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Houston Astros series preview: Goin' back to LDS

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Remember the eighth inning of Game 4 of the 2015 ALDS? That was cool.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After dropping two in New York against their World Series foes, the Royals return to the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium to try to get back to their winning ways. Their opponents in this three game tilt will be the Houston Astros, who they faced and demoralized in the American League Division Series last year.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Friday, 7:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Dallas Keuchel (L) 15 94.2 87 29 5.32 3.78 3.32 3.53
Edinson Volquez 15 91.2 73 33 4.12 3.98 4.21 4.30

Dallas Keuchel has had a woeful start to his season, judging by traditional means. A groundball/strikeout pitcher, Keuchel has somehow seen a marked increase in homers allowed while stranding significantly fewer batters than he has become accustomed to stranding. Looking at his pitch selection, it appears as though he is implementing his pitches at roughly the same frequency as in his 2015 Cy Young campaign. Though his velo is down a little, it's hard to see how he is broken and nut just unlucky.

Edison Volquez has struggled mightily on the road, but has been fantastic at home with a 2.61 ERA in nine starts with 7.4 strikeouts and 2.1 walks-per-nine innings. Volquez has gone at least six innings in 11 of his 15 starts this year. He gave up 10 runs in 10 2/3 innings in one regular season and one post-season start against Houston last year, with the Royals losing both games.

Game Two - Saturday, 6:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Mike Fiers 14 79.1 55 14 4.42 4.58 4.06 4.21
Chris Young 12 51.1 53 19 5.61 6.98 4.75 4.22

For some odd reason, Mike Fiers seems to have decided to become a control freak, halving his walk rates this year from last year. Of course, his strikeouts have dipped as well, leaving him with less than desirable results. He is inducing grounders at career-best rates, but that hasn't meant that he isn't yielding more home runs than ever. Throwing his four-seamer less than ever, he has begun to increasingly rely upon a cutter and change-up to attempt to coax out weak contact. So far that hasn't worked so well.

Chris Young has had the same long-ball problems as Fiers only amplified significantly. However, since he returned from a stint on the disabled list caused by forearm tightness, he has looked more like his 2014-2015 self, only with a much more impressive K-rate. He struck out seven Astros in four innings in a relief appearance in Game One of the ALDS last year, giving up just a solo home run, but he gave up six runs in less than five innings of work in a start in Houston back in April. This game will be broadcast on FOX.

Game Three - Sunday, 1:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Doug Fister 14 87.0 55 28 3.21 4.57 4.57 4.73
Ian Kennedy 14 81.2 74 28 4.19 5.46 4.89 4.37

After a disappointing 2015 campaign in Washington which was riddled with injuries, Fister has gotten back to his DIPS-outperforming ways. Of course, his .250 BABIP (career mark .291) and 80.8 LOB% both scream regression to the mean in a death-metally yowl, but it hasn't happened quite yet.

Remember that guy who was great to start the season and had everybody buzzing about Dayton Moore doing it again by grabbing a down-on-his-luck player only to have him rebound as a Royal? Yeah, not hearing much of that talk now about Ian Kennedy. Kennedy has a 7.25 ERA in four June starts thus far, giving up ten home runs. The only June game he won was at home against the Indians so perhaps being back in the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium will do Ian good.

The Batsmen

Name Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
George Springer RF 338 15 49 41 6 .260 .352 .456 .350 120
Marwin Gonzalez (S) 1B 214 5 24 17 8 .259 .315 .406 .313 95
Jose Altuve 2B 333 12 51 41 18 .343 .425 .551 .410 161
Carlos Correa SS 303 11 33 40 8 .262 .360 .452 .352 121
Colby Rasmus (L) LF 271 9 23 37 4 .233 .319 .390 .310 92
Carlos Gomez CF 203 3 16 14 8 .216 .279 .319 .263 60
Luis Valbuena (L) 3B 234 8 24 22 0 .249 .346 .428 .337 111
Evan Gattis DH 206 11 23 29 0 .212 .286 .429 .300 86
Jason Castro (L) C 189 6 25 18 2 .209 .339 .392 .324 102
Bench Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Tony Kemp (L) IF 50 0 4 3 1 .238 .327 .357 .299 85
Danny Worth IF 21 0 2 0 0 .190 .190 .286 .202 19
Jake Marisnick OF 113 1 13 6 3 .180 .239 .270 .227 35

Stats through Thursday, June 23

The Astros offense has dropped off since last year, and they are averaging 4.25 runs-per-game, fifth in the American League. They still lead the league in walks and stolen bases, but their power has dropped off from last year, when they were second in the league in dingers. Poor production from first base and designated hitter, and a disastrous performance from Carlso Gomez has hurt the lineup. Defensively, the Astros are average, although their outfield has been outstanding this year, with George Springer worthy of Gold Glove recognition.

The Astros are a red-hot team, having won 20 of their last 28. Many expected them to be serious contenders for the AL pennant, and now that they are back above .500, they look poised to make a run. Still, they have enough flaws on this team that the Royals can take them at home.

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