Astros vs. their first (and possibly last) round opponent

In a normal season (and don’t we all long for normalcy), the Astros would be home for the playoffs and that does not mean playing at Minute Maid Park. Their Wild Card round opponent the Minnesota Twins (36-24), won the AL Central division in a down to the end dog fight over the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians (both 35-25).

In a normal season with five teams instead of eight in the AL playoffs, the 29-31 Astros would have been six games out of the second Wild Card spot and seven games out of first place in the AL West division held by the Oakland A’s.

We can kid ourselves that in a real 162-game schedule, the Astros could have righted the ship and rolled into the playoffs behind a solid second half of the schedule. But in fact, the Astros are lucky to be in the playoffs and based on most meaningful data will be headed home in quick fashion after losing to the superior Twins.

But in a three-game series anything can happen, so let’s take a look at both sides of this matchup.

Why The Twins can win

  • They are the better team. They not only finished the 60-game season with seven more wins than the Astros, but they also did so in a much tougher division than the Astros with three AL Central teams finishing in the top five in the league, while four of the AL West teams finished under .500.
  • The Twins are also taxi-tested tough as they had to play hard down the stretch to hold onto their division title and earn a spot against the lowly Astros. The Astros limped into the dry dock as they backed into the playoffs thanks to a win by the Dodgers over the Angels on Friday night.
  • Minnesota, who hosts the Wild Card round against Houston has the best home record in the majors at 24-7 this season. The Astros 9-23 road record was the 14th worst in the AL and only the Rangers, and Pirates won the worst percentage of games on the road this year in the majors.
  • The Minnesota Twins starting pitching is 22-12 with the 2nd best ERA in the AL at 3.54. The Astros’ starters are a respectable 19-15 with a 6th best 4.26 ERA. For the 3 game playoff, the announced starters are a very solid trio of Kenta Maeda (6-1, 2.70 ERA), Jose Berrios (5-4, 4.00 ERA) and Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38).
  • The Twins’ relievers are 14-12 with a fourth best 3.62 ERA in the AL. The Astros’ bullpen is 10-16 with an eighth best 4.39 ERA and a 13th best 1.52 WHIP in the AL. The Astros bullpen gives up an average of five walks per nine innings pitched, which bodes poorly against the powerful Twins lineup. The Twins’ saves have been split between Taylor Rogers and grizzled veteran Sergio Romo and they are backed up by a cadre of relievers including former Astros Tyler Clippard.
  • The Twins lineup hit a little better than the Astros lineup, slashing .242 BA/ .315 OBP/ .743 OPS vs. .240 BA/ .312 OBP/ .720 OPS. And the Twins hit the third-most homers in the AL this season with 91 vs. only 69 for the Astros. They are led by the ageless (OK – he’s 39) Nelson Cruz and his .303 BA/.397 OBP/.992 OPS slash and 16 HRs and 33 RBIs and Eddie Rosario with his 13 HRs and 42 RBIs. It appears that both Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton will miss this series, but a former Astro hero Marwin Gonzalez will be with them.

Why the Astros can win

(Yes this was almost a “crickets” section of the post)

  • It is only 3 games. The biggest cliché out there, but it is true. The Astros only need to bow up their backs for 2 wins in 3 games to move onward.
  • Playoff history. The Twins have lost an amazing 16 straight playoff games (and even more amazingly 13 of those to the Yankees) since winning the first game in the 2004 ALDS over those Yanks. The Astros have won 6 of their last 8 playoff series over the last 3 seasons.
  • While the Twins have hit for a bit better batting average and power this season, the Astros have outscored them 4.65 to 4.48 runs per game on the season.
  • Though not all announced, it is likely the Astros pitching trio for the series Zack Greinke, Jose Urquidy and Lance McCullers Jr. all have big-game experience. Just last season Urquidy won the 5th game of the World Series with a strong effort and Greinke threw six innings of one-hit ball in Game 7 before a homer and walk knocked him out of the game. McCullers played a big role in the Astros’ 2017 championship run including four innings of scoreless relief in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees.
  • Besides having scored more runs than the Twins this season, the Astros have a large set of players who have pulled off postseason heroics over the last three seasons. Point to any of Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel over the last three post-seasons and Michael Brantley in 2019 and you can find some critical post-season highlights from each.

So, what does this all mean? Who knows. The Twins definitely have the better team this season. The Twins also definitely have the biggest post season gorilla sitting on their shoulders.

In the end, we will very quickly know by the end of Thursday whether the off-season begins or the “off” season continues.

83 comments on “Astros vs. their first (and possibly last) round opponent

  1. Well, if Greinke pitches like he did in game 7 of the World Series last year and our guys hit like they did on Thursday night in Arlington and that’s enough to win game one in 9 innings without having to deal with the man on second base gauntlet (by the way, are they using that second base gimmick in the post season?), then we’ll have the upper hand. But I’ll take the home team. Remember, I have no expectations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. -28 man rosters
    -Regular extra inning rules, no stupid runner on second crap.
    -No 7-inning game double header crap. Just regular double header crap
    -Universal DH
    These are the playoff rules.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It is my honest gut feeling that it would take a miracle for the Astros to beat the Twins. The Astros have played 60 games that meant something and couldn’t win half of them and could not beat bad teams late in the schedule.
    The Astros playing head and shoulders above what they were for the entire season would be a miracle.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. If this Astros team can beat the Twins on the road 2 games out of 3, I don’t think it would be a miracle, but would take at least a few of our guys to step up.

    Found the following list: https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1379230-the-10-worst-mlb-teams-ever-to-win-the-world-series

    Note the 2006 Cardinals had a team OPS of .769, scoring 4.85 runs / game, team ERA of 4.54, WHIP of 1.384, giving up 4.73 runs / game.

    The 2020 Astros have a team OPS of .720, scoring 4.65 runs / game, team ERA of 4.31, WHIP of 1.315, giving up 4.58 runs / game.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. i think we can beat the twins. it comes down to IF our 3 starters have good games and we hit. it would be nice if the bullpen came through as well. but thats pretty much always the formula isnt it? you never know when the team just gels and goes on a run. lets hope this is one of those times. (dont bet the farm though)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The last time the Astros faced today’s pitcher Kenta Maeda was a regular season game for the Dodgers in 2018, where he gave up 5 runs in 5.1 IP and suffered the loss.
    Of course more famously he faced the Astros 4 times in relief in the 2017 WS for the Dodgers and held them scoreless 3 out of 4 times. The other time was what Astro fans remember as he came in relief of Clayton Kershaw in the Game of the Century – Game 5 with a 7-4 lead and gave up a 3 run homer to Jose Altuve to thrust the Astros back into the game.

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    • It was GoStros in our last post….

      GoStros1
      September 27, 2020 @ 12:40 pm
      Yuli said recently he wants to stay in Houston. (Takes a while for Cubans to get their circle right, the right food and cultural circle, especially a team that has become West havana Astros with Diaz Cionel Armenteros Yordan and Pedro Leon coming.) An elder statesman for 2 more years might be the thinking since the other FA’s will test market. As an org, you make an offer to several and figure it’;s out of your controil: some will and some won’t meet your price, hard to predict.
      Our fans have gone back and forth with him, but some YoY stats have improved in succession til this crazy season.
      He didn’t really lose a step in speed.
      2020 26.9 217th in MLB
      2019 27.6 217th in MLB
      2018 27.6 236th in MLB
      2017 26.9 325th in MLB
      2016 27.3 250th in MLB
      If you look at this, it’s a rather impressive picture of consistency. He’s still elite 2% of not striking out! he’s also hitting 38% opposite field, which is a testament to his ability to adjust (vs Toro Jones)
      https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/yuli-gurriel-493329?stats=statcast-r-hitting-mlb
      I’m personally in favor of moving on, and finding an internal 1B replacement, but if we offered him on the elder statesman premise / hometown discount, I’d offer 2/14m.
      If 1 WAR is equal to 7m – 10m, depending on viewpoint, we have paid him 47.5m for 9.4 WAR. We could always cut cord and take the win, because we can fill that spot with comparable talent and put the savings elsewhere.
      He was an excellent gloveman, especially to be able to adjust to the other corner. Yuli led the league in “picks”, and I’ve favored choosing former 3B’s transition to 1B because they know how to grind and stay in front of the ball. Tucker looks very smooth over there, but I foresee his legs as more a weapon for a few yrs, first baseman is on back burner of his career.
      Imagine getting 0.2 WAR from Mike Moustakis this year, after CIN just signed him to 70m for 4 more years?! There are a lot of bad contracts out there, like Rangers can’t get rid of Elvis Andrus.
      A few guys who might be 1B in 2021-2022?
      Jones, Toro, Shaver, Perry, Lee, Adams
      A guy everyone stopped talking about after drug infractions, but who was a collegiate crusher is JJ Matijevic. His Arizona teammates say he was a No-Doubter, but 2019 was a bad year for that young man.

      Like

      • Are you trying to say the multitude of realty shows on HGTV that my wife makes me watch are not reality shows? I mean, clearly they are scripted and fudge some of the details.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Devin, Blog Cabin was kinda cool! Wonder if they ever built a 2nd one?

        In the oh, by the way at meeting at Target Field today-

        Do you think Twins home batter’s eye “comfortability” and record is a bigger advantage to tilt the score, over the Astros playoff experience?

        For the record, I think we will steal Game 1.
        Too soon to write, “steal”?

        Liked by 1 person

      • gostros – I do think that’s a disadvantage for game 1.

        daveb – I’m going to be on the lookout for that one. I imagine there weren’t too many done on Nevis so it should be easy to find. Were you the realtor or did they go to a bar to do the fake deliberations part where you appear?

        Like

      • Dave, for real? Which episode?

        That’s one of the few shows I watch…not a tv guy at all (which is darkly hilarious considering I’ve worked in the cable industry for 14 years)

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  7. On the Astros site they say no terms released. In the Chron.com (spit!) they say $6.5 million for 2021 like daveb/uncleknuckle says with a 2022 team option for $8 million

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    • In balance, it’s the right move if Toro and Jones cannot hit 250 yet (basically). Yuli probably has a bigger influence in the dugout than most fans realize.

      I like how Crane sort of sprinkles these extensions in, too, because contrary to some who believe everyone wants to jump ship, this gives the team a sense of cohesion that bodes well for 2021.

      Wouldn’t it be something–a surpise to me–if we end up keeping a few more FA’s? I would think Peacock Devo and Pruitt Osuna (needs surgery) are on the cusp of being let go. TBD.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. While I would love to have the Zack Greinke of his first month and a half show up – I think it is almost more important for the offense to show up. We don’t need Greinke trying to be any finer with his pitches because he doesn’t think they will be scoring any runs for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Well after an inning and a half – Brantley had a double the other way in the first and was stranded. Correa drew a walk in the second after getting a favorable call on a 2 strike breaking ball. The guys have let some fat first strikes go by.
    Greinke got in immediate trouble – loading the bases with one out and got out of it with a screaming line drive to Gurriel and a dribbler to Bregman that he threw Sano out by about a millimeter. Greinke with 30 pitches in the first.

    Like

  10. The Astros really work Maeda’s pitch count up – but can’t score in the 4th. Walk by Bregman and a hit by Tucker with one out. Gurriel barrels one but hits it right to the CF – Correa walks on four pitches well out of the zone. Reddick misses a couple cripples (at least he was swinging) and strikes out with the sacks loaded. Still 1-0 Twins.

    Like

    • There were come comments questioning if the hitting coach(es) have been the problem and I think Gurriel is a strong indication that the answer is yes. Look at where the 2B and CF are playing him and Altuve. When Altuve is trying to take advantage he gets under it and pops it up. Gurriel is hitting right at the fielders. Clearly there is an adjustment that neither is making.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I guess I’m pretty confused. Had no idea the Astros were playing a day game. And I’m further flummoxed by Grienke getting pulled after 79 pitches over four innings. I figured Framber was going to get a start. This tells you how little I’m engaged with the Astros at this point.

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    • I was scared to death after Framber walked the first two guys with some help from a sort of tight strike zone – but has settled down since. I know that Dusty has been burned a bit by leaving starters in an inning too long, but I was surprised Grienke did not come out for the 5th.
      I thought the three starters for this series were going to be Greinke, Urquidy and McCullers – so I’m not surprised that Framber is in the bullpen.

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  12. Well after the Twins scored their run I texted my sons “Game over”.
    We’ve seen this kind of non-hitting too many times this year.
    Reddick has made the two biggest plays of the game – Playing Cruz’s double into a run scoring hit when it did not look like it should have been – Not taking care of business with a couple hittable pitches and the bases loaded. His defense this year is not as good as it has been.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Reddick makes up a little bit by getting a hit, getting over on Maldonado hit off of Marwin and scoring on Springer’s hit. I don’t know why Maldonado tried to go third – he was only out by about 30-40 feet

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Well, if an error by the team who made the fewest errors in the AL, a walk by Altuve who has been horrible with runners on all season, and a base hit by a a lefty off a lefty who never gives up hits to lefties, isn’t the start of perhaps a miracle, I don’t know what is.
    One thing I did point out over a week ago is that we would have two extra arms in the bullpen in Framber and Javier in a three game series.
    We’ll see what happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Dusty Baker took a whole lot of grief across the way with the Crawfish crowd when he pulled Greinke. In retrospect, the tandem thing had to have been the plan all along, but making the move after the 4th was kind of ballsy. Wow, Framber! Maybe these guys will loosen up tomorrow and hit the heck out of the ball.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thoughts:
    – I was questioning at the time, taking Greinke out, though he has had a tendency to give up runs when kept in too long. Boy was Baker right
    – Framber was totally brilliant after getting over his nerves with the first two hitters
    – After he got rolling I was hoping Framber stayed in for the rest of the game (kind of like Charlie Morton in game 7 of the World Series). He was on a roll. He did give up those two hits in the 9th, but it was not really bad pitches – just good hitting
    – Harold Reynolds was doing a little demo after the game about Polanco’s error in the 9th. He showed how the play was tougher than it looked because a) Correa had a huge lead with the 1B playing way off the base and b) with the 2B positioned so far behind second base, he was hitting a moving target and hurrying because Correa was coming quick – he just pulled his throw. He said it would have been easier to throw to 1st base.
    -Altuve toughed it out for that crucial walk – did not extend to swing at junk. Romo did a “why didn’t you call that a strike” on ball four but it was quite a ways above the strike zone
    – Brantley is one heck of a hitter. He got down 2 strikes, did not panic against a very tough lefty and put just a beautiful swing on the ball
    – I thought when Sano dribbled that ball with the bases loaded that Bregman had no chance – he had so far to go to get to the ball. That was just a brilliant play and I think if Sano was wearing slightly longer cleats he would have beat it out
    – The announcers had an interesting discussion early in the game about the affect of “it” on the Astros. They basically said they were missing the arrogance as a team they had the last few years and basically said that great teams need that – need to know that they are better than the opposition. They said “it” really had affected Altuve a lot – which we have seen. Thought it was interesting.
    – The Twins are carrying one heck of a gorilla on their back now – the Astros could take them out today and so more pressure, you would think, is on them

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  17. – I thought it was interesting that, as the announcers got more and more frustrated with the Twins not hitting, they finally broke down and told the audience that the umpire that was calling balls and strikes in the very first game of the playoffs had graded out as one of the worst in baseball. What a present that must have been to MLB from ABC.
    – The announcers were more critical of the Astros cheating scandal than most I’ve heard. It’s as though ABC was channeling nine months of hate into one game. And since I didn’t watch the game live, only the replay that I made, I don’t even know who the announcers were.
    – Not much time to appreciate the win. Game 2 starts in a couple of hours. Urquidy is starting for the Astros.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Since I was working – I only heard a small bit of the announcing – so I did not hear some of this bad mouthing – though I did hear them say that Maeda had an 8+ ERA when this umpire was behind the plate in like 3 games.
      Baseball has always driven me crazy with umpire assignments (Joe West, Angel Hernandez) in the post season. They should be rewards based on performance, not based on seniority or the such. It should be so much easier this days to track how accurate an ump is vs. the electronic strike zone and to track how many times an ump is challenged and over turned.

      Like

      • Someone said Ron Kulpa was on that crew yesterday. One other plus in the “clean house” idea of Crane’s to move on from Hinch.

        In the article I explored with Robo Umps, and by that I’d think a real person behind the plate could get the signal in earpiece or buzzer on his body. It’s still vital the umpire crew keeps the peace on the field, and so many other things. But what I found was the accuracy of tracking balls/strikes has made huge strides in a short time. It seems a foregone conclusion we’ll get some assistance in coming yrs with some leagues already using hybrids.

        Like

      • Yes, GoStros, an umpire must be behind the plate to make calls such as check swings, foul tips, and, of course, plays at the plate.

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    • Tim Kirkjian was the third man on the crew. The first two focused on how angry other players/teams were and the impact to the Astros. I felt like Kirkjian was definitely getting some angst out in his comments though.

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    • Didn’t they say Raily had to pitch to a third hitter? I would have thrown four breaking pitches in the dirt. Also, why isn’t Kyle Tucker standing on the warning track there? There’s no scenario with two outs where he’s throwing someone out at home on a ball in front of him and Cruz has historically destroyed Astros pitchers. Heck, you could have shifted all outfielders to LF and known the ball would still be hit that way.

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  18. If Oakland hangs on today – we get one more day of rest than the A’s or the W’Sox. I wonder if we fly out to LA today or tomorrow. I guess today.

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  19. I’d consider having their best baserunner, inserted as a pinch runner for the tying run, getting picked off of 1B to be the second half of the miracle for the Astros.
    This is the miracle and the rest of the postseason is gravy.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thought Carlos Correa really took it to the ESPN announcers today. He let them know no one appreciated their constant slams about this club…..and I’m glad he did. There was nothing but silence from those three when Correa took the headphones off. Tucker has grown into himself this year, we see what how much just a little seeing eye single can make a big difference in a game like today. Good kid.
    What more can you say about those “baby” pitchers! Dusty pulled off some pretty cool magic the last two days. I’m still not so sure he’s the right guy for this club, I think they all wish Hinch was still leading them. But he’s here and that’s who they play for. I was glad to see Yuli will be back, the entire infield will be intact. Crane knows he has to give George a decent extention and I’m pretty sure it will be competitive….at least I hope so. How far will this team go? Absolutely no idea, but they have done enough to shut some people up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • How are you and your hubby doing Becky?
      Urquidy, Javier and Pressly were terrific. Correa and Tucker had the huge hits. Martin Maldonado made a terrifically athletic move on that tag play at the plate.
      They get to rest until Monday

      Like

  21. Twins fans are unhappy that Rosario was ejected and Springer was not, for arguing with the ump.
    However, there are big differences between the two scenarios.
    1. Springer’s called strike rang him up. He argued and then left for the dugout. Rosario’s was strike 2. He argued and then got two more pitches to hit. Then he said something to the ump after striking out and having been obviously warned ahead of time.
    2. The pitch that rang Springer up was outside of the strike zone, according to Gameday. The pitch that was strike two to Rosario was in the strike zone, according to Gameday.

    Like

    • This season, along with hitting production being down and with pitchers elbows falling off at an alarming rate, the umpiring performance to these eyes has been lacking too.
      Is this due to the stop start – am I thinking about COVID rather than my job – season?
      Is this due to no fans behind the plate chirping at them about their pitch calling?
      Is this due to less managers running out of the dugout to confront them due to masks and COVID?

      I think our series with the Twins was not umped very well, though I thought both sides had valid complaints about the ball-strikes at time. Did not see where this favored either side.
      The situation yesterday where the 1st place ump called two Astros safe in a row (Springer and Altuve) followed by reversals was something I’ve never seen. The second play was really bang-bang, but the first one was just a bad call – Springer looked out when it happened at full speed.

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  22. Top of the 3rd……White Sox 3 A’S 0!!
    Fires was knocked out in the 2nd (((GRINNING FROM EAR TO EAR))))
    Left with the bases loaded, and the Sox are on their 3rd pitcher for the day ready. NOTHING would please me more than to watch the A’s, walk off the field losing this game. An Astros/ White Sox playoff would be reminiscent of the 2005 World Series match up. I DESPISE the Oakland A’s, it would make my day to see them lose😠

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    • Just to get opinions, I would think we’ve seen the last of JV in an Astros uniform. First, he has to want to keep playing and second we have to want him back but he sure ain’t going to be worth no $33MM. We’ll free up $64MM in ’22 between him and Greinke.

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      • Correct JV is gone, same as we saw the last of Sanchez, and Osuna.

        I’m 100% sure Verlander will pitch again though since he’s rehabbing thru age 38. If he was ever going to pitch into his 40’s this surgery was probably the only way to do that (at the current rate of trying to throw a ball 100 mph for extended period of time).

        Those we kept? Jairo Solis, Peter Solomon, LMJ (Austin Pruitt so far).

        One I’m still slightly worried about eventually needing it, Tyler Ivey.

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      • Btw, I’d read Osuna was getting TJ on Aug 4 article. Now, it’s being reported he’s trying to recover without his 2nd surgery. I still can’t forget how much he was cringing when the injury occurred, and cannot imagine he will make it back for 2021. He seems a lot like Devenski to me — a hard worker you should never sell short. Osuna left school at age 11 to pick vegetables to help his family eat, and pitched professionally at age 16. I shouldn’t count him out just yet.

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      • The question I still want to know about Fiers is why he did it after he sat there and took his money but said nothing while IT was going on. I think he was just PO’d after being left off the playoff roster and then reassigned to the minors. Anyway, we’ll get to face him in the next playoff round. We shall see what happens.

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      • I can imagine it was a culmination of things, Z.

        The Astros for several yrs jerked Fiers aroind as the floater starter while LMJ came on/ off the DL. Fiers was healthy and really helped thru the middle of 2017, when others faltered. Throwing at Valbuena was another of Hinch’s doghouse moves, not to mention the fight that broke out when Hinch pulled Fiers from the game, and Gomez had to hold him back.

        There was bad blood throughout.

        In retrospect, the Astros should have made him sign a non-disclosure while they had his money! Pretty standard given the lawsuits Crane defended in other businesses.

        I find it pretty comical they won’t pitch him vs HOU though. On their blog last night, someone wrote Fiers is really well-liked in their org because he ‘cares about all the players and goes around checking on them’ was his gist. The way he got slammed yesterday, you’d think this is one of those “down weeks” for Mike, we’re all too familiar with. A’s should stick with Montas over Fiers without question.

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