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MLB Playoff Roundup: Astros knock out Twins to secure all-Texas ALCS

Josés Urquidy and Abreu got the job done for Houston, who clinched their seventh consecutive ALCS berth.

José Urquidy against the Twins.
José Urquidy against the Twins.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In Game 3 of their 2023 ALDS matchup, the Astros crushed the Twins 9-1 despite the series shifting to Target Field. That put them up in the series, 2-1, smothering any momentum Minnesota may have garnered in their Game 2 victory. Game 4 was much less decisive in terms of the margin of victory, but it was a decisive win for the Astros nonetheless as they clinched their seventh-straight ALCS berth. The last time they failed to make it to MLB’s Final Four, Brian McCann was still technically a Yankee.

ALDS Game 4

Houston Astros 3, Minnesota Twins 2

(Astros win series 3-1)

Due to the series schedule, the Astros were forced to choose between turning to a fourth starter in Game 4 or Justin Verlander on short rest. They opted to save the veteran, and they’ll be rewarded for that move by having him available for Game 1 of the ALCS. In this contest, they went with José Urquidy, who pitched to a career-worst 5.29 ERA in an injury-marred season, over breakout backend starter J.P. France. Urquidy rewarded them for that move, too, with 5.2 capable innings.

Urquidy notched 19 whiffs on the night, the third-most of his career and most since May of 2022. However, the Twins’ offense — a boom-or-bust unit with the highest strikeout rate and the third-highest home run total in the regular season — did get to the Astros’ starter for a pair of longballs. Royce Lewis put the Twins up 1-0 in the bottom of the first, lunging at an Urquidy changeup and lifting it 398 feet into the left-field stands for his fourth homer of the postseason:

Edouard Julien got to him in the bottom of the sixth:

But between those two homers, Urquidy retired 13 of 14, a stretch that also saw the Astros hit two dingers of their own. The first, a Michael Brantley solo shot in the top of the second off of starter Joe Ryan, tied the game at 1:

The Twins let Ryan finish the inning, but thereafter he joined their group of ALDS starters — minus Pablo López — who failed to get deep into their games. Some of that was by design; Minnesota’s piecemeal approach made sense given their deep starting staff. But they didn’t turn to their other bulk option in this one (Chris Paddack) until it was too late.

After Brock Stewart pitched a clean third, skipper Rocco Baldelli went with his lone southpaw, Caleb Thielbar, to face a stretch of three out of four lefties in the Astros’ order. Unfortunately, the immune-to-platoon Yordan Alvarez singled, and the sole righty in that group — José Abreu — homered, bringing Alvarez around and putting Houston up 3-1:

After a poor regular-season showing in his first year in Houston, Abreu has made himself valuable in the playoffs. He also hit a pair of homers in yesterday’s dominant win, including a three-run shot in the bottom of the first that seemed to change the narrative of the series.

The rest of the Twins relievers, including Paddack, tossed 5.1 scoreless with seven K’s to keep things close, but the Astros’ ’pen was dominant as well. After Julien’s opposite-field blast and Lewis’ walk — sandwiching a Jorge Polanco flyout — ended Urquidy’s night, Houston relievers tossed 3.1 scoreless with eight K’s.

On the night, the Twins struck out a whopping 14 times, matching their total from yesterday. That tied for the 10th-most strikeouts in a two-game span in postseason history (excluding extra-inning contests). Their last three punchouts of the span and their season all came in dramatic, full-count fashion against Astros’ closer Ryan Pressly. The last of them all came when he froze Max Kepler on 95-mph paint:

The Astros will head back to Minute Maid Park for Game 1 of the ALCS on Sunday; for the first time in MLB history, the two Texas teams will square off in the playoffs. The Astros will be eyeing their third consecutive AL pennant and fifth in seven years; the Rangers are seeking their first since 2011.

Houston will likely to turn to Verlander in the opener, while the Rangers will probably go with Jordan Montgomery. Game 2, also in Houston and scheduled for Monday, will likely feature Framber Valdez and Nathan Eovaldi. Then, the series will head to Arlington for two or three games before returning to Houston if necessary.

The Twins, meanwhile, will head home disappointed but with their first few postseason victories since 2004 (snapping an 18-game skid) and their first playoff series win since 2002 thanks to their Wild Card sweep of the Blue Jays. With those cursed streaks over, they’ll look to build on their newfound October success next season.