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.
With their rented ace on the mound and the home crowd riled up, this was supposed to be the Blue Jays’ game. After all, they’re the one overwhelming favorite to win their LDS. Well, they were. After a 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Thursday, the Blue Jays face an uphill climb to advance in the best-of-five series.
It’s not over, obviously. For one thing, the Blue Jays get to face left-handers in at least two of the next three games, and the Jays destroy southpaws. The Jays will have the pitching advantages in Texas after Friday’s Game 2 showdown against Cole Hamels, and they’ll probably have a sharper David Price out there next time if the series goes five games.
How Toronto’s lineup shapes up in the coming days will hinge on the health of Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. Donaldson passed his initial concussion tests after colliding with Rougned Odor‘s knee, but he’d be far from the first player to experience lasting effects after initially getting the all clear. Bautista, too, is expected to be ready to play Friday after leaving with a hamstring cramp. At this point, there’s no reason to suspect that the Jays are understating the extent of the problem.
If Donaldson is fine, the Jays will have a much better chance of taking down Hamels. Game 2 starter Marcus Stroman has looked outstanding since returning from his torn ACL, and he should be able to hold down the Rangers’ offense better than Price did. He might not even have to face Adrian Beltre, who left Thursday’s game with a back problem.
The Rangers have yet to announce the rest of their rotation, though it sounds like Martin Perez is the favorite to get the ball opposite Marco Estrada in Game 3. It would then be either Colby Lewis, Derek Holland or Yovani Gallardo on three days’ rest in Game 4 (with the Jays starting knuckleballer R.A. Dickey). Lewis seems the more likely choice because of Holland’s inconsistency and the Jays’ dominance of left-handers. Those would both be winnable games for Toronto.
So, what it comes down to is beating Hamels. If the Jays head to Texas tied 1-1, they’re still the favorites to advance to the ALCS. If it’s 2-0 Rangers, three in a row is going to be a lot to ask.
Well, it had to come down to this. Because baseball’s postseason is more about making money than fair play, the teams with the second- and third-best records in baseball played a one-game series on Tuesday night. And the team with the second-best record lost.
In a just world, the Pirates and Cubs would have opened a seven-game NLDS tonight. Not that seven games really tells us who the best team is, either, but it’s certainly more illustrative than one game. In the last two years, the wild card Pirates have gone up against Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta in games with no margin for error. They went down quietly in each, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when Cy Young contenders are at the top of their games.
Baseball isn’t about to eliminate its divisions, so this is the kind of thing that’s going to happen all too often. Unfortunately, good teams are doubly punished for playing in strong divisions. They deal with tougher schedules during the regular season, and they often deal with harsher seeding when it comes to the postseason.
Make no mistake, the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs didn’t simply rack up their strong records this year by beating up on a pair of also-rans in the Brewers and Reds. The NL Central was 99-62 against the NL East and 89-76 against the NL West (the big three were 66-33 against the NL East and 69-30 against the NL West). The 97-win Cubs had five wins on the Dodgers for the NL’s third-best record. Maybe the margin wouldn’t have been that significant if the Dodgers had something to play for in September, but they did go 17-13 in their final 30 games, giving them a practically identical winning percentage to their 92-70 full-season mark.
But, again, baseball isn’t getting rid of it’s divisions. And it probably won’t follow the NBA’s lead in discounting divisional standings when playoff time comes around. Which doesn’t seem like very good news for the Pirates at all. The Cubs are looking like a future juggernaut, and the Cardinals show few signs of slowing down. The Pirates have quite a bit going for them, too, but they’ll be the third favorite in the NL Central next year and just getting to another winner-take-all wild card will again be an accomplishment.