Pitchers’ duel turns into a laugher as Giants take 2-0 lead


You wouldn’t know it by the lopsided 9-0 final score, but Game 2 of the World Series was actually an outstanding pitchers’ duel for six-and-half innings Thursday night. Seriously.

Matt Cain extended his postseason scoreless streak to 21.1 innings with his third straight gem and C.J. Wilson nearly matched him pitch for pitch before exiting with a blister on his left middle finger. At that point Edgar Renteria had produced the game’s only run by homering off Wilson as the latest unlikely source of offense for the Giants’ grind-it-out lineup.

And then Texas’ bullpen imploded, allowing seven runs in the eighth inning, all of them with two outs.

This bullpen mess was different than Game 1 of the ALCS because the Rangers were already down by the time the musical relievers started, but just like he did against the Yankees manager Ron Washington let the game slip away in the eighth inning while using just about every pitcher in the bullpen except his best guy, closer Neftali Feliz.

Feliz sat by as Derek Holland came into a 2-0 game and walked three straight batters, forcing in the Giants’ third run. And when Washington mercifully removed Holland from the game to bring in a fresh arm it was Mark Lowe, who missed nearly the entire season with a back injury and was only added to the World Series roster after sitting out the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Lowe promptly followed Holland’s lead by walking in the Giants’ fourth run, gave up a single to make it 6-0, and then gave way to another reliever, rookie Michael Kirkman, who allowed back-to-back extra-base hits to make it 9-0. And all because Washington held back his best reliever–who hadn’t worked in six days and gets another day off Friday–for a “save” situation that never arrived.

Would the Rangers have been able to rally for two runs off Giants closer Brian Wilson? Probably not, but that comeback was at least within the realm of possibility had Feliz wriggled out trouble rather than the no-name trio of Holland, Lowe, and Kirkman turning the game into a blowout.

We’ll never know how things would have turned out had San Francisco taken a two-run lead into the ninth inning, but here’s what we do know: Texas is in an 0-2 hole and the last 13 teams to lose the first two games on the road have gone on to lose the World Series. They’ll have to win at least two of three in Texas to send things back to AT&T Park … where the Rangers are now 0-11 all time.

Somewhat lost in Cain’s brilliance and Washington’s bullpen mismanagement is that the Giants have now scored 20 runs in two games, which is remarkable for a team that ranked 17th in runs per game during the regular season. They now have nine wins this postseason and in seven of those games they faced a pitcher who ranked among MLB’s top 27 in ERA with a mark of 3.35 or lower: Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt (twice), Tim Hudson, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and now C.J. Wilson.

Game 3 opponent Colby Lewis wasn’t among those ERA leaders, but he’ll provide another very tough test for the Giants’ offense after shutting down the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS. San Francisco will counter with Jonathan Sanchez, whose 3.07 ERA put him in that top-27, but the control-challenged southpaw lasted just two innings against the Phillies in Game 6 of the NLCS after back-to-back strong starts to begin the playoffs.

For the Rangers to get back into the series they simply need Lewis to come up big again, but for the Rangers to win the series they’ll also need Washington to cease being dramatically out-managed by Bruce Bochy.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

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.