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Houston Astros Series Preview: They’re still good even without trash cans

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This is a pretty huge mismatch on paper. And probably on the field.

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals haven’t had the pleasure of facing the Houston Astros yet, but that’s all about to change at Kauffman Stadium this week. The Astros are in town for four games, and they have really bounced back from a sub-.500 (but still a playoff) season in 2020. Their record is impressive, but when you consider that they started 7-10, they’ve been even more impressive. They took over first place on June 20 and while they haven’t been great lately, they’re maintaining a division lead that just doesn’t seem likely that they’ll lose. This is, of course, the first chance for Royals fans to see them since the whole trash can scandal. If there were enough people in the stands who hadn’t checked out, you might hear quite a few boos when the Astros come to the plate during this series.

There are basically only two things the Astros don’t do exceptionally well as an offense. They don’t steal bases and they don’t hit triples. They lead all of baseball in runs, strikeout rate, average, on base percentage and wRC+. They’re third in slugging percentage and eighth in home runs. They’re just really good. If you look at their lineup from top to bottom, they just never stop coming at you until you get to Martin Maldonado at the bottom. It’s seriously crazy and four games with them has a chance to be absolutely brutal for the Royals pitching staff. I worry a bit about the Astros bullpen in the postseason, even with the additions of Kendall Graveman and Yimi Garcia, but their rotation has a chance to be really nasty in a short series.

Royals vs. Astros Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Astros
Category Royals Astros
Winning % .422 .598
Team wRC+ 86 117
Team xFIP 4.52 4.13
Run Differential -110 165
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 2.4 Carlos Correa, 3.9

Astros Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Jose Altuve 2B 485 .270 .346 .481 10.3% 15.5% 129 3.6
Michael Brantley LF 403 .332 .385 .484 6.7% 10.9% 145 3.0
Carlos Correa SS 463 .268 .361 .469 12.3% 19.4% 132 3.9
Yordan Alvarez DH 421 .288 .354 .529 7.8% 25.2% 144 2.8
Aledmys Diaz 3B 197 .301 .350 .475 3.6% 15.7% 130 1.4
Yuli Gurriel 1B 426 .318 .385 .481 10.1% 10.8% 141 2.9
Chas McCormick CF 226 .254 .310 .468 7.1% 32.3% 113 1.2
Jake Meyers RF 19 .278 .316 .667 5.3% 47.4% 166 0.2
Martin Maldonado C 311 .179 .277 .308 10.6% 30.5% 68 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
Jason Castro C 137 .195 .326 .327 14.6% 31.4% 93 0.3
Taylor Jones INF/OF 82 .208 .244 .312 4.9% 24.4% 54 -0.6
Jacob Wilson INF/OF 7 .000 .000 .000 0.0% 14.3% -100 -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
Ryan Pressly 46 48.0 4 1 33.3% 4.9% 1.88 2.50 1.7
Kendall Graveman 36 39.1 4 0 29.5% 5.5% 0.92 2.85 1.1
Yimi Garcia 45 41.1 3 7 24.9% 8.3% 3.27 4.09 0.1

Probable Starting Pitchers

Monday - Jake Odorizzi vs. Carlos Hernandez, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jake Odorizzi 16 68.2 5 6 21.1% 8.1% 4.59 4.76 0.3
Carlos Hernandez 17 46.0 3 1 26.2% 12.8% 4.11 4.39 0.5

The short 2020 might have been as detrimental to Jake Odorizzi as anyone from a baseball standpoint. He was pitching on the qualifying offer with the Twins but was only able to get into four games and he wasn’t even good in those four. So he was stuck on the open market until well into spring training before signing a two-year deal with an option with the Astros. It hasn’t gone great, but it’s better than last season. His 2019 strikeout rate is really looking the outlier and he isn’t a pitcher who can get deep into games, but he is effective enough with the offense the Astros put up. He’s been way more fastball heavy with the Astros, but the pitch doesn’t seem to be much different than what we saw from him last year. His splitter and slider have been his best two pitches, but he only throws them about 32 percent of the time total. He’s allowed an OPS about 100 points higher to lefties than righties. He has an ERA over 5.00 on the road. And he’s allowed a .993 OPS with runners in scoring position. He has a 7.65 ERA the last two years against the Royals with five home runs allowed in 20 innings.

Carlos Hernandez has now handled the White Sox twice and the Yankees once over his last three starts, putting up a 1.02 ERA in 17.2 innings. He’s only walked four batters in that time, which I’ve said so often is the big key for him. The stuff is so good that if he’s throwing strikes, or at least getting hitters to chase, he’s going to be just fine. He doesn’t even really need the command. But as well as he’s pitched against two good offenses, the Astros provide his biggest test yet since they don’t swing and miss all that often and there is just no break in that lineup as he goes from top to bottom. His fastball is going to be very important to him in this one. Other than Yuli Gurriel, they almost all struggle with big velocity.

Tuesday - Framber Valdez vs. Daniel Lynch, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Framber Valdez 14 84.1 8 3 22.3% 11.0% 3.09 3.68 1.1
Daniel Lynch 7 31.2 2 3 18.1% 9.0% 4.97 4.94 0.4

The Astros got Framber Valdez back on May 28 and he’s been really good since then. He’s gotten through six innings or more in 10 of his 14 starts and has just generally been very good. He’s allowed more than three runs five times and he’s only allowed seven home runs in his 84.1 innings. He relies mostly on his sinker and his curve. The sinker is 92-93 and has limited extra base hits greatly. His curve has been ridiculous, though. He has a 43.3 percent whiff rate on it and a .116 average and .157 slugging percentage on that pitch. When he’s ahead in the count, he’s allowed a .088 average. That’s just silly. He’s actually gotten better when he faces a lineup a third time. He’s one of the most underrated pitchers out there. He faced the Royals twice in 2019 and gave up five runs on eight hits in four innings out of the bullpen, but he’s a different pitcher now.

Daniel Lynch was on quite a run before his last start, and while I think there were some really good things from it, it was his first bad start since his return. I thought he looked great before he winced a bit on a ground ball back to him and the trainers came out to check on him. From that point forward, he was giving up some harder hit balls and couldn’t get through the fifth inning. So now we get a chance to see how he bounces back from that against the best offense in baseball, which is a tough test but a good test. As good as the Astros offense is, they haven’t been nearly as good against lefty starters as righty and they were just shut down by Reid Detmers in their series finale with the Angels.

Wednesday - Zack Greinke vs. Brady Singer, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Zack Greinke 24 143.2 11 3 18.6% 5.0% 3.51 4.12 1.4
Brady Singer 20 91.1 3 8 22.1% 9.4% 5.42 4.25 1.6

Zack Greinke returns to Kansas City for his sixth start since getting traded following the 2010 season. You absolutely know this, but since leaving the Royals, he’s gone 159-62 with a 3.13 ERA and has absolutely built a Hall of Fame case. He’s not the same pitcher he once was, getting by with much lower velocity and weak contact, but he’s still getting the job done at 37. The fastball now averages 88-89 and rarely gets into the 90s. It’s been hit somewhat, but it’s balanced out with his changeup that just keeps on rocking for him. Opponents have hit .168 on that pitch and he actually gets whiffs on it. Because of that changeup, he has a massive reverse platoon split with righties OPSing about 270 points lower. That’s not a typo. He is still so good that it’s not a huge issue, but he does get hit hard when behind in the count. Stuff is important and his isn’t what it once was.

Brady Singer’s return to the active roster didn’t go especially well when he couldn’t get out of the fourth inning against the Yankees. He’s now allowed 12 runs on 18 hits in his last 5.2 innings with four walks and three strikeouts. For those of you new to the game, that isn’t good. Singer’s sinker and slider, at their best, are good enough to beat any team, at least a couple times through the order. But if they aren’t at their best, and they haven’t been much, the Astros are the type of team that will absolutely destroy him. The one saving grace from Singer this year is that he’s only allowed one home run in 55.1 innings at home, so that’s good.

Thursday - Luis Garcia vs. Mike Minor, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Luis Garcia 22 111.2 9 6 29.4% 7.7% 3.30 3.71 2.4
Mike Minor 24 136.1 8 11 23.5% 7.0% 5.35 4.31 1.9

Luis Garcia has kind of quietly risen through the Astros minor league ranks and had a pretty successful short debut season last year. Now he’s being counted on in the Astros rotation and has been fantastic. He relies heavily on a four-seamer that has actually gotten hit a bit. His cutter, though, has been amazing, as has his slider. Opponents are hitting .142 on those two pitches in 155 at bats. His changeup and curve have also been really good, though I keep wondering why he throws his four-seamer so much with all these other pitches being so good for him this season. The weakness for him is lefties. He’s allowed a .270/.324/.459 line to lefties compared to .170/.244/.312 against righties. He’s also been very different on the road with a 4.93 ERA compared to 2.02 at home. It always surprises me when an Astros pitcher is better at home given their ballpark.

I thought Mike Minor was pretty good on Friday night against the Cardinals, but he gave up back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning and the Royals offense simply couldn’t do anything to make it matter. He’s now struck out seven in consecutive starts and six or more in each of his last four starts. And he’s doing it without walking batters, which is a small bar, but he’s reaching it on this pitching staff. He’s 2-3 with a 4.91 ERA in the last three years against the Astros while he’s been in their division, which is actually better than I expected.

Prediction

Are we back to not predicting a Royals win until they win a game? I think so! So yep, I’m predicting an Astros four-game sweep even though I know the odds are that they can figure out a way to win one.

Poll

Can the Royals win a game against the Astros?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Not just one, but four. They Royals will sweep them.
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    They’ll win the series and take three of four.
    (2 votes)
  • 14%
    They can split, which would be pretty great for them.
    (16 votes)
  • 52%
    One game, but that’s it.
    (58 votes)
  • 24%
    No way. Astros sweep.
    (27 votes)
110 votes total Vote Now