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Houston Astros Series Preview: They’re good...again

Their rebuild ended nearly a decade ago and they’re still going strong. Must be nice.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Astros tore it all down after the 2010 season. They weren’t good that year, but they also weren’t horrible. They were very much…whatever. And they were terrible for three seasons. They had high draft picks and they started seeing debuts. And they broke through in 2015, the fifth year of their rebuild. You might recall that they were probably a Carlos Correa error away from winning that series. Of course, they didn’t, which worked out well for the Royals, but they’ve pretty much been on cruise control ever since, finishing above .500 every year but the Covid season and even then they made the playoffs. And now they’ve advanced to at least the ALCS in each of the last five seasons and have been to the World Series in three of them, winning once.

And this year’s club looks like they’re well on their way to doing it again. Their offense has been a little choppy this year, ranking in the middle of the pack in runs scored, but that’s due to a down year so far for Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel. Their rookie shortstop has actually been better than the Royals’ rookie shortstop, though I’d still bet on Bobby Witt Jr. long-term. It’s been their pitching that’s carried them. Justin Verlander has returned and has been outstanding. The loss of Jake Odorizzi has hurt a bit, but they’ve overcome it. And they’ve done it all without Lance McCullers Jr. who they do expect to pitch this year, but just don’t know when yet. Add in a dominant bullpen and it’s easy to see why this team might be the best in the American League and maybe baseball once the offense truly gets going, assuming it does.

Royals vs. Astros Matchup Stats

Category Royals Astros
Category Royals Astros
Winning % .327 .647
Team wRC+ 91 108
Team xFIP 4.58 3.90
Run Differential -77 44
Highest fWAR Andrew Benintendi, 1.5 Jeremy Peña, 2.2

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 155 .279 .348 .536 8.4% 14.8% 159 1.6
Michael Brantley LF 190 .267 .354 .388 11.6% 10.5% 120 0.8
Alex Bregman 3B 208 .221 .341 .390 14.4% 14.4% 120 1.2
Yordan Alvarez DH 188 .272 .367 .574 12.8% 17.6% 172 1.7
Yuli Gurriel 1B 176 .223 .261 .361 4.0% 14.8% 81 -0.2
Kyle Tucker RF 184 .239 .337 .434 13.0% 19.6% 128 1.6
Jeremy Peña SS 173 .285 .331 .494 5.8% 22.5% 141 2.2
Chas McCormick CF 142 .231 .289 .415 7.7% 22.5% 106 0.5
Martin Maldonado C 127 .133 .208 .239 7.1% 31.5% 33 -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 57 .104 .228 .146 12.3% 43.9% 21 -0.3
Aledmys Diaz INF/OF 105 .214 .267 .286 5.7% 18.1% 65 0.0
Mauricio Dubon INF/OF 72 .224 .239 .343 2.8% 5.6% 63 0.2
Jose Siri OF 107 .216 .290 .361 7.5% 31.8% 93 0.9

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 14 13.0 1 1 18.9% 7.5% 2.77 3.94 0.1
Rafael Montero 22 20.2 3 0 29.5% 6.5% 0.44 2.74 0.5
Hector Neris 24 22.1 1 2 29.3% 3.7% 2.01 3.50 0.6

Royals vs. Astros Projected Pitchers

June 3 - Jose Urquidy 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
Jose Urquidy 9 45.0 4 2 16.6% 3.4% 4.80 4.43 0.3
Brady Singer 6 25.1 2 0 26.3% 4.0% 2.49 2.63 0.7

Jose Urquidy is kind of the forgotten man whenever anyone talks about Astros pitching, but he’s just a solid pitcher. He hasn’t been great this year, but he’s going to limit walks and before this season, he limited hits as well. As we saw when Zack Greinke was pitching well, limiting baserunners if you’re not going to strike batters out is super important. Both his fastball and his changeup have been the culprit. Opponents are hitting .316 on the fastball and .318 on the changeup compared to .237 and .159 last year. He’s also replaced his slider mostly with a cutter, but that’s been a pretty good pitch for him. Weirdly, he’s been nails at home with a 1.47 ERA in three starts, but in six starts on the road, he has a 7.09 ERA. The Royals need to make sure that doesn’t go down much, if at all.

Career vs. KC: First Appearance


Brady Singer gave up his first runs since his return in his last start, but I thought he looked really sharp against the Twins, which was super encouraging since it was his second straight start against them. He only ended up going 5.2 innings, but he struck out eight more and looked in control. Once again, he found himself in trouble, which is a situation he’s struggled in so much in the past and didn’t fold. The Astros have a pretty balanced lineup, so my guess is he faces four lefties in this one, including three who are very good hitters. He won’t want to even try the changeup against Yordan Alvarez, who is hitting .320 with an .800 SLG against righty changeups, but both Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker have been neutralized some by them this season, so it’ll be a great opportunity to bust it out. In general, a good slider is what can get this Astros lineup out, which happens to be Singer’s best pitch.

Career vs. HOU: 2 GS, 11.2 IP, 0-1, 2.31 ERA

June 4 - Luis Garcia vs. Kris Bubic, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Luis Garcia 9 48.2 3 3 25.5% 7.5% 3.14 3.80 0.8
Kris Bubic 6 13.1 0 3 14.7% 16.2% 12.83 5.91 -0.5

Luis Garcia was a bit of a surprise for the Astros last year when they needed help in their rotation. He stepped in and all he did was finish second in the Rookie of the Year race. He’s basically picked up right where he left off, using some of his deceptive delivery tactics paired with very good stuff to continue pitching well. The one thing that strikes me is how much of the plate his fastball catches. He does work it up in the zone a good amount, but you also see quite a few in a good hitting zone. Hitters just don’t do a ton with it. He’s probably a bit lucky as it’s gotten hit hard this year, but the results are a lot more fine than good for them. After the fastball, his cutter is pure filth with a whiff rate approaching 50 percent and opponents hitting just .125 on it. The one knock on him is that he isn’t going to give a ton of innings. He’s pitched into the sixth in just five of his nine starts and into the seventh in just two.

Career vs. KC: 2 GS, 11.2 IP, 1-0 2.31 ERA


This would have been Greinke’s spot to face his old team, but instead he’s on the IL and now the Royals have to figure out who to use here. The first crack at the role appears to be Kris Bubic, who won a job in spring training and pitched quite well and then completely just soiled himself in his starts once the season began. He went to AAA for the first time in his professional career and there’s been good and bad. He has a 6.59 ERA, but a 29.3 percent strikeout rate and, maybe more importantly, a 6.9 percent walk rate. The thing with Bubic is that he’s been solid as a big leaguer prior to this season, so it’s not like this is someone who has never had big league success. He needs to be able to throw his fastball for strikes, and something I always scream about, he needs to throw it harder.

Career vs. HOU: First Appearance

June 5 - Framber Valdez vs. Jonathan Heasley, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Framber Valdez 10 63.0 5 2 19.5% 8.6% 2.57 3.21 1.4
Jonathan Heasley 4 19.1 0 2 11.1% 17.8% 4.66 6.50 -0.3

When Framber Valdez debuted in 2018 and looked solid in his 37 innings of work, I wondered a bit how he could keep it up given the high walk rate. And then he took a big step back, ERA-wise and I thought, oh, he can’t. But then he pitched very well in the short 2020 season and after an injury to his finger was thought to maybe keep him out all or most of 2021, he was back by late May to make 22 starts and was very good. The walk rate rose a bit, but he still got the job done. It’s down some this year, as are his strikeouts, but the results have been stellar for the lefty. He’s an extreme ground ball pitcher with a rate of 65.7 percent this year. He throws a sinker about half the time and it gets results. His curve and changeup are great pitches as well and they handle getting the swing and miss when he needs it. He has no platoon split, but you can get to him later in his outings. He’s allowed a .333/.396/.438 line between his 76th and 100th pitch, so if the Royals can be patient, they could get him later.

Career vs. KC: 3 G, 1 GS, 10.2 IP, 0-1, 6.75 ERA


I really just want Jonathan Heasley to throw some strikes. While I maintain that the stuff hasn’t looked as good in the big leagues as in the minors, I think he’s good enough to succeed if he just doesn’t walk the world. I also think the stuff plays up when he’s controlling it better (duh). He did a bit better job of it in his start against Cleveland, but while the control was there, I don’t think the command especially was. He needs to be able to use his fastball at the top of the zone and right above it. The Astros as a team are hitting just .188 with a .288 SLG on high fastballs. The only player doing any real damage on those is Jose Altuve, so that should be the gameplan for him. Get him early with the fastball up and then follow Singer’s lead with the slider down. But again, it’s about command. If that fastball drops just a bit, the Astros are hitting .293 with a .775 SLG when it dips closer to the middle.

Career vs. HOU: First Appearance

Royals vs. Astros Prediction

Look, it’s certainly possible that the Royals could win a game this weekend. The Pirates just swept the Dodgers. But I’d rather be wrong than to predict something that outlandish, so I’m going with an Astros sweep.

SB Nation has partnered with DraftKings to sponsor select series previews this season. Here are the betting odds for this series. The Royals are a +1.5 run underdog tonight with a +115 moneyline, and an over/under of 8.5 runs scored in the game.

Poll

The Royals get their shot at the best in the AL West. How do they fare?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Suck it haters, it’s a Royals sweep!
    (10 votes)
  • 4%
    They’ll take the series with two wins.
    (7 votes)
  • 36%
    They won’t win the series, but will win a game, against all odds.
    (60 votes)
  • 53%
    They’ll be lucky to get out of the three-game series with just three losses.
    (88 votes)
165 votes total Vote Now