Series Preview: Astros vs. Royals, April 15-17, 2014

Bob Levey

Astros return home after a 2-4 roadtrip to face the Royals.

When a team that focuses for the most part on homegrown talents come to town it kind of feels like a measuring stick for the Astros. At the moment the goal isn't to be better than the Daddy Warbuckses of the world just yet. The Royals, Rays, Pirates, and Athletics (just to name a few) are teams that are in the bottom tier of the payroll but still successful. It's like seeing a preview of Astros seasons to come, or getting cheatsheet for the test. But, of course I expect Luhnow and the gang to improve up these team's plans.

And we'll never be Royals...

The Royals posted a 86-win season in 2013, falling 5.5 games short of a Wild Card spot. It was the first season Kansas City had won 80+ games since 2003. The team is lead by James Shields, who came over in the Wil Myers trade with the Rays. Myers turned into the Rookie of the Year, and Shields posted an AL-leading 34 starts and 229 innings pitched. This is Shields' final year in his current contract, the question then becomes can they resign the righty? If not will the Royals go for broke this season?

Fast forward to 2014, the Royals have stumbled out of the gate with a record of 4-7. They are coming off a series sweep at the hands of the upstart Twins, and were outscored 21-5. The story is much the same for the Royals as it is for the Astros, the bat have yet to warm in 2014. Alex Gordon has accounted for the team's lone home run this season, that's one home run in 356 at-bats. The team is batting average is .238 (85-356). Salador Perez is the one of the few bright spots, batting .333/.455/.472 thus in 36 at-bats.

Former Astro Justin Maxwell will be making his first to Houston since being trade by the team last season.

Astros' bats as cold as Houston weather...

Houston's start to the season can be summed up in the team's most recent three games. Over the weekend the Astros starting pitching went 21 innings and gave up four earned runs total. Houston dropped two out of three and lost by a grand total of two runs. If you take away the explosive five-run fourth inning on Saturday, the Astros went 10-for-94 at the plate. That simply won't get the job done if the Astros hope to take a step forward.

Jason Castro will make his third straight start at designated hitter as he recovers from an ailing toe. Jose Altuve is the lone Astros hitter over the .300 mark (.320) over the last seven days. Robbie Grossman has only four hits in his last 18 at-bats but three have gone for extra bases, including a three-run home run on saturday in Arlington.

Pitching Matchup

RHP Yordano Ventura (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP)  vs. RHP Lucas Harrell (0-2, 11.05 ERA, 2.73 WHIP)

These pitchers could not be more different, Ventura and Harrell. Ventura is a fireball pitcher whose main weapon is 80 grade fastball. He recently threw the fastest pitch recorded during a regular-season game in the PitchF/X era at 102.9-mph. His second pitch a 12-6 curveball that he can throw for strikes. His changeup is by no means devastating, but still a difficult pitch when paired with a 98+ fastball.

This will be his fifth career start in the majors, he is 0-1 with a 2.53 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Ventura's first start was against the Rays, he pitched six inning allowing no runs and striking out six. This will be the first time any Astros hitter faces the young Dominican.

Lucas Harrell's time may be running out. This season he has given up nine earned runs over 7.1 innings of work in two losing efforts. He has a 7.05 ERA in 121.2 innings as a starter since 2013. Porter said at FanFest that he sees Harrell only as a starter, and I question his future on the roster if he continue to fail. Harrell probably his best outing in 2013 at Kansas City, going seven scoreless on only two hits on June 9.

Harrell has silenced most of the Royals' bats in his career, but Omar Infante has owned him - he is 5-for-6 in his career. Billy Butler is 2-for-5 with home run. Salvador Perez has two singles in three at-bats against the right-hander.

RHP Jeremy Guthrie (2-0, 3.55 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (1-1, 3.75 ERA, 1.42 WHIP)

Jeremy Guthrie revitalized his career in Kansas City to become a solid back of the rotation starter. He pitches to contact with a sinker-slider combo. Guthrie posted a 4.72 K/9 rate in 2013 (country of FanGraphs), and 4.79 FIP compared to a 4.04 ERA. The Royals played great defense behind Guthrie in 2013, but it can't always be expected.

No surprise the best hitter against Guthrie career wise is  Jason Castro, the left-handed catcher is 3-for-8 with a triple and home run. Matt Dominguez is 1-for-2 with a home run in his career as well.

Dallas Keuchel has been up and down in his first two starts. Giving up four runs in his first start against the Angels and only one over seven innings in Toronto for the team's only win north of the border. On May 20, 2013, Keuchel went 6.2 innings against the Royals allowing four runs on nine hits and four walks.

Norichika Aoki is 3-for-8 with a double against the Arkansas product. Eric Hosmer checks in with two hits in three at-bats against the left-hander.

LHP Bruce Chen (0-1, 6.30 ERA, 1.60 WHIP) vs. RHP Scott Feldman (2-0, 0.44 ERA, 0.73 WHIP)

After posting a 5.04 ERA in 2012, Chen split time between the bullpen and the rotation. He earned a spot back in the starting five after posting 2.41 ERA in 33 relief appearances. He would close out the season with a 3.61 ERA as a starter. After allowing one run on seven hits and zero walks in his first start against the White Sox, Chen followed up with 6-run outing against the Twins. He allowed a home run and two walks in the game.

Of the few Astros have faced Chen, Dexter Fowler is 1-for-1. Jose Altuve, Chris Carter, and Jason Castro are a combine 0-for-7.

It appears Scott Feldman will make his scheduled start in the series finale for the Astros, Feldman has pitched like an ace thus far in 2014, allowing one earned run over 20.2 innings. What more can Houston ask for?

As a team the Royals have 110 career at-bats against Feldman. Alex Gordon leads the way batting .333 (6-18) with two extra-base hits. The remainder of the starting roster is batting below .225 against the Astros' right-hander.

Predications

The Astros healthy for the most part and have 10 home runs in seven game at home. The team can't expect the same level of pitching it got in Arlington over the weekend with their fourth and fifth starters going. The bats will do just enough against Chen and Guthrie to win two out of three.

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