Ultimate ALDS Game 1 Preview: Houston Astros @ Kansas City Royals

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When the Astros Hit

Aug 25, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Houston Astros first baseman Luis Valbuena (18) hits a two run double in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Projected Lineup (2015 wOBA vs. R)

2B Jose Altuve (.319)

RF George Springer (.336)

SS Carlos Correa (.359)

LF Colby Rasmus (.329)

CF Carlos Gomez (.324)

DH Evan Gattis (.330)

3B Luis Valbuena (.348)

1B Chris Carter (.318)

C Jason Castro (.307)

Opposing Pitcher (2015 xFIP vs. R/L)

RHP Yordano Ventura (3.47/3.74)

Four Key Relievers (xFIP vs. R/L)

RHP Kelvin Herrera (3.67/3.95)

RHP Ryan Madson (3.38/3.26)

LHP Franklin Morales (4.37/3.47)

RHP Wade Davis (3.18/2.99)

Ventura is an extremely hard thrower. According to the PITCHf/x data, his four-seam fastball averages 96 MPH and tops out at 101.9, while his two-seamer averages 96.3 and tops out at 100.7. These are not his strikeout pitches, as they mostly serve to set up an unhittable curve: opponents are batting just .153 against his hook this year, and Ventura has gotten 89 of his strikeouts on the pitch. This is bad news for Rasmus, Gattis, and Valbuena, who are among the weakest hitters in baseball against curveballs.

Ventura is a really tough matchup for the Astros. They also struggle more than most teams with velocity. According to PITCHF/x, they ranked 27th in all of MLB in run-producing swings against pitches of 93 MPH or greater, as I detailed last month.

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He dominated them over seven innings on July 26 in Kansas City (against a lineup that did not include George Springer or Carlos Gomez), beating Dallas Keuchel in the process. If Ventura ever puts his stuff together, he can pitch like a true ace. It will be interesting to see if the Astros try to wear him down to get him out of the game or try to jump on hittable pitches early in the count.
Behind Ventura is a bullpen not quite up to the traditionally high standards of the Royals. Long-time closer Greg Holland tried to pitch through a torn UCL this year, but lost a lot of velocity and was eventually forced to undergo surgery. This injury elevated the superior Davis to closer, but that promotion weakened the setup crew that Davis had anchored during their 2014 run to the World Series. The Astros best approach would be to force Ventura out of the game by the end of the sixth inning, and then do some damage against the pre-Davis relievers in the mid-late innings.

Player to Watch: Carter. In a lineup of sluggers who – on paper – play right into Ventura’s hands, Carter’s patience and ability to adjust to off-speed pitches may play in his favor. He’s hot right now, and I would not be surprised to see him do damage against Ventura in a big spot.

Next: When the Royals Hit