The offense that often eluded the Royals in Game 1 of their American League Division Series was hidden behind crafty defensive shifts by the visiting Houston Astros.
But the brighter skies on Friday seemed to bring some clarity as the AL Central champion Royals nearly doubled their hit total and evened the series with a 5-4 victory in Game 2 at Kauffman Stadium.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with analytics,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I think it has everything to do with they did a pretty good job at finishing their at-bats. They’re a tough team to get out.”
Hinch pointed to the sixth inning in particular, when the Royals placed three consecutive hits between Astros outfielders and tied the score 4-4. The Royals had 11 hits overall — compared to six the night before — with nine of them going to the opposite field.
Eric Hosmer drove in a run in the pivotal sixth inning when he served a single to the opposite field. In the seventh, Alcides Escobar took advantage of shallow outfield positioning when he tripled to right field and Ben Zobrist beat an infield shifted to the right side when he singled in Escobar.
“They played the shift really well, and they’ve been doing it all year,” said Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain. “We just have to find the holes and find a way to get on any way possible. Hopefully guys will come through in clutch situations.”
The Royals saw a significant improvement in batting with runners in scoring position as well, going three for eight after a zero-for-five performance Thursday night. Salvador Perez led the way with two RBIs, and Zobrist and Hosmer each added one.
Escobar in the postgame news conference openly questioned the Astros’ devotion to their defensive positioning, calling it “crazy” that they play so shallow.
“It’s been working for us all year, but every once in a while you get beat with it,” Astros center fielder Jake Marisnick said. “It’s a little bit frustrating, but there’s many times we’ve taken hits away doing it. There’s no bad feelings about it at all.”