The answer was right there all along.
Alcides Escobar is here to save the day.
You know the story. Escobar was inserted in the leadoff spot on September 13, 2014 with the Royals in a fight for the playoffs. And they started winning. And winning. And winning. Since that date, no Royal has hit at the top of the order more than Escobar. And the Royals have two AL Pennants and a World Championship.
Esky Magic indeed.
On Monday in Tampa, Escobar led off for the Royals for the first time this season. The light-hitting shortstop has been a lightening rod of sorts for those who wish to focus on the shortcomings of the offense. With a career .297 OPB coming in to 2017, he’s ill-suited to hit anywhere but ninth. If you have a functioning major league lineup.
The Royals don’t exactly have a functioning major league lineup.
The Royals moribund offense is in desperate need of an injection of runs. They rank last in nearly every measure of offensive production. They average 2.7 runs per game. The lack of runs has been a theme since the first week of the season. It’s no longer early. It’s a trend that signals trouble. Big trouble. That’s why it barely registered on the outrage meter that Escobar and his .220 OBP was at the top of the order. Exactly who else do you think can do the job?
It was a massive disappointment when Escobar didn’t offer at the first pitch he saw. The “ambush” has become an Escobar hallmark. His calling card. He’s not up there to set the table as much as he’s up there to get his hacks. But don’t fear! He swung at the second pitch. And singled. Because that’s how Esky Magic works.
It seems like since Opening Day in Minnesota, this offense has barely caught a break. Of course, the Royals aren’t helping matters because they’ve rarely put themselves in a position where a catching a break would help them score runs. That changed on Monday when, following a Drew Butera bomb and an Escobar double (!!!), Lorenzo Cain stepped to the plate. Cain lined a single back up the middle that would probably score Escobar easily with the go-ahead run. Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, the best defensive outfielder in the American League, charged to pick up the ball for a potential throw home. Except he forgot to get his glove down. The ball went under his glove, all the way to the wall and Cain circled the bases. A single and a three base error for another run. Believe it. The Rays gifted the Royals a run.
That’s Esky Magic.
By the time the smoke cleared in the Trop, the Royals had matched their season-high total for runs with seven. Their 13 hits was the most they had generated all year. For good measure, they stole four bases to give poor Derek Norris Wild Card Game flashbacks. It was as if the old Royals offense was back. For one night, anyway.
There are plenty who saw Escobar’s name at the top of the order, rolled their eyes and thought they were being #Yosted. I would have been part of the mob in the past. For sure. But now? Eh. It doesn’t really matter so much. Sure, he’s a poor choice at the top, but who else are you going to put there? Cain is the Royals best hitter but in the event he reaches, who’s going to bring him home? This is the Swiss cheese offense. So many holes. The Royals have lacked a true leadoff man during their era of success. It seems like it’s finally coming around to haunt them.
Why not bring back some Esky Magic?
But one night does not make an offense. It’s easy to see “signs” when a team that refuses to score runs suddenly has a crooked number on the scoreboard. It’s not an accident this team is last in the AL in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and runs. While individuals may shine from time to time, collectively this is not a productive offense. Seven runs in Tampa doesn’t chase the problem away. Because eventually, Escobar at the top of the lineup will cease to be fun. Eric Hosmer will roll the ball to second. Salvador Perez will chase a slider. Mike Moustakas will get pull-happy. (Pull-happier? Because that’s happening now.) And we will continue to wonder if Alex Gordon will ever be a productive offensive performer ever again.
There will be more nights like Monday for the Royals. Even with their offensive shortcomings, it would be nearly impossible for them to go the entire season scoring just 2.7 runs per game. A seven run outburst is what regression to the mean looks like when you’re scuffling.
But with the season already circling the drain, it was good to see the return of Esky Magic and a productive Royals offense. Even if the return is for a limited engagement.