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
|Highest fWAR||Andrew Benintendi, 1.5||Jeremy Peña, 2.2|
Astros Projected Lineup
Astros Projected Bench
Astros Key Relievers
Royals vs. Astros Projected Pitchers
June 3 - Jose Urquidy vs. Brady Singer, 7:10pm
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
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
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.
The Royals get their shot at the best in the AL West. How do they fare?
This poll is closed
Suck it haters, it’s a Royals sweep!
They’ll take the series with two wins.
They won’t win the series, but will win a game, against all odds.
They’ll be lucky to get out of the three-game series with just three losses.