It wasn’t as exciting as last year’s Wild Card game, but it’s purpose was served.
The Royals will face off against the Houston Astros in the ALDS.
I was largely apathetic about the Royals opponent. Match-ups don’t concern me so much in a short series. I’m not going to use the cliche “crapshoot,” but you can generally toss a coin to make a prediction. (Except in the Twins-Yankees series of the early 2000’s. Those never felt like a fair fight.) Before the game on Tuesday, Clark pretty much summed up my feelings when he said he was leaning Yankees, simply because of the starting pitching. So now it’s Houston. Because their starting pitching is better.
The Royals are going to face Collin McHugh on Thursday. McHugh was the Astros second best pitcher on the year, ranking only behind Wild Card winner Dallas Keuchel. He threw a 7.6 SO/9 and a 2.3 BB/9 on his way to a 3.89 ERA and 3.58 FIP. He’s fastball, slider, curve, with a change thrown in occasionally for good measure. His strikeout rate is down and he’s lost about a mph off the velocity of his fastball from 2014, but he’s still been an effective starter. According to Baseball Info Solutions, opposing batters made “hard” contact 24.8 percent of the time they put the ball in play against McHugh. That was the fifth lowest hard contact rate in the AL.
McHugh’s curve is his put-away pitch. He will throw it to batters on both sides of the plate when he’s ahead in the count. When he’s has two strikes on the hitter, he will show curve about 40 percent of the time. Hitters know it’s coming and they still can’t touch it. They hit just .158 with a .263 slugging percentage when they finished their plate appearance with a curve.
Like most starters, McHugh will open with his fastball. If he falls behind, he will show slider. It hasn’t been a particularly effective pitch for him this summer, but it’s probably because he’s throwing it more in a hitter’s count. When the batter is ahead, McHugh goes slider nearly 50 percent of the time. That’s a fairly high percentage for a singular situation. Opponents are hitting .306 against the slider with a .443 slugging percentage. Of his three pitches he shows with frequency, the slider is the one most susceptible to being driven for a hit.
The Royals, as you may expect given their aggressive approach at the plate, do not hit sliders well. This looks to be a struggle.
However, with second half ace Yordano Ventura on the mound, it should be a low scoring affair. This is such a pivotal game for both teams looking to jump out to the early lead. Two quality pitchers, two slightly above average offenses… Can we come up with something even more random than a coin flip to describe this one?
Anyway, my intention when I sat down to write wasn’t to put up a Game One preview. Yet, I kind of just did. Can’t help it. The excitement of October kind of grabs you.
Mellinger has a good column up this morning about why the Royals went with Ventura over Johnny Cueto for the Game One start. I agree with the premise: Cueto was obtained to front the rotation in October, but Ventura’s ascendency combined with Cueto’s struggles, mixed in with the fact Cueto is a short-term Royal made this an easy decision for the team. (I should write Cliff’s Notes.) In a way the Cueto trade has been underwhelming. The Royals dealt with an ace, but he’s relegated to second starter in the postseason. However, his arrival coincides with Ventura’s turnaround. Is this the James Shields effect in motion again? Difficult to say, although I’m willing to listen to arguments. All I know is that every time the Fox Sports KC cameras pan the dugout, those two (along with Edinson Volquez) are together. It’s strange to look at a short-term trade in that light, but if Cueto’s arrival in KC helped provide the spark Ventura needed to get it in gear, that was worth the price in prospects.
If you’re looking to relieve any part of the 2015 season, or if you just blacked out over a long holiday weekend and don’t remember a stretch of the season, Mathew DeFranks has you covered at WHB.com. Can you pick a favorite game? Damn, that’s a tough ask.
Finally, Jeffrey Flanagan at Royals.com has a look at the likely Royals roster for the first round. The important thing to remember when trying to project the roster is to look to what they did last year. This isn’t a team that likes to reinvent the wheel. They found a winning formula last year, so they’re going to stick with what worked.
That means six outfielder. Flanagan gives his spots to Jarrod Dyson, Terrence Gore, and Paulo Orlando. I’m doubtful Orlando makes the roster, thinking the Royals will go with Jonny Gomes as a lefty masher off the bench. This is where it gets tricky, though. The Royals and Ned Yost simply do not pinch hit. The Royals used 36 pinch hitters this year, the lowest number in baseball and it wasn’t even close. The Red Sox used 64. No, when Yost likes to make a change, he goes for the pinch runner. That’s where Orlando has the edge. He has the speed that Yost can use. Anyway, my brain says Gomes, but my gut says Orlando. We will see. The rosters don’t need to be finalized until the day of the game.