If a baseball fan pays attention to infield positioning, he can do a fair job of reading a manager’s mind.
In the first inning of Game 1 of the Royals-Astros ALDS, Houston had the bases loaded and nobody down. If Royals manager Ned Yost thought the man on third base represented a crucial run, he would have brought the infield in. If the infield is in and a ball is hit to an infielder, the play is at the plate.
In this case, Yost left his middle infielders back, probably willing to concede a run in order to turn a double play. Colby Rasmus hit a sharp grounder to Ben Zobrist, but the ball took him toward first base — no chance to turn two.
With one down and runners on second and third, Ned once again left his middle infielders back. This time, Evan Gattis hit a grounder to short; Alcides Escobar didn’t think he had a play at the plate and took the sure out at first.
Most managers will not bring the infield in early; it’s a good way to give up a big inning. If a single run is crucial in the later innings, that’s when you’re likely to see the infield in.
By not bringing in the infield in the first inning, Ned Yost was gambling that his team would score more than two runs.
Yordano Ventura and his curveball
Before each inning, pitchers get eight warmup pitches. If you pay attention to those eight pitches, you can learn something.
In the first inning, Ventura had trouble controlling his curveball; even when he threw it for strikes, it was up in the zone. The Astros got two hits off it and eventually scored two runs.
Before the second, Ventura threw at least three curves in those eight warmup pitches and had better luck. He gave up another run on a double and a single; both on fastballs.
Ventura did not throw a changeup, and that simplified things for the Astros’ hitters; Ventura may have been saving that changeup for the later innings, but a rain delay ended Yordano’s night after two innings.
Kendrys Morales’ homer
In the bottom of the second, Kendrys Morales homered for two reasons:
1. Colin McHugh fell behind 2-1 and threw Morales a fastball in a fastball count. When hitters get the pitch they’re expecting, they tend to hit it hard.
2. And to make matters worse for the Astros, McHugh threw the pitch inside. Power hitters look to “turn and burn” in fastball counts. A smart pitcher will go to the outside part of the plate and try to neutralize his power. But McHugh came in and Morales went out.