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ALDS Preview: Royals vs Astros

After a stunning 3-0 victory over the New York Yankees on Tuesday night, the Houston Astros advance to the ALDS to take on the AL Central Champions Kansas City Royals.

Last season the Royals won their ALDS and went on to be AL Champions, but lost the World Series to the San Francisco Giants four-games to three. Prior to that it had been 29 seasons since Kansas City had made it to the postseason. The last time the Astros made it to the the DS they were in the National League and that was ten years ago, but this isn’t a history lesson.

This is a preview of the ALDS between the Astros and the Royals. In this piece we’re going to look at three things: records, pitching rotations, and x-factors — things or players that could tip the series in the favor of either team. Now that you know how things are going to happen it’s time to get to it.

RECORDS:

The Kansas City Royals finished with an overall record of 95-67 which was the best record in the American League by two games. That record secured them home field advantage all the way through the postseason — should they advance past the ALDS. KC didn’t only only at Kauffman Stadium either, where they posted a 51-30 record according to MLB.com.

They also got the job done on the road too posting a 44-37 record away from the friendly confines of 1 Royal Way Kansas City Missouri. When you look at the splits to see how the Royals fared against each division, you’ll see that they have a better record against AL West teams (20-12) than they do against teams from the AL East (18-16) while playing two more games against teams from the East according to MLB.com.

The most important thing about the Royals record is how they ended the season — because it will tell you a lot about how the team is going to go into the ALDS. Kansas City ended the season on a five-game winning streak having gone 6-4 in their last ten games. That show that they are ready to play some post season baseball and take this thing all the way.

The Houston Astros had one wild final month of the season that saw them go from leading the AL West to occupying the second AL Wild Card spot all in the span of ten games. In fact during that same ten game stretch the Astros would go 3-7; dropping two-out-of-three to divisions rivals LA Angels and getting swept in a four-game series to in-state rivals the Texas Rangers — who took over the AL West after the sweep.

Houston finished the season with an overall record of 86-76. Two games behind the Rangers for the division and one-game in front of the Angels for the second Wild card spot.

The Astros have one of the best home records in the AL of 53-28 — they’re tied with the Toronto Blue Jays, but they have one of the worst road records in all of baseball at 33-48. Here are the only teams with a worse road record than Houston: AtlantaPhiladelphiaMiamiCincinnati, and Colorado — all four teams not in the playoffs.

PITCHING ROTATIONS:

The pitching matchup for game one of the ALDS has 24 year-old righty Yordano Ventura taking the mound for the Royals going up against 28 year-old right-hander Collin McHugh for the Astros.

Game two will feature the Royals’ veteran right hander Johnny Cueto facing off against Houston’s veteran lefty Scott Kazmir. Game three will have Royals’ veteran righty Edison Volquez take the hill against the Astros ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Pitchers for games four and five will be announced if those games are needed.

Game One:

Ventura went 13-8 in 28 starts this season and had a 4.08 ERA working a total of 163.1 innings and striking out 156 according to the Royals‘ website. His ERA at home drops to 3.84 — which is good considering he’s just 24 and this is only his third year in the big leagues. Here’s the thing that I’m sure manager Ned Yost was looking at when he picked Ventura as is ALDS game one starter.

He’s faced the Astros once this season already and won. He has a 1.29 ERA against them with one win. He gave up six hits, one earned run, and five strikeouts, and they had a .222 batting average against him according to ESPN‘s splits. This is a team who has a team average of roughly .249 this season. I’d pick him too.

McHugh went 19-7 in 32 starts this season and had a 3.89 ERA over 203.2 innings of work with 171 strikeouts according to the Astros‘ website. You’ll notice a note on his status that he’s been assigned to the minors as of October 6. That was before Houston knew they’d need the 19-game winner in the ALDS.

He’s never pitched against the Royals or at Kauffman Stadium and he doesn’t have any postseason experience, and if you combined that with the fact that his road ERA is 4.05 according to ESPN and the higher the pressure situation the higher the opponents batting average goes then game one could go very badly for Houston.

Game Two:

Cueto went 11-13 in 32 starts this season with a 3.44 ERA over 212 innings of work with 176 strikeouts. He also has career postseason record of 0-2 in three starts with a 5.19 ERA over 8.2 innings of work with three strikeouts according to Kansas City‘s website. The ALDS is going to be Cueto’s first outing against Houston this season. In fact, Cueto hasn’t pitched against the Astros since the 2013 season.

He’s had some issues since moving to KC from the Reds just before the trade deadline, but that could be due to getting to several things. I’m certain that Cueto and catcher Salvador Perez have been working together to get on the same page to make sure that 2.96 ERA ESPN has listed isn’t just a number that’s good for Cincinnati.

Kazmir had a similar year to Cueto. He went 7-11 in 31 starts with a 3.10 over 183 innings and striking out 155. He split time between Oakland and the Astros according to Houston‘s website. Kazmir — like Cueto, has postseason experience. He’s 1-2 with a 5.20 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance over 36.1 innings with 26 strikeouts.

Kazmir is a good choice for a game two guy, He’s got the post season experience and he’s faced KC before and his numbers this season against them are pretty good between the Astros and the A’s according to ESPN‘s splits. He’s faced them three times and he’s 1-1  with a 2.11 ERA over 21.1 innings. Kazmir gave up 16 hits, five runs — all earned, three walks and struck out 14. The royals hit just .205 against him. That’s veteran pitching right there for you.

Game Three:

Keuchel was certainly the hero on Tuesday night when he held the scoreless for six innings and recording seven strikeouts. He went 20-8 in 33 starts this season with a 2.48 ERA over 232 innings of work while fanning 216 batters according to Astros.com. Here’s why if you’re Astro’s skipper A.J. Hinch you bring your staff ace in for game three: 1) Keuchel is 15-0 in 18 starts at home with a 1.46 ERA including two complete games this season. 2) He’ll be on regular rest which means he’ll be able to go deep into the game if needed. 3) Keuchel only gave up four home runs at Minute Maid Park in his 18 starts and he held opposing batters to a .186 batting average at home. If the Astros are behind or the series is tied this is the guy you want on the hill for game three. Keuchel splits are from ESPN.com

Volquez went 13-9 in 33 starts with a 3.55 ERA working 200.1 innings and striking out 155 according to Royals.com. Volquez has postseason experience in his carer too. His record in the postseason is 0-2 with a 12.15 ERA in two starts working 6.2 innings and striking out three. Volquez’s last trip to Houston wasn’t the best as far as his ERA goes, but it did see him strikeout eight over five innings.

He also brings veteran experience and calm to a chaotic situation that is the ALDS. His greatest asset is his consistency. When you look at his splits on ESPN.com there is very little variance between his home ERA (3.48) and his away ERA (3.61).

ALDS X-FACTORS:

KANSAS CITY ROYALS:

The Royals aren’t a team that is going to kill you with home runs. Lorenzo Cain led the team in batting average this season hitting .307. Kendrys Morales led the team in home runs with 22 and RBIs with 106. This is a team the grinds out wins and plays small ball. They hit it where you’re not. They take advantage of your mistakes. Cain led the team in stolen bases.

Eric Hosmer led the team in hits. The Royals lineup is dangerous from top to bottom and when you pair that with a rotation that is fully rested this team is going to come out swinging. Besides it’s been thirty years since they’ve won a World Series — next to the Cubs the Royals are due.

HOUSTON ASTROS:

Referring back to the preview that I wrote for the Yankees/Astros Wild Card game for SaluteDon’t get me wrong, they’re a good team. They’ve got a great mix of veterans and youth and have managed to become contenders. Not every team can do that. Like my editor — Dustin Brown’s beloved Seattle Mariners. 

But I still hold to my statement that the Astros biggest opponent in the ALDS isn’t going to be the Royals it’s going to be the Astros, and which Astros team shows up. Is it the Astros that soundly defeated the Yankees in the Wild Card game? The Astros that crushed the D-Backs on the last day of the season?

The Astros that got swept and lost the AL West lead to the Rangers in mid-September? Or the Astros that break your heart and lose it in the bottom of the ninth like they did to the Yankees in late August? I know I’ve asked these questions before, but Keuchel’s performance on Tuesday doesn’t answer all the looming questions about the Astros road record. One win does not correct a losing road record when you’re in the ALDS.

I expect the hate tweets to start in 5..4..3…

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