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Houston Astros Series Preview: The Royals might have a problem

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The Astros are very, very good. The Royals are, well, not.

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels
May 4, 2019; Monterrey, MEX; Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman (2) throws to first base on a ground out by Los Angeles Angels left fielder Brian Goodwin (not pictured) during the eighth inning at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

You may recall the Royals and Astros met in the ALDS way back in 2015 when the Astros almost eliminated the Royals from the postseason. Of course, the Royals scored a lot of runs in that eighth inning, then won game five and then sort of cruised to a title. Since then, though, it’s been a very different story with the Astros winning the 2017 World Series and being one of the best teams in baseball year in and year out. This season is no different. While the record isn’t eye popping, the Astros are tied for the second best run differential in baseball and are doing it, once again, with a ridiculously balanced team. They hit, they pitch, they play defense and do it all extremely well. Oh yeah, and they’re stupid good at home, which is where this series is being played. Good luck, Royals.

Meet the Astros

Astros Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Astros
Category Royals Astros
Winning % .343 .588
Team wRC+ 97 126
Team xFIP 4.63 3.79
Highest fWAR Hunter Dozier, 2.0 Alex Bregman, 1.8

Astros Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
George Springer CF 153 .280 .366 .561 11.8% 23.5% 149 1.4
Jose Altuve 2B 146 .250 .336 .508 11.6% 15.8% 128 0.9
Alex Bregman 3B 140 .281 .400 .561 15.7% 14.3% 160 1.8
Michael Brantley LF 142 .336 .380 .565 6.3% 11.3% 155 1.4
Carlos Correa SS 130 .291 .354 .556 8.5% 26.9% 145 1.1
Yuli Gurriel 1B 129 .252 .302 .412 7.0% 12.4% 93 -0.2
Josh Reddick RF 113 .333 .361 .457 7.1% 10.6% 130 0.5
Tyler White DH 64 .283 .391 .358 15.6% 32.8% 114 0.8
Robinson Chirinos C 93 .253 .363 .480 10.8% 26.9% 130 0.8

Astros Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Max Stassi C 38 .139 .184 .222 5.3% 36.8% 10 -0.1
Aledmys Diaz INF 54 .216 .241 .412 3.7% 14.8% 71 -0.2
Tony Kemp OF/2B 50 .186 .265 .326 8.0% 18.0% 63 0.2
Derek Fisher OF 1 .000 .000 .000 0.0% 0.0% -100 0.0
Jake Marisnick OF 52 .271 .327 .458 5.8% 30.8% 115 0.5

Astros Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Roberto Osuna 14 14.1 2 0 23.9% 0.0% 0.63 3.67 0.6
Ryan Pressly 13 15.0 1 0 28.3% 0.0% 0.00 1.63 0.7
Hector Rondon 12 11.2 2 1 21.3% 8.5% 2.31 4.61 0.1

Projected PItching Matchups

Monday May 6th - 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jakob Junis 7 38.2 3 2 20.1% 7.1% 5.12 4.19 0.5
Gerrit Cole 7 43.1 2 4 37.6% 8.7% 3.95 2.67 1.1

Gerrit Cole gets the first start of the series, and while his ERA isn’t exactly shiny, he’s having another phenomenal season. The guy has struck out 65 batters in his 43.1 innings this year, and that’s no accident. He’s a perfect example of why the Astros have a chance to be good for quite some time because they use the tools at their disposal to get even more out of great players. Cole isn’t doing anything tricky. He throws a 97 MPH fastball that has some outstanding spin on it and opponents have just 13 hits on it in 74 at bats. His slider is silly with even more spin than his fastball and an even better opponent’s average against it. Oh yeah, and his curve has even more spin than the slider. The one thing about his curve is it has a tendency to hang a couple times a game and that’s when you have to get him. He’s really so tough, though, that this is a tough way to start a series.

Jakob Junis has an opportunity to build on his last two starts that have both been against the Rays. I have to say I’m worried about this one. While he’s upped his ground ball rate quite a bit this year, he still gives up a lot of fly balls and against that lineup in that park, I have a hard time figuring how Junis gets out with less than three home runs allowed. While his slider is his bread and butter, Alex Bregman, George Springer, Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel have all hit .300 or better on sliders from righties this year. Even worse, Springer, Carlos Correa and Bregman have all slugged .450 or higher on them. So it better be on because the Astros likely won’t go fishing for it unless he has his absolute best stuff out there.

Tuesday May 7th - 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Danny Duffy 2 11.0 0 1 15.6% 8.9% 3.27 4.64 0.1
Collin McHugh 7 38.0 3 3 25.0% 7.1% 4.97 4.09 0.3

After an outstanding season as a reliever, Collin McHugh is back in the rotation due to the Astros losing three starters from last year’s squad. And he’s been...okay. He’s gotten a nice number of strikeouts and limited hits really well, but the home run ball has bit him and he’s struggled to strand runners. While the home run issue probably is something that will plague him all year, the strand rate is something that should stabilize. Of course, he also has a .229 BABIP against. He has a history of low BABIPs, but that one is pretty low, so maybe it’ll all even out and this is who he is, but I sense there’s more to it for him as he really gets back in the groove of starting. Like Junis, he uses his slider more than anything and it’s amazing with a spin rate of near 2,800 and a whiff rate of 42.7 percent. I’m not saying the Royals can’t hit him or won’t, but if he’s on, Adalberto Mondesi and Jorge Soler might look silly a few times.

Danny Duffy was excellent in his last start against the Rays. After struggling early against the Angels, Duffy filled up the zone against Tampa with 73 strikes in 100 pitches and 17 swinging strikes. My concern is the velocity wasn’t where you’d like it to be and he caught way too much of the plate too many times against a depleted Rays lineup that featured a fair amount of backups. Still, a six inning start with one run allowed, one walk and six strikeouts is something to get excited about for a guy who has caused more questions than answers over the last season plus. I worry about him if he’s in the middle of the plate as much as he was in his last start. The Astros have hit .283/.360/.500 against lefties. With that kind of right-handed power they have and the wall in left field roughly 137 feet from home plate, it could be trouble.

Wednesday May 8th - 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jorge Lopez 7 40.2 0 3 21.0% 8.0% 5.09 4.44 0.2
Brad Peacock 7 30.2 2 3 20.5% 7.1% 5.28 4.68 0.4

Brad Peacock is another guy who spent the 2018 season in the bullpen, or at least most of it. His return to mostly starting hasn’t gone great from an ERA-perspective, but like McHugh, there’s still some to like. He’s limiting walks and also has a strand rate that should bounce back. But all that said, hitters aren’t being cheated against him He’s allowed a hard hit rate of 44.6 percent, which is considerably higher than league average. His average exit velocity allowed is 90.2 MPH, which is also a fair amount higher than average. He has a high spin rate slider that’s been really good this year, but his sinker and four-seamer are the pitches he’s been hurt badly by and he throws them enough that he gives himself an opportunity to get hurt. I worry about that slider and about certain Royals I’ve already named looking really bad, but with Peacock, you at least feel like there’s a hittable pitch coming sometime in the at bat.

Lopez has had a bit of a rough go of it in his last four starts with at least four runs allowed in all of them and a cumulative ERA in that time of 6.08 in 23.2 innings. But even with that, he’s still mostly getting his strikeouts and mostly limiting walks. And even when he’s gotten hit early, he’s been able to give the Royals some serious innings, which has value. He’s gone at least six innings in five of his seven starts and gotten to seven innings in a couple starts where he didn’t have much early. The concern is that he’s only gotten 16 swinging strikes in his last three starts. The stuff is good enough that he shouldn’t be sitting with rates so low, so something likely has to give at some point. While the Astros have hit curves from righties well, their xBA on them is just .193 with an xSLG of .274, so if Lopez has his curve working, he has a real shot to actually do well against this Astros lineup.

Prediction

This is a mismatch. Even with the Royals catching mostly the back of the Astros rotation, I would guess the Royals aren’t better than 35 percent to win any of these games. I’m going to say the Astros sweep the series and that it’s not all that competitive. And, as we’ve learned, that means to bet your house on the Royals.

Poll

Does Houston have a problem?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Yes, Royals sweep
    (31 votes)
  • 34%
    Of course they don’t, Astros sweep
    (73 votes)
  • 5%
    Slight problem, Royals take two of three
    (12 votes)
  • 45%
    Mostly no, Astros take two of three
    (98 votes)
214 votes total Vote Now