The Astros lost three of four to the Royals in KC and now they’re looking to get back at them in Houston.
The Houston Astros rolled into Kansas City exactly a week ago and probably had their eyes on winning three or four games but instead it took until the 10th inning of the fourth game for them to finally pick up their only win of the series. After that game, they demolished the Mariners in the first two games of their three-game set before losing the finale in extra innings. While they haven’t been playing that well lately, they’re hanging on in the American League West because the A’s are playing even worse and with 38 games to play for them (and 37 for the Astros), every game is extremely important for them. It’s only been three games since the two played, so not much really has changed, but their run differential has jumped big time after winning the first two games of the Seattle series by a combined 23 runs.
The cast of characters on the offense remains the same as it did last week, but they might get Kyle Tucker back for the series finale on Wednesday afternoon. It’s not like they’re really hurting too bad without him as Jake Meyers has been really good since coming up to the big leagues. It’s such a good lineup that I’m still kind of in shock about how well the Royals staff handled them in Kansas City. While Minute Maid Park is a bandbox, the Astros have actually been pretty much the same at home as on the road, but even so, I worry about how much they’ll hit in this series. On the pitching side, they’ve actually been better at home, which isn’t that uncommon, but given their park, it’s a bit of a surprise.
Probable Starting Pitchers
By results, Zack Greinke did a very good job of keeping the Royals down on Wednesday night. He gave up just five hits in six innings and only one run. He didn’t walk anybody, which is great. But he also didn’t strike anyone out. The last time he didn’t strike anyone out was July 7, 2012 when he threw four pitches and left with an injury. Before that, he got rocked for seven runs in two innings on June 28, 2011 and didn’t strike anyone out. And those are his only two other strikeout-less starts. While the Astros have been better pitching at home, Greinke has gotten hit pretty hard there with a .278/.323/.462 line allowed. If the Royals can make contact the way they did on Wednesday, they should be able to get to them.
I’ve mentioned this before, but Daniel Lynch has had to come by his great stretch of pitching upon his return to the big leagues with some very serious competition. And now for the first time in his young career, he’s facing the same team in back to back starts, so this is yet another test for him. In total, since coming back from the minors, he’s gone 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 30.2 innings with 24 strikeouts and eight walks. If he can do it again against the Astros, I think that might be the most impressive start in this fantastic run he’s on. He’ll likely need to cut down on the walks and he’ll need his fastball to be better. He had just a 6.3 percent whiff rate on it and he allowed all four of the hits he gave up on it. If he does that again in this park, he might find some trouble.
Luis Garcia flashed some really impressive stuff at times on Thursday afternoon against the Royals, but he also gave up a home run to Nicky Lopez. It was kind of an odd start. He had a ton of swings and misses, but ended up throwing the fewest pitches of any of his starts this season. He leaned more on his cutter last week because it was working really well with a 53.3 percent whiff rate and just one single allowed in six at bats. It was also the pitch he got all three of his strikeouts with, so the Royals will need to watch out for that. It’s a bit of an inconsistent pitch, though, which means he might try to lean on it early and see it doesn’t work. He’s amazingly been absolutely dominant at home while struggling on the road. But even with that, he still struggles some against lefties, so the Royals will likely want to stack the lineup as much as they can to see if they can get to him again.
The start Brady Singer made last Wednesday was one of the very best he’s made all season in many ways. But he also only had three swinging strikes. So it was kind of a mixed bag, but his slider was moving really well and he was limiting hard contact extremely well. The Astros lean very heavily to the right side of the batter’s box, which is good for him because he obviously isn’t feeling comfortable throwing his changeup in games as much as he needs to against a more balanced lineup. Still, if his slider isn’t good, I can see a vision of the Astros playing pepper with those train tracks, so hopefully he has his command going for him.
The Royals missed Lance McCullers Jr. last week. After missing the 2019 season, McCullers came back last season and was solid but not great. This year, he’s got his strikeout rate back up but his walk rate is up too. He’s still limiting hits and home runs extremely well, but he is giving up a few too many free runners. He leans heavily on his sinker and he get a ton of groundballs. His slider, curve and changeup have all been outstanding pitches getting whiff rates of at least 36.6 percent on each of the three. But he’s had some trouble with lefties this season and has been worse in Houston than on the road. He’s also been really good as soon as runners get on base, and that’s something that theoretically will even out over time, but I’m honestly not really sure which one is the norm or if there’s a middle ground. He’s been truly dominant against the Royals with a 2.73 ERA over 33 innings in five starts with 42 strikeouts and just eight walks. He also once made a throat slashing motion during the playoffs before his team gave up a four-run lead in the eighth in a game that would have won them the series and then watched from the dugout as they got dominated by Johnny Cueto before they went home for the winter.
Mike Minor is the only of the Royals starters without the intrigue of being a young pitcher who might be a part of the future. He was pretty good against the Astros last week for the first few innings, but ran into trouble as the lineup turned over, eventually giving up three runs in 5.1 innings. But he’s been really pretty much fine over his last six starts with a 4.33 ERA in roughly six innings per start. The upside of Minor is he’s not likely to walk batters, walking more than two in just five of his 25 starts and just once since Memorial Day. Overall, the Astros have handled lefties and righties about equally, but they have struggled some against lefty starters.
The Royals came into that last series against the Astros having gone 2-7 in their last nine games and then took care of business. Now they’re 6-1 in their last seven. I’m tempted to predict an Astros sweep here, but I think the Royals pick up one before heading to Seattle.