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Tim McCarver to retire from Fox at the end of the 2013 season


This is pretty major news in the world of baseball broadcasting:

I know many of you will respond with snark to this because McCarver has become a popular target of scorn in recent years. But it’s probably worth pausing for a minute and realizing (a) just how long McCarver has been the top national color guy in the game; and (b) just how thoroughly he changed the nature of that job during his time on the scene.

When he came onto the broadcasting scene in the late 70s and early 80s, the ex-jock in the booth was almost a comic relief role. They told anecdotes of their playing days and offered an analysis, of sorts, of what just happened on a given play. But so much of it was superficial and so much of it was subjective. A lot of “hoo-boys!” and “that was a nice pitch” kind of commentary. It was usually a friendly voice, but not a necessarily informative one.

McCarver changed that. Especially in his early days, he would break down strategies and pitch sequences in ways that most color guys weren’t really doing.  We take so much of it for granted now, but he really did work to explain what was happening in a game and why and how one thing would lead to the next in ways that TV viewers rarely got.

It’s inescapable that in recent years he’s lost a couple of ticks on his fastball. Part of it is age. Part of it is that the broadcast is so filled with graphics and things that there’s less room for McCarver to talk his way through a thought and reach an interesting conclusion. Some of it is merely relative: we as viewers have so much more information at our disposal that the points McCarver makes may seem somewhat pedestrian or in some cases unnecessary.  But that says more about where we are than were he is.

No, McCarver is not my favorite TV presence. But one need look around at other ex-players following in his footsteps to realize that McCarver is still, to this day, pretty darn good at what he does. For every Ron Darling or Keith Hernandez — ex-players who have taken things to the next level — there is a Rick Sutcliffe and a John Kruk, harkening back to those days when the ex-ballplayer was presumed to have insight and legitimacy in the role simply because he played, not because he was particularly insightful.

But McCarver wasn’t like that. He was the real deal: an intelligent guy who helped viewers understand what they were seeing better than they had before.  And no matter how annoying some of his excesses or his less-trenchant recent analysis can be at times — and no matter how easy a target he has become simply because of his ubiquity during the playoffs — we should all probably appreciate that when we take our shots we’re taking shots at one of the better ones.

And I have this feeling that we’ll appreciate that all the more come this time next year when Fox announces his replacement.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

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.