The Astros are one winaway from making history once again by reaching their seventh consecutive AL Championship Series; now all that stands in their way is defeating Minnesota in Game 4.
Astros: Except for one Pablo Lopez start, Houston has been hitting effectively throughout this series and has received good starting pitching performances from Justin Verlander and Cristian Javier. Jose Urquidy will take to the mound today in hopes of finishing off the Twins’ and setting up an all Texas AL West showdown with the Rangers.
Minnesota is facing an uphill climb after poor starts to Games 1 and 3, making their fate uncertain. They now turn to Joe Ryan – their last hope for postseason survival – who has not pitched in any game this postseason yet; Minnesota must start this game off stronger or risk being knocked off their path towards glory.
Ryan presents an intriguing case. Coming into this season, many considered him the Twins’ premier starting pitcher; however, as it progresses, he has seen his stuff decline significantly and become less effective as time progresses.
Since the All-Star break, his Stuff+ has dropped significantly to 95 from an initially higher mark of 102 during the first half. A groin strain that required him to go on the injured list briefly in August could also explain this decline in effectiveness.
Ryan’s primary issue lies with his fastball velocity, which has decreased by one full mile an hour since April. While that might not seem significant at first glance, when someone like him throws this pitch over 56% of the time, it can quickly become an issue.
Outside of his fastball, he only utilizes two other pitches: split-finger and sweeper. Of these two pitches, split-finger has seen its Stuff+ rating drop significantly over time from 95 in the first half to 85 by the second half, with batters posting an xwOBA over 400 against it.
Minnesota will enjoy some distinct offensive advantages against Houston Astros’ pitchers. Minnesota was top five nationally in wOBA against right-handed pitching during their regular season and even more impressively top three in that category over their final 30 days of regular play, so with no lefties available against them Minnesota should have an edge here.
Urquidy has had an eventful season so far. After spending three months on the disabled list due to shoulder inflammation, he returned in early August and started four games while making six relief appearances out of the bullpen.
Since his return from injury, though, he’s been bad. August and September saw his xFIP exceed five, and he couldn’t get righties out, allowing an average wOBA over 320; oddly, his Stuff+ rating increased from 99 in April to 105 since then, with relatively stable velocity.
Urquidy has run into difficulty this season by walking too many batters – his walk rate stands at 3.57, his highest mark ever; in addition, he doesn’t receive as many swings-and-misses as usual, ranking in the ninth percentile for strikeout percentage.
He can throw five different pitches, with his sweeper and fastball being considered above-average by Stuff+.
Houston Astros’ lineup has demonstrated their potency as an offensive threat throughout this series. Houston was the best team in baseball by wOBA over the final 30 days of regular season play and has continued hitting hard this postseason, ranking sixth overall this year in terms of right-handed pitching wRC+ rating.
This game looks headed for the over with two struggling pitchers who have issues for most of the year. The Twins will use the bullpen early and often if need be. I will take the Twins with their backs against the wall at home.
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