By: Joe Botana
Game two of this series finds the upstart Astros looking to build on their momentum and the advantage they seized in their 5-2 game one victory. It also finds the Royals urgently having to avoid falling behind two games to none in the best three of five series, with AL Wild Card winner Dallas Keuchel (20-8) waiting in the wings at Minute Maid Park.
The biggest story line in this game is undoubtedly the two starting pitchers. Scott Kazmir (2-6) will pitch for Houston and will oppose Johnny Cueto (4-7) for the Royals. Both of these recent aces were trade deadline acquisitions who would have been expected to be game one starters. Unfortunately for both teams, their post trade stats have been most disappointing. Cueto’s September ERA ranks 106th among the 123 starting pitchers who threw at least 25 innings during that time frame. Kazmir’s ERA of 6.52 during that period places him even lower, at 118th.
However, the Astros will be optimistic about Kazmir’s success against the Royals this year. In three appearances (two with Oakland and one with Houston) he is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA, having surrendered only 5 ER in twenty innings pitched. In his final appearance against KC on July 24th, Kazmir threw seven innings of shutout ball to earn the win at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals manager Ned Yost was quoted as saying that “a game one loss is not a death sentence” after Thursday’s game. While that may well be true, a game two loss certainly might be. KC desperately needs to wake up its bats. Normally a team that manufactures runs, the totality of the Royals offense on Thursday came via two Kendry Morales solo home runs. They will also be counting on Cueto to awaken from his post-trade funk and pitch like the ace he was hired to be.
Regardless of what happens on Friday, the series continues this weekend in Houston, a venue better suited for the Astros free swinging style. KC is 0-3 at Minute Maid Park during 2015, and Astros ace Dallas Kuechel is slated to pitch game three. That is what makes what happens in game two very important. Especially for the Royals.