What the Royals did in Minneapolis is certainly not how you want to start a season. The good news is that there’s still plenty of baseball left to play, so hopefully that’s out of their system. Of course, the task gets tougher as they go from facing the worst team in baseball last season to facing a team many expect to contend for a title this year in the Houston Astros. They made some big moves offensively, bringing in Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to team with their young offensive core that is expected to only improve. If Dallas Keuchel can rebound from a poor 2016, this Astros team could very well be the best team in the American League.
Astros Vitals (2016 Season)
|Finish||3rd, AL West|
|Team SP DRA||4.45|
|Team RP DRA||3.67|
|WARP Leader||Jose Altuve, 6.1|
Astros vs. Royals
Astros Projected Lineup (2016 Stats)
The Matchups (2016 Stats)
Fiers doesn’t throw hard, but he gets swings and misses with a high fastball that gets some quality spin on it. Of course, in Kansas City, we all know how quickly that can go bad *cough* Chris Young *cough*. Fiers mixes a fastball that sits around 90 mph with a changeup, slider, curve and cutter. When he’s good, he’s really good. When he’s bad, he’s really bad. Without possessing great stuff, he’s at a big time disadvantage later in games after hitters have seen him, and the numbers do show that. He allows a .287/.333/.520 line the second time through the order and a .267/.337/.487 line the third time. That’s an OPS increase of about 100 points from the first time through. The home runs spike big time after hitters have seen him once too. It may not be a huge issue for him in this one as first starts are often a bit shorter, but it’s at least worth noting.
I personally would have preferred keeping Vargas out of this park as I think the Astros right-handed bats will feast on him, but if his changeup is as good as it looked in Arizona, it won’t matter. Still, I fear for the worst in this one and wonder if we don’t see an extended outing from, well, someone if Vargas gets knocked around early.
Weather: 78°, mostly sunny/clear, 0% precipitation
I mentioned a down season for Keuchel last year, but boy did he look good in his first start with seven scoreless innings. He works with that heavy, heavy sinker that he throws around 89-91 mph about half the time. Add a devastating slider when he’s on, along with a solid cutter and it’s easy to see how he won the Cy Young in 2015. Last year, the cutter was a problem, with a .315 average and .630 slugging percentage against it. With Keuchel, the strategy is a little different than Fiers. If you’re going to get him, you’re going to get him early. He allowed 17 runs in the first last year before settling down. He also allowed 24 in the fifth inning, so if we’re going to completely go by splits, maybe that’s a weird window, but that seems more like a fluke than a first inning barrage. Lorenzo Cain has hit a couple homers off him, which makes sense. I feel like he pitches right into Cain’s swing path.
Like Keuchel, Duffy had a good first start of the year on Monday. I don’t love lefties in general against this lineup and Duffy has had some home run issues with his newfound control, but I like this matchup a lot better than Vargas. Now that I’ve said that, Vargas will probably go seven scoreless and Duffy will get lit up, but what can you do? The Astros as a team were pretty solid against changeups, so he’s going to need more than that against this team to pitch well, so hopefully his slider is on because that’s the pitch these guys seem to struggle with more than anything.
Weather: 77°, mostly sunny/clear, 0% precipitation
McCullers is such an interesting pitcher because he is so reliant on a curve in an era where sliders seem to be king. Last season, he threw it nearly half the time and his fastball just under 42 percent of the time. The fastball is good. The curve is good. In his first start, he was very good, but relied heavily on curves. The good news for him is that his fastball velocity was back up a tick. This is a big year for McCullers after his fastball got pounded last season with a .434 average against it and .606 slugging percentage. That seems to be right up the Royals alley offensively if he can’t locate it. If things are similar this year to last year, the story on McCullers was get him early or you won’t get him at all. He allowed 29 runs last season in an injury shortened season and 23 of them were in the first two plate appearances against him and 22 in the first three innings.
Karns already has a pretty big blemish on his 2017 season with a terrible relief performance against the Twins on Wednesday. On the bright side, things can likely only go up from there, though Buddy Bell might argue with me on that. If Karns is the guy we all saw in spring training with location and movement, he’ll be fine against any lineup in any park. If he’s struggling with command again, though, this one could get out of hand quickly.
Weather: 80°, mostly sunny, 0% precipitation
I think the Astros are one of the better teams in the American League. I think the Royals are much better than they showed in Minneapolis but are a step below Houston. I’m not a huge fan of most of the Royals staff in that ballpark, so I’m not sure there’s necessarily a better setup for them other than not having Vargas pitch. My guess is the Royals eek out one win before they finally get to come home and play in front of the Kansas City faithful for the first time since last season.