While they do have the advantage of staying home in St. Louis, the Cardinals won’t have long to rest following their NLDS victory on Wednesday night.
The Dodgers are coming to town on Friday, and they’re bringing their aces.
The Cardinals’ rotation is in flux after their five-game series, but the Dodgers face no such questions with Zack Greinke getting the ball on Friday and Clayton Kershaw following in Saturday’s Game 2. The Cardinals would seem to be at a clear disadvantage both days. The Game 1 starter is still unannounced, with NLDS Game 3 starter Joe Kelly, Game 2 starter Lance Lynn and rookie Shelby Miller all capable of pitching. Kelly would seem to be the favorite to get the nod.
After that, it’ll almost certainly be Michael Wacha in Game 2. With the way he’s throwing, he looks like the fourth-best starter in the series. Unfortunately, he’ll be going against the best in Kershaw.
The Cardinals will be in better shape when the series heads to L.A. Game 3 will pit Wainwright versus an iffy Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers have denied that there’s anything physically wrong with Ryu, but reports have suggested otherwise.
Game 4 figures to feature one of the guys who wasn’t picked from the Kelly-Lynn-Miller trio and Ricky Nolasco, who was passed over in Game 4 of the NLDS for Kershaw on short rest. That’s probably another advantage to the Cardinals, given Nolasco’s poor showing at the end of the season and lack of recent activity. Then it’s back to Greinke and Kershaw for the Dodgers, with Wainwright waiting in Game 7.
While seven-game series take unexpected twists and turns all of the time, it is pretty hard to see the Cardinals beating the Dodgers without winning both of Wainwright’s starts. Fortunately, Wainwright seems more than up to the task. He just finished off the Pirates with a 107-pitch complete game to improve to 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA and a ridiculous 57/7 K/BB ratio in 48 2/3 innings in the postseason. Including the two against the Pirates, the Cardinals have won each of his last seven starts dating back to the regular season, with Wainwright allowing a total of nine runs in that span.
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.