For those of you too busy watching football or something silly like that last night, here’s where we stand with two days left in the regular season.
Nine of the ten playoff teams are known: the Yankees, Orioles, Tigers, Rangers and Athletics will represent the American League. The Nationals, Braves, Reds and Giants will represent the National League. The final slot in the NL will come down to the Cardinals and the Dodgers, but more on that in a second. Here’s how it all breaks down:
- The Yankees won and the Orioles lost last night, giving New York a one game advantage in the AL East race with two to play. The loser will be the wild card winner;
- The Athletics beat the Rangers last night, clinching a playoff spot and pulling to within one game of the AL West lead. They play two more head-to-head, with the loser settling for the other wild card slot. The A’s win eliminated both the Angles and the Rays from playoff contention;
- The Tigers win over the Royals gave the AL Central title to Detroit. The White Sox were eliminated from postseason consideration.
- The Nationals lost to Philadelphia, but the Braves loss to Pittsburgh gave Washington the NL East crown. Atlanta will host the wild card game on Friday.
- St. Louis and Los Angeles each won. The Cardinals win clinches at least a tie for the second NL wild card. If they win one of their last two games — or if the Dodgers lose either of their last two — St. Louis will be the wild card representative. If the Cards lose two and the Dodgers win two, it’s a tie, and the teams will play a one-game playoff on Thursday to determine who plays the Braves in the wild card game on Friday.
- The Reds and Giants have already clinched their respective divisions.
Triple Crown and MVP race
Miguel Cabrera homered and went 4 for 5 in last night’s game, giving him sole possession of the home run lead to match his lead in the batting and RBI race. He currently leads Mike Trout — who also had a huge game last night — .329-.325 in the batting title race, has one more home run than Josh Hamilton and ten more RBI than Hamilton.
As far as the MVP implications, the Angels being eliminated from the playoffs may sway a few more voters to go with Cabrera for the MVP than otherwise would. If I had to bet money on it right now, I say that Cabrera will win the MVP whether he wins the triple crown or not.
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.