If Alcides Escobar had his way, the baseball’s regular season would be shortened from 162 games.
“That’s too many games,” he said.
But the postseason, Escobar can’t get enough of that.
Perhaps that’s it, simply a preference for the games that matter most. Whatever the reason, Escobar once again is excelling in the playoffs, this time to a Twitter hashtag popularity level.
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Base hit to open the game. #Eskymagic.
Scores first Royals run. #Eskymagic.
Nice double play turn. #Eskymagic.
Escobar hasn’t had solid games; he has terrific postseasons.
A year ago, Escobar hit .292 in the playoffs, having moved to the leadoff spot on a regular basis late in the season. This year, as the Royals prepare to take on the Blue Jays in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Friday, his batting average stands at .400 with a 1-for-4 performance in Wednesday’s loss that left the Royals’ lead in the series at 3-2.
Combine the two years and Escobar’s .333 batting average is the best among the Royals regulars from both postseasons.
His regular-season average in that span is .270. In October, Escobar revs the engine.
“When I’m coming to the field every game in the postseason, my main thing is I want to win the game,” Escobar said. “And right now I’m really focused and I feel really good at home plate.”
So good that Escobar became the first player in baseball history to open each of the first four games of a postseason series with a base hit. His triple in Game 3 led to a run, so did his bunt in Game 4, ahead of Ben Zobrist’s home run.
In two years, Escobar has 35 career playoff hits. Only George Brett has more for the Royals with 45.
Royals manager Ned Yost sees a player with a boosted energy level.
“What he does, I think, is he really intensifies his focus,” Yost said. “I think he’s such a talented player. But with the grind of a 162-game season, there are little periods where his focus will tend to waiver a little bit.
“During the playoffs he just locks in. And when he’s focused, he’s as good as any player in the league at his position.”
Others have seen a more relaxed Escobar in the playoffs. Whatever his condition, it’s worked for two seasons, and he’s been on a tear against the Blue Jays, leading all players in the series with 10 hits.
In 25 career postseason games, Escobar has hit safely in 22, including nine straight. In this ALCS, he’s had a four-hit game and a four-RBI game. In five of the 10 playoff games this year, Escobar has had at least two hits.
Escobar’s suboptimal regular season on-base percentage of .298 has jumped to .422 in the postseason. It includes three occasions when Escobar was hit by a pitch but no walks. Escobar walked only 26 times during the regular season, twice since Aug. 27.
Asked before the series why he keeps Escobar at the top of the lineup with such low percentages, Yost said simply, “Statistically it doesn’t make any sense. But it works.”
Escobar’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .997 is surpassed in the playoffs only by the Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson and the Mets’ Daniel Murphy among those still playing.
Escobar swings, often at the first pitch, and has built his percentages by making contact.
“He puts the ball in play a lot,” Royals infielder Christian Colon said. “If he swings, you rarely see him miss. When we see him swing, we think he’s going to put it in play.”
It’s been a winning approach for the Royals throughout the postseason. Twice.