This outstanding 2015 season for the Astros rolls on after the defeat of the Evil Empire Tuesday night. The team won that game the same way they won so many this season. They hit bombs, got great starting pitching, and great results from the bullpen. Now they head from the East Coast to the Midwest to face the 2014 World Series participation trophy winners, the Kansas City Royals.
The Astros won the season series four games to two, sweeping the Royals at Minute Maid Park and dropping two of three in KC. The four wins included two shutouts, one of which was the first start of newly acquired pitcher Scott Kazmir. But nobody who is an Astros fan really remembers the Royals for any of those results this season. Mostly they remember this is the team that after losing the first two games in Houston, hit George Springer in the hand and put him on the disabled list for a large chunk of the season. Fortuna has smiled on the Astros as Springer has hit his stride just as they meet the team that sidelined him. REVENGE...or...you know...something.
This has the chance to be a matchup for the ages. These teams are opposites in many ways. In hits, KC is second in the AL while Houston is thirteenth. KC has the least amount of strikeouts, while the Astros have hoarded them like the last Twinkies in the apocalypse. On the other hand, the Astros drew walks at the fifth best rate in the AL. KC was the worst. And where the Royals hit 139 homers on the year, the Astros mashed 230, coming close to leading the league.
For all those differences there are also many similarities between the teams. They both love to run. The Astros were first in stolen bases, and the Royals were second. In on base percentage KC was seventh and Houston was eighth. On the mound Houston paced the AL in staff ERA, while KC was third. The Astros were first in home runs allowed and earned runs allowed, and the Royals were second and third respectively.
So for these two teams the differences are marked, and the similarities are...uh...similar. Let's break it down to see who has the advantage at some key positions.
Our Boys: Depending on the pitching matchup, this could be a few different players. The first option is Luis Valbuena. Valbuena had a strange first half of the season, hitting 19 home runs before the break while sporting a sub-.200 batting average, and ended the season with 25 homers. The second option is Jed Lowrie. Jed started the season hot before he injured his hand. Since he has come back he has not been quite as good at the plate. The third option is super-sub Marwin Gonzalez. Marwin has had a great season while playing first, third, shortstop and left field. This position is the most fluid in the lineup, and matchups will determine which one plays.
The Other Guys: Mike Moustakas was the starting third baseman the entire season, and has had the best year of his career in 2015. He set career highs in hits, homers, RBIs, batting average and OPS. The Royals lineup is not near the tops in terms of power, but Moose is one of the guys who will take a pitcher deep on occasion (and knock a double or two).
Our Boys: I don't know what else can be said about Carlos Correa. In 99 games this season he broke the team record for home runs by a rookie, and also home runs by a shortstop. He has shown good plate discipline, drawing 40 walks. He swiped 14 bags along the way. And all that says nothing about his amazing defense. Incredible plays became routine. The rookie has been in the third spot in the lineup since his second week in the league, and has earned it.
The Other Guys: Never let anyone tell you that Ned Yost can't be unconventional. He has had Alcdes Escobar as his leadoff hitter in almost every game he has played in. This despite the fact that his on base percentage is sub-.300. But he was an All-Star this season...so he has that going for him.
Our Boys: The Astros starting outfield of George Springer, Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez provides a ton of speed and defensive ability along with lots of pop at the plate. Depending on the matchup, you could also see Preston Tucker, Marwin, or Jake Marisnick out there. Those six players alone combined for 79 homers on the season, more than half of the Royals total for the team.
The Other Guys: They have two solid starters in Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. Gordon remained solid compared to his 2014 season, and Cain improved greatly, especially in the power numbers. Their third starter is Alex Rios, who did not have a great season statistically. He ended up with an OPS+ of 73, which is well below average.
Our Boys: In the first three games they will send Collin McHugh, Scott Kazmir, and Dallas Keuchel to the hill. McHugh and Keuchel have both been really solid to excellent starters. Kazmir has struggled, but the Royals game was one of his best of the season. If needed they also have rookie Lance McCullers if they needed him to start a Game Four.
The Other Guys: They will counter in the first three games with Yordano Ventura, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez. Ventura and Volquez have been their best two starters this season, each winning thirteen games. Cueto has not been as great as they hoped when they traded for him at the deadline. Cueto and Volquez both are sporting ERAs over four, and even higher FIP.
Our Boys: Some have been really solid (Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Tony Sipp) but the rest have struggled at times. No real hard throwers except Josh Fields. They have been steady over the long haul, and were great in the AL Wild Card game. Hope guys like Pat Neshek and Fields bounce back if needed.
The Other Guys: Lost closer Greg Holland to Tommy John surgery, but still have a great group of fireballers in their pen, including Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera, and Wade Davis. One of the best bullpens, if not the best, in baseball.
It looks to be a very close, hard fought series. I obviously hope the Astros win (and I think they will), but win or lose I see this one going five games.