The Astros won their Wild Card Game and now face the reigning American League Champion Royals in the ALDS, where a perceived Houston pitching edge can lead to an upset.
Just as in recent years, there is another dangerous wild card team in the playoffs this season in the American League as those Houston Astros look like very live underdogs with their fine pitching taking on the American League Central Champion Kansas City Royals, who themselves went to the World Series last year as a wild card, in the best three-of-five ALDS, with Game 1 from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO set for Thursday night at 7:35 ET on FOX Sports 1.
The posted series price at 5 Dimes has Houston as a modest underdog for this ALDS at current odds of +115.
All Wild Card World Series Last Season
The Astros beat the Yankees 3-0 in the AL Wild Card Playoff on Tuesday behind a typically great performance from ace and Cy Young Award Favorite Dallas Keuchel, so they now advance to face the top-seeded Royals. Despite the disparity in the records of these teams, that is no reason whatsoever to count Houston out in this series.
In fact, just think back to last season where we were treated to an all wild card World Series after neither the San Francisco Giants nor the Royals won 90 regular season games!
The Royals used that wild card appearance as a springboard to their first division title in 30 years this season, and they earned the top seed and this matchup with the Wild Card Playoff winner by being the winning MLB picks 95 times this year, beating the Toronto Blue Jays by two games for that honor. Ironically though, that may have netted Kansas City a tougher matchup here than the Blue Jays have in their ALDS vs. the pitching-poor Texas Rangers.
Solid Astros Pitching…
Obviously Keuchel heads the Houston staff and he will not be available for this ALDS until Game 3, but the Astros have another fine starter for Game 1 in Collin McHugh, who proved that his breakthrough season in 2014 was not a fluke by actually maybe topping it this year going 19-7 with a 3.89 ERA and 171 strikeouts vs. 53 walks. Granted that ERA is actually way up from last year, but it stands at a much better 3.11 since the All-Star break.
Southpaw Scott Kazmir has been named the Game 2 starter. Frankly we have never been that high on the overrated Kazmir, but he did pitch well in three starts vs. the Royals this season allowing only five runs on 16 hits plus three walks in 21.1 innings (2.11 ERA, 0.89 WHIP).
If a Game 4 is necessary, the Astros would have to choose between Mike Fiers and Lance McCullers, and we feel either of them would have a decided edge over whoever Kansas City starts We love the potential of the 22-year-old rookie phenom McCullers, who had a deceptive 6-7 record given his 3.22 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 125.2 innings with a fastball that averaged 94.2 MPH and topped out at 98.2 MPH.
Fiers would also be a very solid choice after posting a 3.32 ERA and 1.06 WHIP with 59 strikeouts in 62.1 innings in nine starts for the Astros including a no-hitter after being acquired from Milwaukee. Houston also ranked fourth in the American League with a 3.27 bullpen ERA and the offense ranked sixth in the Major Leagues in runs scored with 4.50 per game despite a mediocre .250 batting average, thanks to ranking second to Toronto in home runs with 230.
…Royals Not as Good as 2014
Meanwhile starting pitching was an issue for the Royals this year and even the bullpen was not quite as great as it was last year. Kansas City thought it acquired an ace in Johnny Cueto at the trading deadline, but Cueto did not adjust well to the American League after pitching in Cincinnati for so long as he was rocked going 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA in a Royals uniform.
Thus the Royals have opted to hold out Cueto until Game 2 and go with Yordano Ventura in Game 1. Ventura went 13-8, but that was while posting a 4.08 ERA and he has become infamous for his immaturity while oftentimes throwing tantrums on the field. The Game 3 starter will probably be Edinson Volquez, who finished 13-9 with a 3.55 ERA but was not really that good when looking at his peripherals, which show a high walk rate and a 4.26 xFIP.
And if the Royals use a fourth starter, they would be forced to choose from the likes of Kris Medlen or Chris Young, either of whom would be at a big disadvantage vs. a much better Astros’ starter in Houston.
We feel that the Royals were extremely lucky to go 95-67 this season given the state of the starting rotation, but that is one weakness that cannot get masked in a short playoff series, particularly against a very good rotation like Houston possesses.
Thus, while this series price may look small at first glance for a one-seed facing a wild card team, the price can be easily explained by the pitching on each side and we like the underdog wild cards from Houston to prevail over the defending American League Champions from Kansas City and advance to the ALCS.
Astros in 4
MLB Pick: Astros +115 (series)