I’ve learned to more or less ignore the managerial availabilities here at the Winter Meetings because, let’s be honest, they’re 30 slightly different exercises in saying nothing. At least they are now that Ozzie Guillen is gone. Just the offseason version of “we gotta take ’em one day at a time” ManagerSpeak.
I went to Jim Leyland’s just now, though, because he makes me laugh. And he didn’t disappoint. The highlights:
- Leyland was asked about Miguel Cabrera playing in the World Baseball Classic. Leyland said he’s not a fan of the WBC but “I support it because the Commissioner gets mad when I say I don’t support it.” Mr. Leyland, Commissioner Selig is on line two. I think you had better take it.
- He was asked about the Tigers’ closer situation and didn’t tip the Tigers’ hand, but he did say “One thing you can say about Jose Valverde, he knows how to turn the page.” After watching him pitch late in the season, I think that book is “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
- Asked about the future of the Tigers, and how long until Avisail Garcia or Nick Castellanos may become regulars, he said “you know, that’s a very good question.” He didn’t answer it, but he did acknowledge that it was a good question.
- Leyland asked who the team to beat is in the AL Central: “Hopefully the Tigers.”
- On an actually substantive topic, he was asked about Gene Lamont becoming the bench coach. He said that Lamont’s knees were going and it’d be easier on him to be in the dugout rather than couching third. Color me dubious. Leyland has never had a need for a bench coach and you don’t move an effective third base coach if you can avoid it. Gotta figure this was devised to get a better third base coach without firing Leyland’s longtime compadre.
- Leyland, when asked about getting over the World Series, said “you can’t chew yesterday’s breakfast.” People who follow Leyland closely are mostly surprised that he only used that phrase once.
- Leyland apparently just attended his 50th high school reunion. He said he had a good time. He was asked about the women at the reunion: “They looked pretty good to me. I wonder how they thought old Jimbo looked.” When people laughed he noted that, back in high school, he was voted “Most Popular Boy” and said that if we didn’t believe him we could go look in his yearbook.
- Finally, as Leyland’s presser was ending, Terry Francona walked over and hovered, waiting to sit down for his own press conference. The reporters flocked to Francona, leaving old Jimbo with a much smaller crowd than he started with.
“Most Popular Boy” my foot.
OK, back to the rumors and stuff.
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.