Back in Scottsdale I was truly surprised at just how good Pablo Sandoval looked in the locker room, and during his first game of spring training I was surprised at just how sprightly he seemed on the field. At the same time, I also wondered if the sprightliness was merely a function of first game adrenaline and if, smaller or not, he’d revert to his lumbering ways once he got back into the routine of playing baseball.
Seems there’s nothing to worry about:
“My first step,” [Sandoval] said after being asked about the biggest benefit to losing almost 40 pounds this winter. “Especially at third base, you have to be quick. That’s why I worked so hard on it every day” …
“He’s moving around so much better now — left, right, coming in on balls,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s feeling good about that first step. He’s bouncing around out there.”
Indeed, not a day goes by when someone watching a Giants game doesn’t tweet something about how quick Sandoval looks at third base. This transformation does in fact seem to be more than merely cosmetic.
Which will be hugely important for the Giants, because I’m a bit dubious about their chances to repeat as NL West champs.
I don’t like Miguel Tejada at short and I don’t have a ton of confidence that Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell will contribute anything close to what they contributed last year. As such, a return to 2009 form for Sandoval is essential to make up for those places where I think they’ll regress.
Former first base and infield coach Nick Leyva was promoted to senior advisor of baseball operations on Saturday, per a report by Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The Pirates also fired third base coach Rick Sofield, with no named successor as of yet.
Leyva joined the Pirates’ organization in the 2011 offseason as a third base coach under manager Clint Hurdle. He shifted to his role as the first base coach and infield coach in 2014, when first base coach Rick Sofield was reassigned to third base prior to the 2015 season. According to Biertempfel, the swap was made in order to optimize the team’s baserunning strategies, all of which appeared to fall flat during the 2015 and 2016 seasons:
The results this season were awful. The Pirates ranked 13th in the National League with a minus-7.0 BsR — a FanGraphs.com metric that measures how many runs above or below league average a team gets via its baserunning.
In 2013 and 2014, the Pirates had one of the top five BsR ratings in the NL. In 2015, they were seventh with a 2.8 BsR.
This season, the Pirates made the second-most outs at third base in the league and were last in taking extra bases on singles and doubles. Their baserunners went from first to third base on hits a league-low 63 times.
Sofield, in particular, highlighted the Pirates’ poor baserunning choices in games like this one, when he sent Sean Rodriguez home too early during the last vestige of a ninth inning rally against the Phillies.
Following the announcement, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington issued a statement elaborating on Leyva’s role within the organization:
We have great respect and appreciation for both men. We thank them for their time and effort as part of our Major League team and the Pirates organization. It was a difficult decision, but we felt it was the right time to make this change on our Major League staff. We look forward to Nick’s continued impact in his future role with the Pirates. Nick has held nearly every coaching position at the major league level and at the minor league level, including Major League manager, in his extensive career and will be a quality mentor for our minor league managers, coaches and players.
With Game 6 of the NLCS just hours away, the Dodgers will opt for a lefty-heavy lineup against right-hander Kyle Hendricks. Batting leadoff is rookie outfielder Andrew Toles, who made one appearance at the top of the lineup during the 2016 season. The Cubs, meanwhile, will bench Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.. This will be Almora’s first start of the playoffs, and while he has yet to face Kershaw in October, his right-handed bat could play well against the lefty at the bottom of the lineup.
Game time is scheduled for 8 PM EDT; lineups are below.
1. Andrew Toles (L) LF
6. Wilson Contreras (R) C
8. Albert Almora Jr. (R) RF
9. Kyle Hendricks (R) RHP