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Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals (-137, 7.5)
The Kansas City Royals begin defense of their American League pennant while the visiting Houston Astros attempt to be this year’s surprise postseason force when the AL Division Series opens on Thursday. Kansas City took the wild-card route to the World Series a year ago and now Houston is looking to duplicate the feat after dispatching the New York Yankees in Tuesday’s wild-card contest.
The Astros lost an average of 104 games over a four-year span before turning things around this season behind a young group. “I think this team is prepared, I think they’re ready,” said closer Luke Gregerson, one of the team’s veterans. “I know they’re young, but they showed this ain’t no fluke. This team can play some baseball. We can pitch, we can hit and we’ve got the opportunity to win.” The Royals were expected back in the postseason mix and didn’t disappoint and how look to get back to the World Series. “We’ve been looking forward to this since the end of spring training,” manager Ned Yost said. “That’s the big change from last year. Last year, we hoped we would be in position to make the playoffs. This year, we knew we were going.”
TV: 7:37 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
LINE HISTORY: The Royals open as -137 home favorites and the total opened at 7.5.
PITCHING MATCHUP: Astros RH Collin McHugh (19-7, 3.89 ERA) vs. Royals RH Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08)
McHugh finished the season strong by winning his last six decisions and has proven to be a quality complement to ace Dallas Keuchel. He won his lone career start against the Royals, firing seven innings of five-hit shutout ball during the 2014 season and was craving the opportunity to start the opener. “To be able to have that chance on Thursday is a real blessing,” McHugh told reporters. “It’s going to take some preparation the next couple of days, but I like our chances.”
Ventura has won 27 games over the past two seasons and was tabbed to pitch the opener over struggling Johnny Cueto. “Ventura has been excellent in his last six, seven starts,” Yost told reporters. “And we wanted to keep everybody on five days’ rest. We thought that would work out best for us.” Ventura is 2-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three career starts against Houston and posted a victory on July 26 when he allowed one run and six hits over seven innings.
* Astros are 6-1 in McHughs last seven starts.
* Royals are 6-1 in Ventura’s last seven home starts.
* Over is 4-0-1 in McHugh’s last five road starts versus a team with a winning record.
* Under is 13-2-1 in Ventura’s last 16 starts versus the American League West.