St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa pulls relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski after he gave up a two RBI double to Texas Rangers' Mike Napoli in the eighth inning of Game 5 of MLB's World Series baseball championship in Arlington

Tony La Russa cost his team Game 5


When it comes to the managerial matchup in this World Series I was right and wrong. First the wrong part, which I wrote last Wednesday when comparing Tony La Russa and Ron Washington:

A managerial mismatch? No way. At least not one that will determine the course of this World Series.

Inasmuch as Game 5 determines the course of the World Series, yeah, the managerial moves mattered. Managerial decisions cost both teams outs and opportunities last night, but they cost the game for the Cardinals. Which leads us to the part I was right about:

But at the same time, as a lot of Cardinals fans will tell you, La Russa can over think things. Anyone who thinks deeply about things is prone to that, actually.  For all of the moves that work, he’s just as capable of making moves that don’t work, such as intentionally walking a guy when it makes little sense, going too crazy with pitching changes or double switches to gain a platoon advantage when the advantage is far outweighed by the loss of the players he has burned through …

Yeah. That happened in spades last night. La Russa gave away an entire inning’s worth of outs with bad decisions with Allen Craig alone, bunting with him despite the fact that he is one of the team’s best hitters and running him — twice — with Albert Pujols at the plate. Albert Pujols, whose job description does not and should not include “getting some wood on the ball to make the hit-and-run happen.” Craig shouldn’t have been even taking a lead off the bag with El Hombre at the plate, let alone running.

And of course the pitching change fiasco in the eighth inning which Aaron described last night. La Russa’s explantion was that bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist didn’t hear La Russa correctly when he asked for Jason Motte to warm up. Twice. Once when he asked for Marc Rzepczynski to warm up — La Russa said he wanted both Rzepczynski and Motte getting ready — and once when, later he realized that Motte wasn’t getting ready and called down again, only to have the bullpen mess up and get Lance Lynn ready instead of Motte.  The explanation doesn’t seem terribly plausible.

In the first instance, when Rzepczynski came into the game there was no one else warming up in the pen. The shots from the Fox camera made that pretty clear. A miscommunication on that first call from La Russa would have conceivably had the wrong right hander warming up, but not just one guy when La Russa asked for two.

So La Russa’s story is that he called again. And the bullpen coach misheard again, getting Lance Lynn up instead of Jason Motte. Which also doesn’t make sense because who on the planet — especially the bullpen coach of the Cardinals who gets more calls from the dugout than the next five bullpen coaches in baseball combined — wouldn’t question why La Russa would want an unavailable pitcher (Lynn was listed as emergency use only before the game) getting warm with Mike Napoli looming rather than Motte who is clearly the best option?  How does that simply go mis-heard? How doesn’t someone say to La Russa “dude, you sure you want Lynn here?” only to have La Russa clarify “No! I want Motte!”

If you’re answering that phone and you hear the manager say he doesn’t want a righty up when a righty is truly called for, and then you later hear “Lynn” instead of “Motte” when that makes no sense, you clarify. You’ve had over 170 games of this stuff this year and you know how things go. I believe it way more likely that the folks down in the bullpen heard La Russa loud and clear and followed the man’s orders because he’s the boss. It’s just that the orders were totally FUBAR.

I suspect that La Russa had a brain lock and simply didn’t anticipate or believe that David Murphy would reach against Rzepczynski, necessitating a righty to face Mike Napoli. I also suspect that he was hoping to save Motte for a save in the ninth or in extra innings or something. I believe that these brain locks — in addition to all of the base running stuff — cost the Cardinals the game.

Tony La Russa is one of the best managers ever. But he is not infallible. He overmanaged last night as it is his wont to do. He made a pretty major blunder last night because not even he is immune to doing so.  It’s also possible that he threw his bullpen coach under the bus last night on that telephone stuff, which is pretty sad if you ask me.

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.