Game 1 Preview: Houston Astros @ Kansas City Royals
Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium on July 26, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.
(July 25, 2015 – Mandatory Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America)
Whatever you think of the Wild Card Game, those debates can be laid to rest for at least another year. By any definition, the Astros are now officially in the playoffs, starting Thursday night in Kansas City to kick off the American League Division Series.
The Royals are a different style of opponent from the vanquished Yankees (or from the Blue Jays and Rangers, for that matter). They rely less on taking pitches and working counts, and more on a high-contact approach that emphasizes putting the ball in play. Essentially, they take the same approach the Astros do, only their hacks make contact a lot more often, and launch the ball over the fence a lot less. With two aggressive offenses, there will not be four-hour games in this ALDS matchup (as an aside, if you’re a baseball fan who hates and constantly bemoans long games, perhaps you’re not as much of a baseball fan as you think).
Earlier this morning, the final 25-man rosters were announced. To make room for the trio of non-Keuchel rotation members of their playoff rotation, the Astros dropped Matt Duffy, Chad Qualls and Jonathan Villar from the roster. In my judgment, these were the correct moves, with the possible exception of Villar. Jed Lowrie, a useful switch-hitter at full strength, is now relegated to a right-handed pinch-hitter – the Royals have no projected left-handed starters — and defensive replacement. Villar is arguably a better fit for that role, and can pinch-run.
Game 1 pits young Royals fireballer Yordano Ventura (3.60 xFIP) against steady workhorse Collin McHugh (3.91 xFIP). As pitching matchups go, this one is fairly even, with Ventura having more single-game upside but also more volatility. Let’s break this down for when each team is at bat: