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Houston Astros Series Preview: We’ll always have the 2015 ALDS

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The Astros have lost three in a row, but may be the most complete team in baseball while the Royals are, well, not.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros
Sep 9, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros designated hitter Yordan Alvarez (44) hits a home run during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals penultimate homestand of 2019 is just one series and it’s against one of the very best teams in baseball, the Houston Astros. If you’re wondering what the Astros do well, it’s everything. They have a lineup filled with incredible hitters, top to bottom. They walk a ton, hardly ever strike out and hit a ton of home runs. While they don’t steal a ton of bases, they have guys who can move throughout their lineup so they’re not station to station by any stretch. And since the Royals last saw them, they added Yordan Alvarez from the minors and he’s been arguably their best hitter since his promotion. Their rotation is outstanding with two legitimate Cy Young candidates at the top and Zack Greinke, a fantastic pitcher in his right, as their third best starter. If there’s one teeny tiny weakness, it’s that their bullpen isn’t otherworldly like the rest of their team, but it’s still quite good and will be even better when they get Ryan Pressly back. In my opinion, this is the team to beat in the American League.

Meet the Astros

Royals vs. Astros Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Astros
Category Royals Astros
Winning % .374 .642
Team wRC+ 84 125
Team xFIP 4.92 3.85
Run Differential -150 238
H2H Wins 1 2
H2H Runs 16 17
Highest fWAR Hunter Dozier, 3.5 Alex Bregman, 7.0

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 507 .297 .387 .588 11.8% 20.3% 157 5.9
Jose Altuve 2B 497 .304 .363 .553 8.0% 15.1% 142 3.4
Michael Brantley LF 294 .321 .380 .519 8.1% 10.6% 140 4.4
Alex Bregman SS 629 .294 .415 .575 16.4% 12.4% 162 7.0
Yordan Alvarez DH 320 .315 .409 .659 13.4% 24.7% 177 3.3
Yuli Gurriel 1B 563 .305 .350 .546 6.2% 10.8% 135 3.3
Abraham Toro 3B 67 .237 .328 .441 10.4% 19.4% 106 0.4
Robinson Chirinos CF 408 .237 .345 .444 11.5% 28.9% 112 1.9
Josh Reddick RF 516 .269 .313 .397 6.6% 11.6% 88 0.5

Astros Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Martin Maldonado C 348 .223 .292 .398 7.5% 23.0% 79 0.9
Garrett Stubbs C 34 .226 .294 .323 8.8% 14.7% 68 0.2
Aledmys Diaz INF 205 .256 .332 .438 9.8% 12.7% 103 0.5
Myles Straw INF/OF 113 .253 .366 .305 15.0% 20.4% 93 0.8
Jake Marisnick OF 295 .241 .298 .426 5.4% 29.8% 93 1.4
Kyle Tucker OF 27 .269 .296 .500 3.7% 33.3% 108 0.2

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 59 58.0 4 3 27.8% 4.9% 2.95 3.84 1.2
Will Harris 62 55.2 4 1 25.9% 6.5% 1.62 3.21 0.9
Hector Rondon 57 56.0 3 2 18.6% 8.0% 3.54 4.81 0.0

Probable Pitching Matchups

Friday September 13th - 7:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Gerrit Cole 29 184.1 16 5 39.4% 6.0% 2.73 2.51 6.1
Danny Duffy 20 112.2 6 6 20.2% 8.4% 4.71 5.17 0.9

It doesn’t start easy with the Royals facing off against Gerrit Cole in game one. Cole was always good for the Pirates but rarely great. The Astros, as they do so often, unlocked the greatness. He’s struck out a ridiculous 281 batters in 184.1 innings this season. He doesn’t walk hitters. He doesn’t give up hits. How do you beat him? You hope you can get the long ball as that’s been one of the few areas where he hasn’t been elite this season. The guy averages 97 with his four-seamer and gets a ton of spin on it, limiting opponents to a .175 average and .369 SLG. His slider is even nastier with a 39 percent whiff rate. His changeup might even be his best swing and miss pitch and he throws it just seven percent of the time. It’s just silly how good Cole is. The best bet against Cole is risky. It’s to swing early. He throws a first pitch strike about 65 percent of the time. The issue is you can’t really predict what it’ll be. He does throw the fastball about 60 percent of the time on the first pitch, so there’s that. But the point is that he allows a .149/.154/.271 line when he’s ahead in the count, so yeah, don’t fall behind. Good luck!

Danny Duffy has been pretty okay since coming off the IL to face the Orioles at the start of September. He had some ups and downs in that start, but then was pretty solid against the Marlins, going six innings and giving up just one run on two hits. He did walk four in that time, but his 15 swinging strikes were his second most of the season. Coincidentally, the most was against a Florida team and then that was followed by him facing the Astros, so that’s...something. I’m not sure if interesting is the word there or not. In that start against the Astros, he was quite good and got the win by going 6.2 innings and giving up two runs on six hits with five strikeouts and three walks. In spite of that success in Houston, this is going to be a challenge. The Astros lineup is deeper today than it was then and they’ve feasted on lefty starters, hitting .289/.363/.508 against them. Again, good luck!

Saturday September 14th - 6:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Zack Greinke 30 189.1 15 5 22.6% 3.9% 2.99 3.85 4.6
Mike Montgomery 30 77.1 3 8 18.2% 7.4% 4.77 4.28 0.1

When the Astros traded for Zack Greinke at the deadline, I started trying to figure out if he’d pitch at Kauffman Stadium in this series and here we are and he is. Since leaving the Royals, a Hall of Fame case has been carved for him, going 142-56 for the Brewers, Angels, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and now Astros with a 3.07 ERA and his typical impeccable control. He’s evolved quite a bit, but he’s still one of the best out there. He’s even better than Cole when he’s ahead in the count because he’s an absolute surgeon on the mound, allowing a .130/.146/.188 line. If you’re looking for a situation in which he doesn’t excel, good luck because it’s nearly impossible to find. He’s great the third time through the order. He’s great on pitches 76 through 100. He does have less margin for error with a fastball that averages a tick under 90, but he’s so good that it hardly matters. If you’re looking for hope, I guess it’s the slider. He still gets whiffs on about 27 percent of swings on them, but he has allowed a .300 average and .423 SLG, so there’s your hope.

Mike Montgomery had been pitching pretty darn well since the Royals acquired him so for him to struggle against the Marlins was a bit of a surprise. He went just four innings and gave up five runs on eight hits with a home run allowed. It was ugly considering he’d posted a 2.84 ERA in the eight starts prior to that with an 11 percent swinging strike rate. It was probably bound to happen, but I’d have definitely predicted it to happen in this one instead. All the facts about the Astros against lefty starters are true in this one as well, so that’s not great for Montgomery, but if he can get his cutter working like it had been, that can be a difference maker. Alex Bregman has hit just .212 on cutters. George Springer is down to .152 on them. Yordan Alvarez has been held to a .417 SLG. Now, guys like Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick and Jose Altuve have handled them just fine, so he’ll need more than the cutter, but it’s basically a must for him to have a good game in this one.

Sunday September 15th - 1:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Wade Miley 30 156.1 13 5 20.1% 8.4% 3.74 4.43 1.9
Jakob Junis 30 172.2 9 13 21.5% 7.4% 5.06 4.59 1.6

It seems like a whole lifetime ago that Wade Miley was a very good young starter for the Diamondbacks, posting an ERA in the mid-3s for his first two full seasons. His career hit a bump, but after 16 outstanding starts for the Brewers last year, he signed a one-year deal with the Astros and he’s been mostly very good. I say mostly because September has been an unmitigated disaster for him. He’s made two starts and recorded one out in them while allowing 12 runs on 12 hits. I’d guess his 324.00 ERA is a record for pitchers with multiple starts in a month. It’s been really, really bad for him, so he’s either going to get on track with a good start against an inconsistent at best Royals offense or he’s going to find his way out of the rotation heading into free agency, which isn’t great for him. He relies heavily on a cutter/changeup combo. The cutter has been fine, but the changeup has been outstanding with a 40 percent whiff rate. Now his four-seamer is a pitch he’s only thrown 15 percent of the time but he’s allowed six homers and a 90.7 MPH average exit velocity. I’m not sure if any of this matters if he literally can’t get through one, but he’s been better against lefties than righties, which is a good thing for the Royals righty heavy lineup.

Jakob Junis just had some struggles in his last start against the White Sox giving up five runs on six hits in five innings with two homers allowed. He had trouble locating with three walks and was ultimately stung badly in the first with the grand slam allowed. He was actually pretty solid from that point forward, but the damage had already been done. And that’s sort of the issue he’s dealt with all season long. It seems like there’s an inning where he can’t stop the bleeding quickly enough and that’s what leads to a 5.06 ERA in mid-September. Junis pitched in Houston in May and gave up five runs on nine hits in 5.1 innings with three home runs allowed. And interestingly enough, Junis has a better ERA on the road this year by more than a run, but he’s allowed far less damage at home, which is a little bit odd.

Prediction

It’s hard to predict a sweep because it’s hard to get a sweep. Even the Royals, who were playing poorly in May, managed to win a game against the Astros in Houston. All that said, I think the Astros sweep the Royals and it won’t be a whole lot of fun to watch other than getting to see a finely tuned machine doing what it does best.

Poll

Can the Royals win a fifth straight series?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Duh, Royals sweep!
    (14 votes)
  • 39%
    Hahahahahaha, they can’t even win a game. Astros sweep.
    (33 votes)
  • 12%
    They’ve grown accustomed to this winning two of three thing so they’ll do it again.
    (10 votes)
  • 31%
    Uh no, the Astros are going to get two of three.
    (26 votes)
83 votes total Vote Now