Judging the Royals

A preview of the Kansas City Royals-Houston Astros series

The Astros’ Joe Sclafani (left) slid toward home plate as Royals catcher Erik Kratz reached for the catch and umpire Clint Fagan watched in the fifth inning on April 4, 2015, in Houston. Scalfani scored from second base on a Jake Marisnick single. The Royals won 3-1.
The Astros’ Joe Sclafani (left) slid toward home plate as Royals catcher Erik Kratz reached for the catch and umpire Clint Fagan watched in the fifth inning on April 4, 2015, in Houston. Scalfani scored from second base on a Jake Marisnick single. The Royals won 3-1. AP

I’m not sure anyone predicted that by the time this series rolled around it would feature the two best teams in the American League — I know I didn’t — but that’s what we’ve got.

Monday night, Joe Blanton, who’s pitched in the big leagues for 11 years, goes up against rookie Lance McCullers, who has yet to pitch 11 big-league games. You’d think that would favor the Royals, but if you’ve been paying attention, you know the Royals sometimes struggle against pitchers they haven’t seen before.

Houston’s ballpark

This thing’s still called Minute Maid, right?

Assuming the dimensions I found on the internet are correct, the thing that jumps out at you is the incredibly deep center field — 436 feet — and the very short corners. (OK, technically that’s three things, but you get my point.)

According to what I saw, the boxes in left field are 315 feet away from home plate. That means pitchers will need to be careful about throwing off-speed stuff to righties and fastballs away to lefties — and right field isn’t much deeper: 326 feet. The Astros lead all of baseball in home runs, and I’m guessing not too many of them were hit 437 feet to center. So the trick will be to keep the ball in the middle of the field and let Jarrod Dyson or Lorenzo Cain run the ball down.

And that might be a problem: Cain is a little gimpy right now, and I’m not too sure about Dyson. In the Oakland series Jarrod pretty much jogged down to first base on a double-play ball and the TV guys thought maybe he was hurting; but Dyson was in there Sunday, playing center and hitting two singles.

Whatever the case, the Royals need a healthy, hustling center fielder to cover all that ground in Minute Maid.

Outfield oddities

Whoever designed this thing thought it was funny to put about a zillion angles in left and left-center, which means the ball can hit something weird and carom off in an unexpected direction, and that can mean extra bases at a crucial time.

They’ve still got that hill in center field, and if you’ve never been running full-speed and then hit an incline, let me tell you what happens: most of the time you fall flat on your face. So any outfielder who declines to run up that thing might be making the right choice.

They used to have flagpoles on that hill so a center fielder had something to fracture his skull on when he tripped, but they’ve been removed — maybe they’ve been replaced by land mines.

It’s all about entertainment, right?

A point of interest

My friend Tim Bogar played for the Astros and told me that when it was raining and the roof was closed, it could still leak water along the seam. I’ve got no idea if they’ve fixed that, but if someone misses a pop fly while standing under that seam during a rainstorm, you might know why.

So why don’t the Royals hitters change their approach?

I’ll go with easier said than done.

Houston’s park rewards fly balls hit down the line; Kansas City’s park rewards line drives hit between the gaps. That doesn’t mean that some KC hitters won’t look for a pitch to pull in certain situations — heck, they do that when they’re not hitting in a small park — but changing your swing every time you go to a new park ain’t that easy.

The Kansas City Royals are second in team batting average and 27th in home runs; the Houston Astros are 26th in team batting average and first in home runs. You might think the Royals are the speed team and the Astros are the sluggers, but Houston steals more bases than KC.

Houston is a very good team, playing at home in a park that favors their style of play, and even though the Royals will say they want to win every game they play (I mean who’s going to come out and say it’s OK if we lose this one?) the goal in a series like this is to at least win one game; anything more is icing on the cake.

You build your record against the Oakland A’s, you try to hold your own against the Houston Astros.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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