A capsule look at the Astros-Royals playoff series
Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Thursday, at Kansas City (7:37 p.m.); Game 2, Friday, at Kansas City (3:45 p.m.); Game 3, Sunday, at Houston (4:10 p.m.); x-Game 4, Monday, Oct. 12, at Houston (TBD); x-Game 5, Wednesday, Oct. 14, at Kansas City (TBD). (All games on FS1 or MLBN).
Season Series: Astros won 4-2.
Astros: 2B Jose Altuve (.313, 15 HRs, 66 RBIs, 40 2Bs, 38 SBs, 200 hits), RF George Springer (.276, 16, 41, 16 SBs), SS Carlos Correa (.279, 22, 68, 22 2Bs), LF Colby Rasmus (.238, 25, 61, 23 2Bs), DH Evan Gattis (.246, 27, 88, 11 3Bs), CF Carlos Gomez (.255, 12, 56, 29 2Bs, 17 SBs with Brewers and Astros), 3B Luis Valbuena (.224, 25, 56) or Jed Lowrie (.222, 9, 30), 1B Chris Carter (.199, 24, 64), C Jason Castro (.211, 11, 31).
Royals: SS Alcides Escobar (.257, 4 HRs, 32 RBIs), 2B Ben Zobrist (.276, 13, 56 with A's and Royals), CF Lorenzo Cain (.307, 16, 72), 1B Eric Hosmer (.297, 18, 93), DH Kendrys Morales (.290, 22, 106), 3B Mike Moustakas (.284, 22, 82), C Salvador Perez (.260, 21, 70), LF Alex Gordon (.271, 13, 48), RF Alex Rios (.255, 4, 32) or Jonny Gomes (.313, 7, 26 with Braves and Royals).
Astros: RH Collin McHugh (19-7, 3.89 ERA), RH Lance McCullers (6-7, 3.22), LH Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA, 216 Ks), LH Scott Kazmir (7-11, 3.10 with Athletics and Astros) or RH Mike Fiers (7-10, 3.69, no-hitter).
Astros: RH Luke Gregerson (7-3, 3.10, 31/36 saves), RH Chad Qualls (3-4, 4.04, 4 saves), LH Tony Sipp (3-4, 1.99, 62 Ks in 54 1-3 innings), RH Will Harris (5-5, 1.90, 2 saves), LH Oliver Perez (2-4, 4.28 with Arizona and Houston) RH Vince Velasquez (1-1, 4.37), RH Josh Fields (4-1, 3.55).
Royals: RH Wade Davis (8-1, 0.94, 17 saves), RH Kelvin Herrera (4-3, 2.71), RH Ryan Madson (1-2, 2.13), LH Franklin Morales (4-2, 3.18), LH Danny Duffy (7-8, 4.08), RH Jeremy Guthrie (8-8, 5.95), RH Luke Hochevar (1-1, 3.73).
These teams have never met in the postseason. ... The Royals were swept in Houston early in the year before winning two of three in the rematch at Kansas City, highlighted by Ventura outpitching Keuchel in a 5-2 victory July 26. That was the final game between the teams this season. ... The only Royals starters expected to get the ball against Houston who pitched in the six previous games this season are Ventura and Volquez. ... Keuchel went 1-1 against the Royals this year. McCullers and Kazmir also picked up wins against Kansas City.
Astros: Houston (86-76) made the playoffs for the first time since reaching the World Series in 2005, getting in as the second AL wild card on the last day of the season. ... Under first-year manager A.J. Hinch, the Astros made a 16-win improvement from last year's 70-92 record that came after three straight 100-loss seasons. ... Houston led the AL West for most of the year before late-season struggles allowed the Rangers to take the division title. ... Keuchel was the AL's only 20-game winner and the first Houston pitcher to reach the mark since Roy Oswalt in 2005. Keuchel then tossed three-hit ball for six innings at Yankee Stadium on three days' rest to lead the Astros to a 3-0 win in the wild-card game. ... Houston's pitching staff posted an AL-best 3.57 ERA. ... The Astros struggled on the road, going 33-48. ... Correa, the top pick in the 2012 draft, set a franchise record for home runs by a rookie despite not being called up until June 8. His 22 homers were the most by an AL rookie and led all AL shortstops. ... Carter, who lost his starting job late in the season, returned to the lineup in mid-September and got hot, batting .326 with an .837 slugging percentage and 6 homers with 12 RBIs in his last 15 games. He walked 3 times in the wild-card win. ... Though the Astros hadn't been to the postseason in 10 years, they do have several players with October experience. Lowrie leads the group, having played in 18 postseason games before this year. Qualls is second on the squad with 17 appearances, including 15 games in Houston's run to the 2005 World Series. ... There are four players on Houston's roster who were with the team for two of the three 100-loss seasons. Altuve, Castro, Keuchel and INF Marwin Gonzalez were all with the Astros in 2012 and 2013. ... Altuve didn't commit an error in the last 51 regular-season games and led all second basemen with a .993 fielding percentage. ... Gomez homered in the wild-card game despite dealing with a strained intercostal muscle.
Royals: Defending AL champions went 11-17 in September before holding off the Blue Jays for home-field advantage throughout the postseason. ... Won the AL Central by 12 games over Minnesota for first division title since taking AL West in 1985 . ... Enter playoffs without closer Greg Holland, who recently had Tommy John surgery. ... The Royals' bullpen remains among the best in baseball, with Davis a dominant closer in his own right. ... Kansas City (95-67) had three players hit 20 or more homers after having none accomplish the feat last season. ... Cain was fourth in the AL in wins-above replacement (WAR) behind the Angels' Mike Trout, Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson and the Rays' Kevin Kiermaier. ... Kansas City had third-best team batting average (.269) in baseball and 10th-best ERA (3.73). ... The Royals had seven All-Stars this season, not counting manager Ned Yost and the entire coaching staff.
- Go Long. Houston ranked second in the majors with 230 homers and hit 2 in the wild-card win at Yankee Stadium. The Astros tied a major league record with 11 players who had at least 10 homers. Lowrie and Jake Marisnick added nine apiece.
- Starting Situation. The Royals acquired Cueto from Cincinnati before the trade deadline to be their playoff ace, but he struggled mightily in September. So the Game 1 nod goes to Ventura, whose 100 mph fastball was the revelation of last year's postseason.
- Aggressive Baserunning. The Astros topped the AL with 121 stolen bases, and Altuve led the league. Marisnick, who often comes in as a pinch runner when not in the starting lineup, was second on the team with 24. But sometimes their approach on the basepaths doesn't pay off. Altuve was caught stealing 13 times, most in the AL, and Marisnick was tied for third with nine.
- October Experience. The Royals ended a 29-year playoff drought last season, advancing all the way to the World Series. Most key pieces are back from that team, and Kansas City added more postseason pedigree by trading for Zobrist and Gomes, who is seemingly helping a different team in October every year.