Eric Hosmer’s emergence, Kelvin Herrera’s return bode well for Royals in ALCS

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Eric Hosmer had nine homers and a 93/35 K/BB ratio in 131 games this season. After going deep again in Sunday’s victory, he’s hitting .400 with two homers and a 4/5 K/BB ratio in four postseason games for the ALCS-bound Royals.

And that’s pretty much the best thing that could have happened to Kansas City’s offense, especially considering that Hosmer was going to occupy the cleanup spot whether he hit or not. Manager Ned Yost has used the exact same starting lineup 12 straight games now.

Obviously, Yost is very much a “don’t mess with what’s working” sort of manager, and since his team is winning (10-2 with the set lineup), nothing figures to change in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Orioles, even though it’d probably make sense to sit Billy Butler, use Norichika Aoki as a DH and give Jarrod Dyson a start against a tough righty in Chris Tillman.

Other thoughts on the Royals:

– Kelvin Herrera, who left Thursday’s Game 1 with a forearm problem, seemed just fine in throwing a scoreless inning in Sunday’s Game 3. His presence will be huge with several ALCS games likely to turn into battles of the bullpens. The Royals still have the edge there with Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland set to work the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but it’s a smaller one against the Orioles than it would be against any other playoff team. Baltimore will counter with Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller and Zach Britton at the end of games.

– With Herrera proving healthy, the Royals might not make any roster changes prior to the ALCS. They have the option of going with lefty Raul Ibanez over righty Josh Willingham as a bat off the bench, which might make sense given the short right field in Camden Yards. However, Willingham actually has better career numbers at the park, for what little it’s worth. Another option would be to go with utilityman Jayson Nix in that spot, but they’d only do that if they were worried about Omar Infante’s shoulder.

– By winning early, the Royals have the ability to set up their ALCS rotation however they’d like. They could even bring Game 3 winner James Shields back for the opener Friday, though they probably won’t. It make more sense to stick with the ALDS alignment, with Jason Vargas in Game 1, Yordano Ventura in Game 2 and Shields in Game 3. That would prevent anyone from having to go too long in between starts, and it’d set up Shields to start a potential Game 7. It’d also clear the way for Ventura, who has the best pure stuff and gives up the fewest homers of the starters, to pitch twice in Camden Yards. Game 4 will probably be Jeremy Guthrie over Danny Duffy, but that can always be decided later.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”