American League Division Series to showcase clubs with similar history
By Richard Justice
If the Kansas City Royals look at the Houston Astros a certain way, they may see something familiar. Themselves.
That's the part that should worry the Royals as they prepare to play the Astros in the American League Division Series beginning tonight (6:30 CT on FOX Sports 1) in Kansas City after Houston advanced with a 3-0 victory in the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on Tuesday night in New York.
At this time last season, the Royals were the fresh new faces introducing themselves to the nation one sliding catch, one clutch hit a time.
Kansas City won with the basics in 2014. The Royals were a great defensive team with a great bullpen and enough other ingredients to play all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, a bitter loss to the Giants.
The Royals arrive at these playoffs battle-tested. Since turning a corner in late July of last season, they're 147-94. That's playoff and regular-season victories combined, and it's seven more wins than the Cardinals, the closest team.
The Astros are new to everything this season. New to winning. New to the postseason. The Royals were like that a year ago.
So although the Royals will be favored to win, they have enough similar history to take the upstart Astros very seriously.
This latest magical moment for the Astros is another tribute to their energy and enthusiasm and confidence. This is who they are.
Did you see their celebration after they beat the Yankees? That's what this entire season has been like. No team has played harder than Houston. No team has laughed more.
The Astros held another wild party on Tuesday night, and amid the laughter and the bear hugs, they sent a consistent message: This is no fluke.
This whole thing is new to Springer and Correa. Every single day is fun. They're also good, both of them, really good.
Springer ran down a tough ball in right field and hit a double on Tuesday. Correa made another dazzling play at shortstop.
These guys think they can write whatever ending to this thing they want to write because, hey, why not?
Even when a playoff berth seemed to be slipping away in late September, Houston showed up chirping and happy.
Manager A.J. Hinch began setting this tone on the very first day of Spring Training. Never mind last season or the season before or whatever. He wasn't around then. Neither were most of them. Hinch saw a team good enough to win.
The Astros believed they would win on Tuesday because they believe in their ace, Dallas Keuchel.
Short rest? Big deal. Keuchel has met every other challenge this season, and Houston was certain he'd meet this one, too. If the Astros were going to play their first postseason game since the 2005 World Series, they wanted their best guy out there.
The Astros were not going to be overwhelmed by the moment. That's the thing a lot of people got wrong. Never mind the bright lights or the big stage or the stakes. Young teams such as this one thrive on that kind of stuff.
Houston was energized by the opportunity following a season in which confidence was built day by day. Hinch masterfully led the Astros, nursing their confidence, moving pieces here and there.
The Royals were constructed like the Astros -- that is, through the farm system and with reasonable free-agent signings. Their sprint to the postseason fed their confidence.
And they saw the playoffs as a chance to show the world how good they are. At the moment, the Astros are doing exactly the same thing.
Here's to a great Astros-Royals ALDS.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.