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Who should the Royals root for in the AL Wild Card Game tonight?

Spoiler: it is either the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Welcome to the playoffs, where everything is made up but the points do matter. Tonight is the night of the American League Wild Card Game, and if last year's game is any indication, it will be a fantastic sporting experience.

As the best team in the American League, the Kansas City Royals will face the winner of said Wild Card Game. That team will be either the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees. So, the question exists: who ought we root for as Royals fans? Which team matches up the best against the best team in the American League and the winners of the American League Central Division? Let's take a look.

The New York Yankees

  • Record: 87-75, +66 run differential
  • Runs Scored/Game: 4.7, Second in American League
  • Runs Allowed/Game: 4.3, Eighth in American League
  • Defensive Runs Saved: -38, 13th in American League
  • Top Four: Michael Pineda (3.5 fWAR), Nathan Eovaldi (3.1 fWAR), Didi Gregorious (3.1 fWAR), Brian McCann (2.9 fWAR)

Why the Royals want to play them

Past Yankees teams have been filled to the brim with stars. This year...not so much. They have a collection of above average contributors, but no real terror in the lineup. Their offensive star, Mark Teixeira, is out with an injury, and his powerful bat will be out of the lineup. Replacement Greg Bird has been fantastic, but his power is artificially inflated by playing in the tiny bandbox of Yankee Stadium, as has the rest of the lineup. At Kauffman Stadium, their swing-for-the-fences approach will be limited.

The Yankees also lack the ace they have traditionally had in past playoff trips. Their playoff rotation, almost certainly Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Adam Warren, have all been good, but none have been excellent. One of their best pitchers, Nathan Eovaldi, has been hurt and is expected to pitch out of the bullpen, if at all. Furthermore, the Yankees rotation is very right-handed heavy, and the Royals' power bats--Alex Gordon, Kendrys Morales, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer--all hit righties very well.

Finally, the Yankees have a horrid defense. This is mitigated somewhat in small Yankee Stadium, but the defense will be exposed at Kauffman Stadium.

Why the Royals don't want to play them

They're the Yankees. Nobody wants to see the Yankees advance in the playoffs.

Beyond that, though, New York has imitated the 2014 Royals bullpen. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are every bit Wade Davis and Greg Holland's equal, if not their superiors. Both have ERAs under two and both have strikeout rates north of 14 batters per nine innings. Pure filth.

The Yankees are also a very good team at home. You may not remember the Royals/Yankees series in The Big Apple this year, but that's probably because you scrubbed it from your memory; it was an abhorrent display of terrible baseball on Kansas City's part. The Royals got rocked; they couldn't score and the Yankees were slapping home runs everywhere. Unlike last year, the Royals have some power throughout the lineup, but they will lose a slugfest more times than not.

The Houston Astros

  • Record: 86-76, +111 run differential
  • Runs Scored/Game: 4.5, fifth in American League
  • Runs Allowed/Game: 3.8, first in American League
  • Defensive Runs Saved: +30, Second in American League
  • Top Four: Dallas Keuchel (6.1 fWAR), Jose Altuve (4.3 fWAR), Collin McHugh (3.9 fWAR), George Springer (3.6 WAR)

Why the Royals want to play them

Houston hasn't been to the playoffs for a decade. That's actually a pretty long time, especially considering the previous four years--three consecutive seasons of 100+ losses and then a 92-loss season--made it feel even longer for Astros fans. They're the kind of team that deserves to win against the old guard Yankees who have been good for their entire franchise's history.

The Astros, for whatever reason, are a completely different team at home and on the road. At home, they won 53 games, which is a huge amount for an 86-win team. On the road, though, their record is a terrible 33-48. If they advanced to the ALDS, Houston would be forced to immediately play two games on the road and a winner-take-all fifth game also at Kauffman Stadium.

Unlike the Yankees, the Astros' bullpen doesn't have the raw firepower that can be taken advantage of with bountiful days of rest in the playoffs.  Fields and Gregerson don't quite carry the same weight as Betances and Miller.

Also, the Astros strike out prodigiously. Their combined strikeout rate as a squad is 22.9%.

Why the Royals don't want to play them

Dallas Keuchel. The guy is crazy good, and will be starting tonight's game on three days' rest. Thankfully, that means that the Royals probably won't face him twice in a hypothetical Astros/Royals ALDS...but once is plenty. As has been noted, the Royals excel against right-handers. Against lefties, the team often struggles. Though he hasn't been fantastic for the Astros, Scott Kazmir is yet another lefty Houston will use against the Royals.

There's also the truth that the Astros are just the better team among the two options. Houston allows the fewest runs out of any AL team, doing so with excellent starting pitching and the second-best defense in the AL (the best, of course, resides in Kansas City). In addition, according to second and third order winning percentages, the Astros are a 98-win team. This number is based on the amount of runs the Astros should have scored and allowed based on each individual offensive event, and then adjusted for strength of schedule. In other words, the Astros have been an unlucky team.

Also, the Astros' ballpark works in their favor. Just as they strike out often, the Astros hit loads of home runs. The short porch in left field works well with right-handed power, a commodity the Royals lack. And who wants to play on a field with a hill in the middle of it?

The verdict

I've gone back and forth on this multiple times, but my answer is that I think the Royals should root for the Yankees. Keuchel and Kazmir loom large as lefty starters who can defuse Royals batters, and Minute Maid Park is almost as problematic for the Royals as Yankee Stadium is.

Yes, it would be fun to play the Astros. But they're a surprisingly good team. They hit for power, run well on the basepaths, play defense excellently, and have some fantastic starting pitching. This is the playoffs, and no team is going to be a pushover. But I feel better about the Royals' chances with New York than I do Houston.