Manager Eric Wedge said Thursday that he’s probably going to try Ichiro Suzuki somewhere other than at the top of the order this season.
“It’s as much to do with his teammates as it has to do with him with regard to the collective nine that we’re putting down on paper,” Wedge said. “I haven’t made any firm decisions. I made it very clear over the winter I was thinking about it. I’m even further down the road to where I’m leaning in that direction to have (Suzuki) hit somewhere else.”
Trying Ichiro as a No. 3 hitter was a popular topic for debate in Seattle when he was in his prime. Back when he was slugging .420-.450 each season, it would have made a lot of sense to put him in a position to drive in more runs.
Now, though, it’s hard to see how Ichiro would be of use anywhere except the leadoff spot. Since his strong 2009 season, he slipped to .315/.369/.394 in 2010 and .272/.310/.335 last year.
Wedge mentioned Dustin Ackley, Franklin Gutierrez and Chone Figgins as other possibilities to hit leadoff for the Mariners. Ackley is the only one of the three likely to be more productive than Ichiro, and given that he actually has some power, he’d seem to make a whole lot more sense hitting second or third.
That’s particularly the case given that the Mariners have routinely trotted out the weakest bottom of the orders of any AL squad the last few years. Shortstop Brendan Ryan stands as the likely No. 9 hitter at the moment. The third baseman — either Figgins or, preferably, Kyle Seager — could hit eighth. Mariners leadoff hitters so rarely come up with men on base that their RBI potential is wasted. Consider that Ichiro hasn’t driven in even 50 runs in a year since 2007. He had at least 60 RBI in five of his first seven seasons.
The only reason for Wedge to shift Ichiro now is for appearances. What the Mariners need is for Ichiro to at least bounce back to 2010 form and set the table for Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak below him.
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.