ROYALS (12-23) AT ASTROS (20-14)
8:10 p.m. ET; ATTSN-SW FSKC, MLB.TV
It wasn’t an environment conducive for right-hander Justin Verlander to dominate on par with his expectations, but Mexico was ideal for the Houston Astros to produce runs on par with their hitting prowess.
The Astros, set to host the Kansas City Royals on Monday in the opener of a three-game series, capped a two-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday with another double-digit scoring performance and three home runs to add to the five they slugged Saturday in a 14-2 victory.
Houston scored 24 runs and socked eight homers during its two-game visit to Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey for the Mexico Series, finally bridging the gap between its robust hitting totals and its relatively mediocre run production.
Houston entered Sunday leading the majors in batting (.271) while ranking second in slugging (.478) and third in on-base percentage (.344). However, the Astros were just 15th in runs (161), even after scoring 14 Saturday.
With Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley going deep Sunday, the Astros bumped their season total to 57 homers, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for third in the majors. Their relative struggles scoring, particularly compared to their hitting totals, has undermined a solid but unspectacular start to the season.
Houston is in first place in the American League West, but 34 games into the schedule, it hasn’t maximized its opportunities.
As for Verlander, he surrendered three dingers while notching the win on Sunday. In the aftermath of being witness to a home run derby, Verlander lamented the elevation in Monterrey and how the environs combined with juiced baseballs to undermine his effort. Still, his teammates played their role.
“That’s the environment that we’re in, and our boys swung the bats just as well,” Verlander said.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole (2-4, 3.95 ERA) gets the starting nod for the Astros Monday. He twirled seven shutout innings in his previous outing, limiting the Minnesota Twins to one hit and three walks with 11 strikeouts in an 11-0 victory.
Cole has recorded four double-digit strikeout games this season and has amassed 40 strikeouts over his last four starts. He is 1-1 with a 2.19 ERA over two career starts against the Royals, including an 11-3 victory on June 24, 2018, when he surrendered one run on two hits and three walks with eight strikeouts over five innings.
Right-hander Jakob Junis (3-2, 5.12 ERA) will start the series opener for the Royals. He defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in his previous start May 1, allowing two runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings in a 3-2 victory.
Junis has faced the Astros twice in his career, going 0-1 with a 10.00 ERA including a 7-3 loss on June 15, 2018, when he allowed six runs on seven hits — including three homers — and a walk with three strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.
The Royals dropped the series finale against Detroit Sunday when right-hander Ian Kennedy surrendered a three-run home run to Brandon Dixon with two outs in the 10th inning of a 5-2 loss. Kansas City entered Sunday 26th in the majors in bullpen ERA (5.14), although the collective performance of the relievers had been on the upswing of late.
“The pen is really settling in nicely,” Royals manager Ned Yost said to MLB.com.
–Field Level Media