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Houston Astros Series Preview: They are a lot better than the Royals

Not only are the Astros good, but they’re playing about as well as possible right now too.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

It’s kind of hard to imagine how bad this might get. The Houston Astros recently completed a stretch of nine games against the Mets and Yankees, the best team in the NL and the best in the AL (and all of baseball) and went 7-2. They do everything well with maybe their bullpen their only minor weakness and that’s something I fully expect they’ll address at the trade deadline. What’s scary about their offense is that they’re so diverse. They have power, some speed, don’t strike out and pretty much are solid from top to bottom. They have two holes in their lineup. One is Martin Maldonado, who they work around because they love him behind the plate. The other is Yuli Gurriel, who has been good in the past and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he started hitting soon. And while their bullpen isn’t wonderful, the starting rotation is so good that they hide their one slight weakness.

Royals vs. Astros Matchup Stats

Category Royals Astros
Category Royals Astros
Winning % .377 .654
H2H Wins 1 2
Team wRC+ 93 116
Team xFIP 4.62 3.80
Run Differential 99 90
Highest fWAR Andrew Benintendi, 1.4 Yordan Alvarez, 3.6

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 276 .280 .366 .539 10.1% 16.7% 162 2.5
Jeremy Peña SS 239 .279 .328 .479 5.0% 24.3% 132 2.7
Yordan Alvarez DH 288 .310 .406 .645 13.2% 16.7% 198 3.6
Alex Bregman 3B 317 .239 .353 .402 13.9% 13.9% 123 2.0
Kyle Tucker RF 295 .258 .353 .492 12.9% 16.3% 144 2.8
Yuli Gurriel 1B 283 .225 .279 .393 6.0% 13.4% 93 0.0
Jake Meyers CF 29 .276 .276 .414 0.0% 37.9% 96 0.2
Chas McCormick LF 188 .232 .309 .429 9.6% 24.5% 113 0.9
Martin Maldonado C 198 .151 .219 .302 7.1% 32.3% 50 -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 88 .115 .205 .179 9.1% 45.5% 15 -0.5
J.J. Matijevic 1B/OF 25 .167 .200 .500 0.0% 48.0% 94 0.0
Aledymis Diaz INF/OF 151 .213 .265 .291 6.0% 19.2% 63 -0.3
Mauricio Dubon INF/OF 113 .223 .259 .350 5.3% 5.3% 71 0.4

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 25 23.0 2 2 25.6% 8.9% 3.52 3.33 0.3
Rafael Montero 33 31.2 3 0 26.6% 8.9% 1.71 3.16 0.8
Ryne Stanek 29 26.0 0 0 28.2% 12.6% 0.69 3.94 0.5

Royals vs. Astros Projected Pitching Matchups

July 4 - RHP Jonathan Heasley vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jonathan Heasley 9 45.0 1 4 17.4% 11.9% 5.20 5.31 -0.2
Jake Odorizzi 7 31.2 3 2 16.4% 9.4% 3.13 4.91 0.7

Through five innings against the Angels, it looked like Jonathan Heasley had turned a corner to look like one of the young starters the Royals could count on. It’s not that they can’t count on him now, but he had that rough sixth inning and then had a rough start against Texas in his last start. I thought he might be stabilizing a little bit, but just couldn’t get out of that fourth inning and now he’s back to struggling a little bit. The good news is that he is throwing strikes at a much higher rate than he was earlier this season. But I just don’t understand why he didn’t throw his slider more in his last start. He threw three of them. Maybe he simply didn’t feel good with it, but all the talk around Heasley is that he needs to be throwing that pitch more because of how good it’s been (and it’s been really good), but he completely backed away from it. The Astros come at you with a balanced lineup, but his changeup needs to be prominent against their lefties and I think his slider can be a huge weapon for him.

Career vs. HOU: 1 GS, 6.0 IP, 0-1, 4.50 ERA


Jake Odorizzi has been out for a bit with an ankle injury, but looks set to make his return against his former team. He pitched very well in his most recent rehab start, so he’ll help an Astros rotation that doesn’t need much help. Before the injury, he was pitching pretty well, though he still hasn’t been able to recapture his strikeout ability from 2018 and 2019 with the Twins. And this year, his walk rate has been slightly elevated. He’s very heavy with his four-seam fastball, throwing it almost 60 percent of the time and then mixes in a cutter, splitter and then the occasional slider and curve. So almost everything is a variation of a fastball. He hasn’t been a guy to get deep into games basically ever in his career, so this game is an opportunity to get into the Astros bullpen, especially if he struggles at all in his first start back.

Career vs. KC: 15 G, 14 GS, 70.2 IP, 3-6, 5.48 ERA

July 5 - RHP Zack Greinke vs. RHP Luis Garcia, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Zack Greinke 12 63.2 2 4 11.9% 4.1% 4.38 4.76 0.7
Luis Garcia 14 76.1 6 5 25.7% 6.8% 3.54 3.68 1.0

Zack Greinke called Houston home for about two and a half years after he was acquired at the 2019 trade deadline and will now make his first start against his former team and in his former ballpark. Since returning from the IL, he’s looked quite good, going 12 innings with just two runs allowed and only one walk. His command that sort of disappeared before he went on the IL seems to be back. He’s been throwing a ton of cutters, but I wonder if he tries to go changeup heavy and maybe some two-seamers to try to keep the ball on the ground in a ballpark that is very unforgiving to fly balls. He gave up 16 in 85 innings in Houston last season, so it was clearly a bit of a problem for him, but he only gave up seven in 63 innings between 2019 and 2020, so he clearly has had success doing that in the past.

Career vs. HOU: 11 GS, 62.2 IP, 6-3, 2.59 ERA


Luis Garcia is a menace when your favorite team is facing him and a lot of fun to watch when just watching baseball with no skin in the game. He uses a lot of different deliveries and some Johnny Cueto-esque hesitation techniques. He’s a good pitcher, but has some issues with some command at times, leaving pitches over the plate and that’s been a slight issue for him with allowing home runs. Looking at the heat map on his fastball, it finds the middle of the plate quite a bit. And because of that, he’s allowed a .535 SLG on the pitch. His cutter, that he throws a little more than 30 percent of the time, is just a silly pitch. Then he mixes a changeup, slider and curve, throwing all three less than 10 percent of the time. He’s gotten hit just a bit by lefties, but where he’s actually had some struggles are at home where he has a 4.70 ERA compared to 2.37 on the road.

Career vs. KC: 3 GS, 18.2 IP, 1-1, 2.41 ERA

July 6 - RHP Brad Keller vs. RHP Cristian Javier, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 15 85.0 3 9 15.6% 7.8% 4.24 4.28 0.7
Cristian Javier 15 69.2 6 3 34.3% 8.7% 2.58 2.55 2.0

Which Brad Keller will we see in this one? You just never know with him. His last four starts have gone 1.2 innings, seven innings, 3.2 innings and six innings. In those starts, he’s given up five runs, zero runs, five runs and zero runs respectively. That is not what you want from a guy who is supposed to be one of the veterans who is consistent. With Keller, a lot of it is about his slider, but his fastball has been a big problem when he struggles. Of course, a lot of that struggle is because his slider isn’t something hitters need to worry too much about, but still. I’d really like to see him work up in the zone with the four-seam fastball more than he has and I suspect that if he were to go to another team, that’s something they’d work with immediately. It isn’t that he doesn’t utilize the top of the zone with it, because he does, but I’d make sure he does it more. Of course that also might require better command than he generally has, so I don’t know.

Career vs. HOU: 1 GS, 6.0 IP, 0-0, 4.50 ERA


Cristian Javier is on some kind of run right now. He started the season in the bullpen, but he’s allowed one hit in 14 innings over his last starts. Add in the start before those two and he’s allowed three hits in his last 19 innings. But in those last two starts, he’s struck out 27 and walked one. That’s just stupid. He’s given up more than two runs in a start twice this year out of 11. Brady Singer, cover your eyes. Javier gets it done with two pitches, a four-seam fastball he throws 61 percent of the time and a slider he throws 27 percent of the time. There are some other pitches there, but he throws an occasional curve and an even more occasional changeup. And it works for him. He’s allowed a .445 OPS to righties and a .640 OPS to lefties, so there’s at least a chance for left-handed batters, but the way he’s pitching is just incredibly impressive.

Career vs. KC: 2 G, 2.1 IP, 0-0, 3.86 ERA

July 7 - LHP Kris Bubic vs. RHP Justin Verlander, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 12 43.1 1 6 18.0% 12.6% 7.06 4.83 -0.1
Justin Verlander 15 97.1 10 3 24.2% 4.6% 2.03 3.57 2.3

It would be easy to look at Kris Bubic’s entire season and think it’s just an unmitigated disaster, but there’s been at least a little something to like about him since he came back from the IL. He has a 4.50 ERA in six starts with an average of exactly five innings per start. He has a 19.6 percent strikeout rate and 10.9 percent walk rate. None of that is good enough, but if that’s your fifth starter, I don’t actually see a huge problem. Still, I’m assuming Daniel Lynch will be back in the rotation when he returns from the IL, so Bubic is going to be pitching for his spot in the rotation. He did pitch five shutout innings against these very Astros in his first start back in the big leagues. While he didn’t pitch particularly well, in my opinion, he got the job done.

Career vs. HOU: 1 GS, 5.0 IP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA


Justin Verlander is just ridiculous. He threw six innings in one start in 2020 and then went under the knife, having Tommy John Surgery at 37 years old. He missed all of last year, though he did try to come back for the Astros playoff run. But he’s come back this year and he’s a little different with fewer strikeouts, but also might even be a little better somehow. He’s giving up even fewer hits and fewer home runs as well. His fastball velocity is there, but his whiff rate is way down. Still, he’s dominating with the pitch, allowing a .194 average and .333 SLG. His slider and curve have been outstanding as well and he throws the very occasional changeup. I’d love to say there’s a weakness he’s shown in his splits, but the reality is that he hasn’t basically at all. The only thing is that he isn’t getting past the seventh very often, but if that’s the only issue, yikes. He’s having a heck of a year.

Career vs. KC: 45 GS, 307.0 IP, 23-10, 3.20 ERA

Royals vs. Astros Prediction

It’s very tough to sweep a four-game series, so that’s why I’m going to say the Royals take one of the four, but that’s the only reason I’m predicting a win for them in Houston.

Poll

Just how big of a mismatch is this series? Can the Royals even win a game?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Yes, they’ll win all four. (No, this isn’t the DEA trying to make arrests, you can still pick this)
    (6 votes)
  • 2%
    They’ll take the series, but they can’t get the sweep.
    (5 votes)
  • 15%
    It’ll be a split, which is the equivalent of a Royals sweep if you grade on a curve.
    (26 votes)
  • 41%
    Yes, but barely. Just the one win for them.
    (71 votes)
  • 37%
    Hahahahahahaha, oh this was serious? Yeah, no, they won’t win a game.
    (65 votes)
173 votes total Vote Now