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Series Preview #23: Houston Astros @ Kansas City Royals

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The Astros (45-25, 1st in AL West) head to Kansas City for some inferior barbecue and a 3 game set against the Royals (22-46, 5th in AL Central)

Houston Astros v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Recency Bias

The Astros land in KC officially red hot after 8 wins in a row, starting with one over the M’s and then two loud sweeps of the Rangers and Oakland. The offense and pitching have been firing on all cylinders consistently during that stretch, the first that we’ve seen since Houston charged out of the gate to start 2018. While the usual suspects have been contributing, the Astros’ hero of the month has been Evan Gattis. After a putrid start to his year, he caught fire on May 12th and never looked back. Slashing .300/.353/.744 since then, he’s crushed 12 homers and driven in 34 RBIs. Gurriel also deserves special mention as he has been a hitting machine with 12 knocks in the last two series and 7 RBIs of his own. Marwin has also been hot as all get out in that time frame with 8 hits and 3 BB and a homer. Correa returned after sitting out Arlington and punished A’s pitching with 5 hits and 4 BB in 12 ABs with a triple and a home run. Altuve, Bregman, and Springer have been solid contributors as well and the platoon of Marisnick and Kemp has been producing at the bottom of the order, which is a very good sign.

The bullpen has been getting it done as well, only allowing 5 runs, 4 earned, over the last 7 games. Devo, Rondon, and Sipp have all held opposing lineups scoreless while Giles, McHugh, Harris, and Peacock have all only allowed one base runner to score. The evolution of the bullpen would continue as it seems that AJ is going to be flexible with the expected reliever roles depending on circumstance. Giles was used in both low leverage and high leverage situations in both Arlington and Oakland. Rondon pitched three straight save opportunities, but Giles was called on to get the save in the first game, most likely to rest Hector after heavy usage. Rondon would get some work in to close out the 9th in the final inning against the A’s. Guduan would also get some work in during the second game, giving up a home run in 2 innings of work that could have been 2 if not for some defensive wizardry by Jake. He’s filling in for Smith, who had encouraging news with a clean MRI back in Houston and appears to be on track for a quick return.

The Astros’ goal will be to pile on wins against a spiraling Royals team while taking advantage of the Mariner’s tough stretch to get a leg up on the division.

Meanwhile, the Royals are trending in the opposite direction and are but a mere shadow of the World Series champs who played Houston off the stage in the 2015 ALDS. They’ve lost 10 of their last 12 games, just got finished being swept by the Reds, and have the second worst record in the majors after Baltimore. Whit Merrifield has been their hottest hitter lately, with 8 H, 2 doubles and a walk in his last 19 ABs. He is basically a 2017 Marwin type of player, moving all over the infield and outfield with a good average and occasional power. Alex Gordon has been hot in the last few games as well with timely hitting and some pop, and has done a decent job of bouncing back so far in 2018 after two disappointing seasons in a row. Jorge Soler and Mike Moustakis were both solid offensive bats to start the season, but have dropped off a little recently. Salvador Perez and Lucas Duda round out the major threats in KC’s lineup, though they’re not exactly hitting at all star levels so far this year.

The Royals bullpen has been something of a travesty this year. Except for a suddenly resurgent Kelvin Herrera there’s no one in the bullpen with both more than 20 IP and an ERA under 4. Herrera has been a heavy trade speculation target this year thanks to a career numbers defying run to start 2018, where he’s held opponents to a 1.05 ERA and .246 BABIP over 25.2 IP. They also have rookie long man Scott Barlow, who was recalled at the end of May and might appear for a few consecutive innings in a game this series. He’s had several strong outings this season, but was touched up by the Angels last week. Beyond that the talent thins out pretty quickly in the bullpen, which has fallen so very far from their 2015 reputation for utter dominance. Recently Brad Keller had been another good arm for them, but was moved to the rotation to plug an injury spot and will face the Astros to start Game 3.

The Royals will be looking to do something with this lost season and will be motivated by pride to try and beat the champs at least.

Pitching Match Ups

Game 1: Charlie Morton, RHP (7-1, 2.29 ERA) vs. Jakob Junis, RHP (5-6, 4.05 ERA)

Morton arrives in KC after two straight starts where his command has been spotty at best. He would only go 3.2 IP, a season low, while walking 6 and hitting 4 batters, both season highs. He did manage to walk the tightrope, only allowing 2 runs, 1 earned, to score. He’ll try to bounce back against an easy challenge in the Royals, but will need to be able to find the feel for his pitches.

Jakob Junis will get the ball for Kansas City after an awful performance against Oakland. He gave up 6 ER with 3 homers, a walk and 5 K’s over 5.1 IP. He’s surrendered at least 2 ER in each of his 11 starts since 14 scoreless IP to start the season. His FIP and BABIP say that there’s not a whole lot of room for him to fall, and the Astros look poised to keep up their assault on BOTR pitching.

Assuming Morton can regain his command this should easily be his advantage as Houston has been beating on better pitchers than Junis recently.

Game 2: Dallas Keuchel, LHP (3-8, 4.45 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy, LHP (3-6, 5.28 ERA)

Dallas comes in during a rough stretch of his season where he’s been getting hit around pretty hard. His last start in Arlington would see him give up a season high 13 H and surrender 6 R, 5 earned, during 4.1 IP. His games before that weren’t encouraging either as Dallas has allowed 23 runs during his last 5 starts. DK claims to be healthy and will look for redemption against what seems to be an easy challenge.

Kansas will counter with Danny Duffy, who comes in off of his best game of the season. He would flummox Oakland for 7 shutout innings of 3 hit ball while striking out 10. He’s also had a handful of other good starts, but has walked a ton of guys and is not living up to the title of Opening Day starter. His peripheral numbers also show that what you see is what you get with Duffy, and could possibly make for easy sport.

Unfortunately, with Dallas’ recent struggles I’m going to have to say this one is a push unless Keuchel can find his form again.

Game 3: Lance McCullers Jr., RHP (8-3, 3.83 ERA) vs. Brad Keller, RHP (1-2, 2.31 ERA)

Lance will start after three straight matches where he hasn’t had the best feel for his curve but managed to work through it to grind out a win or keep his team in the game. Lance is having one of his better seasons, recently earning a career high 8th win, and has yet to have any sort of medical issues. His strikeouts and walks aren’t too far from career averages, and his peripherals don’t seem to suggest regression is coming for Lance.

For KC, rookie RHP Keller has been one of the few pitching bright spots on the year. He had been doing quite well out of the pen, pitching to a 2.01 ERA over 22.1 IP. He would be called on to take over Eric Skoglund’s spot in the rotation after he started suffering elbow problems, and Keller has done a decent enough job. He’s been getting stretched out in his last 3 starts, and was a little erratic in his previous game where he went 5.1 IP with 4 walks, but only gave up 2 R.

Keller has been good all season and is performing well for someone going through a baptism by fire, but I think Lance has a better chance of holding down KC’s offense than vice versa.

Fun Fact

The Astros now lead the league in runs, hits, RBI’s and average. They are also 2nd in OBP, 3rd in OPS, and 4th in SLG.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Friday, June 15th @ 7:15 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Royals - KCSP 610
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Royals - FSKC / MLB.TV

Game 2: Saturday, June 16th @ 1:15 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 / Royals - KCSP 610, KYYS-1250 AM
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Royals - FSKC / MLB.TV

Game 3: Sunday, June 17th @ 1:15 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 / Royals - KCSP 610
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Royals - FSKC / MLB.TV

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (121 votes)
  • 38%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (82 votes)
  • 1%
    Royals Win 2-1
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Royals Sweep 3-0
    (6 votes)
212 votes total Vote Now