We’re in the middle of the NL player availabilities right now. The AL players will be made available in a few minutes. Somewhere right now there is a press conference about the Home Run Derby about to start. I’m not going to it because no one will be honest and say “Well, I’m just gonna try to hit the ball really far and see what happens.” Who needs it?
These events are really for the folks who live on player quotes. We, obviously, don’t live on player quotes here at HBT. Unless they’re funny or controversial, of course. Then we go to town. But hearing and repeating that it’s an honor to be selected to the All-Star game and that they’re soaking it all in and they’d like to thank the fans who voted for them, well, that doesn’t do a ton for us. And I’ve never been the fan of “ask the ballplayer the off-the-wall question!” school of journalism. Let’s leave that to gimmicky NFL people on the Super Bowl media day. Baseball and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog don’t mix that well.
Still, I went down and talked to some NL players and will talk to some AL players later because, heck, maybe someone would say something funny or controversial. No one did to me (we’ll have to wait for stories from other reporters before we know for sure). I talked to Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Andrew McCutchen. I was in a giant scrum around David Wright. I listened in on about a dozen other players being interviewed by other reporters. Among the highlights:
- Jim Leyland had said earlier that, no surprise, Mariano Rivera will close the game out if necessary for the AL. I asked Kimbrel if Bruce Bochy had given any indication of the closer pecking order for the NL. I told him that he can answer quietly so Jason Grilli, sitting nearby, wouldn’t hear. Kimbrel said that he had no idea as he landed in New York about ten minutes ago and that I was like the fourth person he saw. When asked (by someone else) what his favorite park to pitch in was, he said “the big ones.”
- Freeman is disappointed by the fact that a day or two after he won the Final Vote thing he got hurt and now isn’t able to play. I almost think winning the vote for him was the most fun part about it, though. He figured he’d get killed by Puig in the voting and thinks his family back in Orange County stuffed the ballot box like crazy. I told him 19 million people voted for him. He laughed and said “well, they helped.”
- Jason Grilli is honored to be here. He also is unaware of any closer pecking order for the NL. Nor does he know if he’s the pitcher that Bruce Bochy has chosen to hold out of the game in case it goes 16 innings or something. I said that that’d probably be a starter. He said “yeah.”
- Unsurprisingly, Andrew McCutchen does not think the Pirates are going to collapse this year. I asked him if that question bugs him. He added that it’s way better to be asked about a team collapsing than never having the team be good enough to inspire that question in the first place. He didn’t put it quite like that — he sort of got to that point after many words — but that was the idea. I feel like it was one of those things that, back in the day before tape recorders and media scrums, one single sports writer — a Damon Runyon type — would craft it into a more pointed and witty quote and attribute it to McCutchen all the same.
Sometimes I’m kinda sad we don’t live in those days, actually. I like to think of ballplayers as witty raconteur-types. But they aren’t. They’re ballplayers and they’re paid to crush baseballs, not say witty things to sweaty reporters. And therein lies my basic issue with the game of player quotes.
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.