and now that he has the arm issues, he’s just not a particularly valuable property.
The prospects the Astros received back are also underwhelming. Fleet-footed center fielder Anthony Gose is just 19 (20 next month) and has plenty of room for growth, but he’s lacking when it comes to baseball intellect. He’s been thrown out 27 times in 63 steal attempts this year, and he has a 103/32 K/BB ratio in 418 at-bats. His overall .263/.325/.385 line isn’t bad at all considering that he’s one of the youngest players in a tough league for hitters, but he’s far more of an athlete than a baseball player at the moment.
Jonathan Villar, 19, is a switch-hitting shortstop hitting .272/.332/.358 with 38 steals in the Sally League. Like Gose, he struggles to control the strike zone, as he’s fanned 103 times and walked just 26 times in 371 at-bats. He’s also iffy to stay at short. If he retains his range as he fills out and shows he can make steady contact from both sides of the plate, he has a chance to make it as a regular. Still, he’ll probably be a bottom-of-the-order guy.
If the Astros had managed to flip Oswalt for this trio without kicking in a whole bunch of money, I’d be giving Wade some credit. As is, though, one could argue that Happ, Gose and Villar aren’t worth the $11 million the Astros had to kick in to get the deal done. Oswalt wasn’t going to take the Astros anywhere in the next year and a half, so there was little harm in moving him. However, if Wade had simply built a better team in the first place, he wouldn’t have needed to go this route and accept such a modest return for one of the best players in franchise history.
Update: This will help some. The Astros have sent Gose to the Blue Jays for first baseman Brett Wallace.

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.