Tulo's pivotal triple eludes Desmond in center

Tulo's pivotal triple eludes Desmond in center

ARLINGTON -- Due to his deep positioning, center fielder Ian Desmond seemingly had a chance at running down Troy Tulowitzki's three-run triple in the third inning of the Rangers' 10-1 loss in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon. But poor route efficiency -- as well as some shadows that made it hard to track the ball -- ultimately led to the ball falling over his head and the Blue Jays jumping out to a five-run lead on Cole Hamels.

"As a coach in these types of situations, you don't run down and ask a guy what happened on the field," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. " … We just didn't make a play. Bottom line."

According to Statcast™, at the time Tulowitzki made contact, Desmond was positioned 328 feet away from home plate. The Major League average for center fielders is 314 feet. Despite giving himself plenty of room, and covering 133 feet with a top speed of 20.2 mph, Desmond's subpar 73.1 percent route efficiency kept him from making the play.

MLB Tonight: Tulo's triple

"I felt like I had a pretty good bead on it," Desmond said. "When I got there, it was a little deeper than I thought." 

As Desmond approached the warning track, he hesitated for a moment and the ball one-hopped the wall in right-center. Tulowitzki's triple capped a five-run third by the Blue Jays, with all five runs coming with two outs. Though the shadows were tough at Globe Life Park because of the afternoon start, Desmond doesn't believe they were a factor.

"We've played a lot of day games here, and I'm pretty familiar with that," Desmond said.

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Desmond's positioning for the play was not uncommon. On average, he plays 329 feet away from home plate. Only Jake Smolinski of the A's (330 feet) positions himself farther away from home plate on average of all Major League center fielders. In fact, Desmond, Smolinski and the Royals' Paulo Orlando were the only three center fielders in the Majors who had an average starting position more than 325 feet from home plate in 2016 (minimum 5,000 pitches in center). Perhaps not coincidentally, it was the first time all three saw regular reps at that position.

On the flip side are Michael Taylor (Nationals), Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and Denard Span (Giants), who had the shallowest average starting position among center fielders at 306 feet. 

While Desmond had a chance to make the play, Tulowitzki didn't make it easy on him. The ball left his bat at 102.5 mph with a launch angle of 26 degrees, making it the only barreled ball of the game up until that point. Batted balls with those traits have been hits 88 percent of the time this season and have actually gone over the fence for home runs 74 percent of the time.

"We were playing [Tulowitzki] to pull, but solid approach," Banister said. "He drove the ball in the right-center gap, and not real sure of the relationship with [Desmond] and the wall."

Tulowitzki's bases-clearing triple was just the 14th such hit in postseason history and was the first triple allowed by Hamels since Game 1 of the 2009 National League Division Series.

"That third inning, we made [Hamels] work and got a couple of big, big hits," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "[Tulowitzki's] triple gave us some breathing room out of the gate."

Ryan Posner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Texas. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.