ALDS 2015: Astros-Royals schedule, players to watch, stats

Two seasons ago, who would have thought the Astros and Royals would be squaring off in the ALDS? Once the laughingstock of profe sional baseball, these organizations have turned things around, each with a young,speed-minded offense, a solid rotation and a shutdown bullpen.The Astros’ pitching staff was on center stage Tuesday as Dallas Keuchel delivered six innings of shutout ball on three days’ rest, scattering three hitswhile striking out seven as the Astros shut out the Yankees , 3-0.MORE: Get to know the Royals | Astros to trolls: About that Taylor Swift tweet… | World Series favorite depends on the book you choose Thesurprise of last year’s postseason, the Royals came within 90 feet offorcing extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series, but their road to the Fall Cla sic this year took a hit withcloser Greg Holland suffering a season-ending elbow injury.Could the Astros be this postseason’s Cinderella? They certainly have the makings for it. With a Cy Young Award candidate in Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA)and19-game winner CollinMcHugh (19-7, 3.89 ERA)leading the rotation paired withMLB hit and stolen-base leader Jose Altuve batting atop of a lineup that hit the second-most homers this season, the Astros enter the playoffs eyeing their first-ever championship.Series schedule (all times Eastern) Game 1: at Kansas City, Thursday, Todd Helton Jersey 7:37 p.m., Fox Sports 1Game 2: at Kansas City, Friday, 3:45 p.m.,Fox Sports 1Game 3: at Houston, Sunday, 4:10 p.m., MLB NetworkGame 4 (if nece sary): atHouston, Monday, TBAGame 5 (if nece sary): atKansas City, Oct. 14, TBAExpected starters: Astros McHugh,Scott Kazmir (2-6, 4.17ERA with Houston),Keucheland Mike Fiers (2-1,3.32 ERAwith Houston).Royals Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08ERA), Johnny Cueto (4-7, 4.76 ERA with KC), Edinson Volquez (13-9, 3.55 ERA)andKris Medlen (6-2,4.01 ERA).Impact players: Astros George Springerand Colby Rasmus. The perfect mesh of power and speed, Springer enters the ALDS with multi-hit games in six of his past seven. With 16 homers and 16 stolen bases in a regular season cut short by injury, Springer has been a catalyst for Houston, which is58-45 with him in the lineup and29-31 without.Rasmusis batting .391 with five homers and nine RBIs over his past eight games including a solo homer in the wild-card game off Yankees starterMasahiro Tanaka.Royals Lorenzo Cain andSalvador Perez.A sleeper candidate for the AL MVP, Cain batted.307/ .361/.477 with 16 homers, 72 RBIs, 101 runs scored and 28 stolen bases. Cain finished the regular season hitting .335 against left-handers and .337 atKauffman Stadium.If the AL leaders in stolen bases continue to run, Perez will be the one to stop them. The Gold Glove catcher hasthrown out 70 would-bebase stealers since the start of 2013, which ranks second in the majors in that span behind Ru sell Martin (82).Numbers to know: The Astros finished the regular season rankedsixth in the majors in runs scored with 4.50 per game, while the Royals were seventh with an average of 4.47.With the luxury of the home-run ball comes a weakne s to the Astros lineup strikeouts. They ledthe AL in team strikeouts with a whopping 1,392.The club had nine strikeouts against the Yankees on Tuesday. A trade-deadline acquisition from the Reds,Cueto has given up 10 home runs in 81 1/3innings as an American League pitcher. He has seen his ERA balloon 2.14 points and hisstrikeouts per nine innings dwindle to 6.2. It’s a small sample size, but the Royals have gotten to Keuchel in his career. As a team,the Royals arebatting .302/.339/.425 in 112 plate appearances againstKeuchel with the last matchup occurring onJuly26 whenKeuchel gave up five runs on 10 hits in a 5-1 lo s. The Astros are 34-48 on the road this season and has given up on average five runs per game away from Minute Maid Parksince Sept. 1.Regular season record against: The Astroswere4-2 against the Royals this season, outscoring Kansas City, 22-13.

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