UPDATE: Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer confirms that Chase Utley will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Single-A Clearwater on Saturday. He is expected to play five innings in the field.
Friday, 11:48 PM: When asked by Todd Zolecki of MLB.com if Chase Utley was going to begin a minor league rehab assignment Saturday, Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said the following:
“It depends how he feels.”
Another source tells Zolecki that Utley could play tomorrow, meaning that he would be a go as long as his surgically-repaired thumb responded well to a Friday workout.
Friday, 11:19 PM: Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com dropped some word earlier tonight that Chase Utley told some teammates that he could return to the starting lineup as soon as next Tuesday. It seemed overly optimistic at first, but the other shoe has dropped since then. According to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, Utley will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Single-A Clearwater on Saturday.
It all depends on how the thumb responds to game activity, but according to Salisbury, Utley “is so far ahead of schedule” that he could return at some point during the team’s 10-game homestand which kicks off Tuesday against the Giants.
When Utley underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb on July 1, he was originally projected to miss eight weeks, which would have put his return somewhere around the end of August or early September. The All-Star second baseman insisted he would be able to beat that timeline all along. And it looks like he’s about to do it.
The Phillies were shut out against the Mets on Friday night, however they are 16-5 in their last 21 games and currently sit just three games behind the Braves in the National League East. It’s nothing the Phillies haven’t overcome before. And now that they are about to get two of their biggest bats back, it’s going to be awful tough to doubt them.
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.
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.
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.