Don’t blame the layoff; blame Justin Verlander for Game 1 loss

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Done in by poor fastball location, Justin Verlander got lit up by the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series, surrendering five runs and two Pablo Sandoval homers in four innings. Some facts from the outing:

– It was just the third in three years in which he failed to go five innings. The last was in the 2011 ALCS, when he allowed three runs in four innings in a loss to the Rangers. The only other time in the last three years that he was pulled before five innings was June 22, 2010 against the Mets (5 ER in 2 IP).

– Sandoval’s first homer was the fifth ever allowed by Justin Verlander on an 0-2 pitch, once in 2006 (Tadahito Iguchi), 2007 (Billy Butler), 2010 (Torii Hunter) and 2011 (Shelley Duncan).

– The five runs allowed matched his high total in 26 career starts against NL teams. He also gave up five runs in the aforementioned start against the Mets and in 2009 against the Cardinals.

– His 38-pitch third inning was his high total for any inning this year.

Of course, some will blame the rust for the Tigers’ struggles tonight. It’s an easy narrative, having been carried over from 2006 when they lost the World Series to the Cardinals after a lengthy layoff.

Verlander, though, wasn’t particularly rusty, having made this start on seven days’ rest. That’s just one more day off than he had for Game 1 of the ALDS. The offense wasn’t great, but it did come up with eight hits. One problem was the Tigers got nothing from the bottom of the order, which was also a big reason why the team had a disappointing offense in the regular season.

But the Tigers lost tonight because Verlander couldn’t find a way to keep them in the game. Maybe he deserves the free pass — he’s the biggest reason they’re here in the first place — but it sure would have been nice if he could have figured out a way to grind out a six-inning, three- or four-run outing, both to aid the pen and help the chances of a comeback. He needed some finesse tonight, and he simply didn’t have any.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.