ALDS Preview: Royals vs Astros

The KC Royals now know who they are going to play in the upcoming American League Division Series. It will be the Houston Astros, who beat the NY Yankees 3-0 in last night’s Wild Card game.

While neither team really hit in the WC game, the Astros did showcase their power (two solo home runs), which they live and die by.

2015 mlb postseason patchDuring the regular season, the Royals went 2-4 against the Astros, but were swept in Houston (June 29-July 1).

The ALDS begins on Thursday night, with Yordano Ventura getting the start for the Royals against Collin McHugh, who went 19-7 with a 3.89 ERA during the regular season.

McHugh did not face the Royals in 2015, while Ventura faced the Astros on July 26th. He allowed a run on six hits and a hit batter over seven innings. In the victory, Ventura struck out five.

In that game, Astros DH Evan Gattis tripled in the second, with Colby Rasmus driving him in with a single. Rookie shortstop Carlos Correa, who was hit by a pitch, doubled. Catcher Jason Castro and outfielder Jake Marisnick singled in the loss.

As expected, Johnny Cueto was named the Game 2 starter (Friday afternoon). He did not face the Astros in 2015. I expect veteran lefty Scott Kazmir to get the start for the Astros, and he faced the Royals three times during the regular season (twice with Oakland).

Over 21.1 innings, Kazmir allowed five runs on 16 hits and three walks while striking out 14. He did however, struggle down the stretch for the Astros (didn’t complete five innings over his final three starts).

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer at the plate on July 5, 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer at the plate on July 5, 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Eric Hosmer went 3-for-8 with a walk against Kazmir, while Kendrys Morales (nine at-bats with two RBIs), Alcides Escobar (seven ABs), and Christian Colon each had two hits (three ABs). Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez combined to go 0-for-11 with two strikeouts each. Mike Moustakas went 1-for-10, while Alex Rios went 1-for-6.

When the series moves to Minute Maid Park in Houston on Sunday, Edinson Volquez will make the start for the Royals. He received a no decision back on July 1st against the Astros (5IP, 8H, 5R, 2HR, HBP, BB, 8K).

George Springer and Jose Altuve singled to start the bottom of the first and completed a double steal. Altuve would triple in the third. Chris Carter hit a solo home run in the fourth, before the Astros four-run fifth.

Marwin Gonzalez led off the inning with a homer. Castro walked and Springer was hit by a pitch. Altuve followed with an RBI single and Gattis drove in two with a double. Volquez did end his outing with back-to-back strikeouts.

I expect Wild Card winner and CY Young Award candidate Dallas Keuchel to get the start for the Astros. He went 1-1 against the Royals in 2015 (14.2IP, 17H, 5R, HR, 0BB, 12K).

LoCain went 5-for-7 with two doubles and a solo homer. Morales went 3-for-6 with a double. Rios (six ABs) and Esky (eight ABs) each had two hits.

 

Now that we’ve looked at the starting matchups for the first three games, let’s take a look at the relievers.

Royals closer Wade Davis held the Astros to 1-for-7. Castro had the lone hit, a double. Davis struck out two.

Setup man Kelvin Herrera also held the Astros to 1-for-7, with Preston Tucker having the lone hit (Tucker may not make the roster). Herrera walked one and struck out one.

Ryan Madson held the Astros to 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. Luke Hochevar faced the Astros in back-to-back games, throwing a perfect inning in each. He struck out both Carter and Luis Valbuena.

Chris Young, who could start Game 4 over Kris Medlen, did not face the Astros in 2015.

The Astros have a ton of left-handed hitters (four plus four switch hitters), so the Royals left-handed relievers could see alot of action. As a team, the Astros hit .248 against left-handed pitching, compared to .251 against right-handers. However, 155 of their 230 homers came against righties.

Left-handed hitters Castro and Valbuena have not hit for average (.211 and .224 respectively) and neither have hit lefties (.192 and .158 respectively). Of Valbuena’s 25 homers, only five have come against lefties. Castro has hit just one (out of his 11).

Royals lefty starter Danny Duffy during spring training 2015 (Jen Nevius).

Royals lefty starter Danny Duffy during spring training 2015 (Jen Nevius).

Rasmus, who homered on the first pitch he saw in the Wild Card game, hit .252 against lefties (.238 overall). Seven of his 25 homers have come against lefties. Jed Lowrie, a switch hitter, hit .267 against lefties, but just .222 overall. Four of his nine homers came against lefties.

Lefty Danny Duffy made two starts against the Astros, with them going 9-for-45 against him. Altuve went 3-for-6 with a double. Gattis and Gonzalez each went 2-for-6, with Gattis hitting a triple. Springer went 1-for-2 with a homer.

Fellow lefty Franklin Morales held the Astros to 1-for-12. The lone hit came from Tucker (1-for-3). Valbuena and Castro both went 0-for-2. Carter, Gonzalez, and Tucker each struck out once.

The one guy you do NOT want to face a left-handed pitcher is Altuve, who hit .372 against lefties (.313 overall). The pesky leadoff hitter usually puts the ball in play (just 25 strikeouts against lefties). Two other guys that you would rather face righties? Springer (.296 versus lefties with half of his homers) and Gonzalez (.295 with six homers).

 

Astros closer Luke Gregerson held the Royals to 0-for-4 with a strikeout of Rios.

Chad Qualls held the Royals to 0-for-3, though his two strikeouts came from backup catcher Drew Butera and outfielder Paulo Orlando. UPDATE: Qualls was not on the ALDS roster.

Pat Neshek faced the Royals the most in 2015 and held them to 2-for-12. Hosmer tripled off him and Perez singled. Neshek’s two strikeouts came from Morales.

With all of the left-handed hitters (and two switch hitters) the Royals have, expect to see Tony Sipp. However, he only faced three Royals hitters in 2015. Hosmer went 1-for-1, while LoCain went 0-for-1 and Moose walked.

Veteran Oliver Perez could also see some time and he only faced Jonny Gomes in 2015 (0-for-1).

 

The key to this best-of-five series may be which team wins games on the road. Or it could be the Royals winning all three home games (and maybe losing both in Houston).

The Royals pitching needs to keep the Astros hitters in the ballpark. Catching could be a key, with both teams liking to run.

I think this series will come down to whose bullpen is better and while the Royals bullpen has been heralded the last few seasons, it hasn’t been as “shutdown” as in 2014.

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About Jen Nevius

I first became a KC Royals fan way back in 1995 when I attended my first Wilmington Blue Rocks game. I fell in love with minor league baseball then and began following the Royals as former Blue Rocks clawed their way to the big leagues. 3+ years ago I started covering the Royals for Aerys Sports, but since the site has been shut down, I am going out on my own.
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