2015 wasn’t supposed to be the year the Astros returned to the postseason for the first time in a decade. But somehow the hungry, young team found their way.

The defending AL Champion Royals cruised through the long, taxing regular season with one goal in mind: complete the championship season they fell just short of last year.

Both teams rode on the backs of homegrown talent to make it this far and earn spots in the ALDS. Here’s a look back at the roads that brought them to October.

Houston Astros (86-76, wild card)

After a 70-92 season in 2014 – it was the first time in four season Houston finished with less than 100 losses – the next realistic step for the rebuilding Astros was to inch closer to the .500 mark in 2015. But their young core of players had something else in mind. 

Whether it was Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Evan Gattis or George Springer, everybody in the ‘Stros lineup contributed in the team’s hot start that saw them grab first place in April – and hold onto it almost to the very end of the regular season. On the pitching side, Dallas Keuchel won 20 games, and is now considered one of the AL’s premier pitchers. Support for the Astros’ ace came from pitchers including Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers.

Sitting in a good position in the AL West in late July, the Astros looked to bolster their lineup and pitching with veterans, trading for outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitcher Scott Kazmir. But upon arriving in Houston, both players provided only average production, and the team began to stumble, while the Texas Rangers slowly gained ground in the standings.

Despite relinquishing their division lead in late September and limping to a 13-17 record in the final month of the season, the Astros held on to clinch the second wild card sport on the final day of the season. Two days later, they shutout the Yankees 3-0 in a dominant performance by Keuchel in the wild card playoff game.

Houston may be the biggest underdog this October, but that’s a role they’ve grown comfortable in all season long.

Kansas City Royals (95-67, AL Central champions)

From the moment the season started, the Royals looked like a team determined to get back to the postseason and redeem their Game 7 loss to the Giants in the World Series.

From top to bottom, the entire lineup contributed in a first-half run that saw the Royals pretty much lock up the division by midsummer. A breakout season for Mike Moustakas and a career year for Eric Hosmer led the offensive charge, followed by strong showings from players such as Kendry Morales and Salvador Perez.

Behind solid starting pitching from Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura, the Royals’ dominant bullpen carried the pitching all season long, allowing the team to coast through most of the year.

At the trade deadline, Kansas City hoped to strengthen their pitching even more by acquiring Reds’ ace Johnny Cueto, but Cueto played below expectations, and went 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA in his 13 starts for the team.

The first real bump in the road for the Royals came in September. Kansas City finished the month 11-17 – the only month all season in which they played below .500. Toward the end of the month, the bullpen received a devastating blow when news broke that closer Greg Holland would require Tommy John Surgery and miss the rest of this season (and likely all of next). But fortunately for the Royals, a dominant first half meant Kansas City still won the division by 12 games over the Minnesota Twins, and still finished with the best record in the American League.

The Royals will have to be scrappy to go far in October without their closer, but as we saw last year, that’s a style of play they know how to execute.

Tune into MLB Network Radio for comprehensive pregame and postgame coverage before and after every game. And hear all the action this October with full play-by-play coverage on SiriusXM.

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