The Astros march into the playoffs for the first time since they won the pennant in 2005. The Royals went just 2-4 against the Astros this year, and for good reason. Houston is a talented team with many strengths. Here are a few things the Royals should keep in mind as they prepare to take on the Astros.
Worry about their power
Don't automatically think that Kauffman = no home runs. It does suppress homers, but it compliments doubles and singles. The Astros are tied for first in the MLB in ISO, and while home runs are obviously a part of that, they also hit doubles and some triples too (though not as much as homers). They also do hit a TON of flyballs (first in the MLB), and when they do those fly balls tend to leave the park. Royals pitchers give up the third most flyballs in all of baseball. That doesn't necessarily spell trouble at home as Kauffman is cavernous, but the Royals will have to play at least one game at Minute Maid Park, and likely two or three.
Their pitching is really good
This tweet kinda threw me off a bit
I like the Astros a lot. Young, energy, power. But Kazmir is scuffling, Keuchel limited to one start, and the bullpen is slow. #analysis— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) October 7, 2015
I mean yeah...Kazmir's September ERA is 6.52 over 29 innings, but I don't know what counts as scuffling and if 29 innings in September counts as scuffling. Kazmir obviously is better than a 6.52 ERA. His 2nd half ERA is 3.86 over 81.2 innings. That's obviously more indicative of his talent.
Even if he has been poor in September (which he has) we know that what he does in September isn't predicative of what he'll do in October. In May this year he had a 4.65 ERA. What did he do in June/July? 2.53 and 0.26 ERA for those months.
There's even talk that Lance McCullers might not pitch in this series and he was just as good as Yordano Ventura, the Royals Game One starter. The rotation is pretty good, and the bullpen is even better. The Astros starters finished 8th in fWAR, and the bullpen finished second overall, slightly better than the Royals.
The hitters aren't necessarily free swingers
It's easy to equate power to free swinging ways (except for Joey Votto) as usually guys with huge power numbers also have above average strikeout rates. First off, there are guys who don't necessarily have poor plate discipline but struggle to make contact on pitches inside the zone (see Joc Pederson and Chris Davis). That's more preferable than someone who swings often out of the zone and misses.
The Astros are in the bottom 10 of O-Swing% (which is good) at 21st overall despite having the highest K% in the AL. They definitely swing often, but they swing at more pitches in the zone than anybody.
There are contact issues but don't expect to just throw them pitches out of the zone as they have a nice walk rate to boot.
Their hitters don't have platoon splits
Normally one main consideration of playoff games is to get your relievers in or don't leave your starter out there past two times through the order. This is because of the times through the order penalty, but also because of platoon split differences that can tilt batter/pitch matchups late in the game.
That's the L/R platoon wRC+ for every team this year. The teams on the far left hit left handers considerably better than right handers and the opposite on the very far right. You'll notice the Astros fall basically right in the middle.
They have no real platoon split in lefties vs righties meaning they hit both equally good. Also it's not like they have an 80 wRC+ vs lefties and an 81 vs righties. They hit both lefties and righties pretty well at a 105 and 105 wRC+ rate respectively.
This was the matchup I didn't want given the choice of the Astros or the Yankees. They can hit, they have good starters, and a really good bullpen. If they were competent fielders as a team they'd likely be the best team in baseball. It's tough to gauge how much impact defense has in a five game series, but I'd imagine pitching and hitting are more impactful and predicative elements. That is what concerns me most about these guys. They are probably going to hit and pitch well (at least we can somewhat expect them to) and if they have a "good" defensive series then we're looking at a complete ball club that is going to give the Royals a battle.