Twins’ Postseason Woes Continue as Astros Sweep

The Minnesota Twins’ postseason losing streak reached 18 games Wednesday afternoon after a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Houston Astros. They haven’t won a postseason game since 2004 and haven’t won a postseason series since 2002. Yesterday, it was poor defense that led to their loss; today it was a total lack of punch from their bats. Four Astros pitchers — Jose Urquidy, Brooks Raley, Cristian Javier, and Ryan Pressly — combined to hold Minnesota to just three hits and a single run.

For the Astros, their two-game sweep is a little bit of vindication after entering the playoffs with the worst regular season record amongst the American League field — not to mention the lingering skepticism from their sign-stealing scandal. Houston’s bats didn’t carry the load; rather, it was the injury-wracked pitching staff that got them through this short series. A day after Zack Greinke and Framber Valdez shut down the Twins offense, Urquidy and three relievers were just as strong in the series clinching game.

The game started off much like yesterday’s did. The Twins loaded the bases in the first inning but couldn’t push a run across. After throwing 26 pitches in the first, Urquidy settled in and cruised through the next three innings. He allowed just three hard hit batted balls, all of which came in the fourth inning but amounted to a harmless single. He relied heavily on his fastball, throwing it 64% of the time on Wednesday, 10 points higher than his season average. It was a little surprising to see so many heaters from him since his changeup is so good and the Twins had six left-handed batters in their lineup. But the game plan seemed to be focused on fastballs up in the zone and it was extremely effective: He generated six whiffs and seven fly ball outs with his four-seamer.

The Astros scored their first run of the game in the fourth on a seeing-eye single off the bat of Kyle Tucker. Twins starter José Berríos had looked like he was in complete control through three innings but walked two straight batters with two outs and paid for that lapse in command with a run.

The lone Twins threat came in the fifth inning when they scored their only run. Urquidy started off the inning by allowing a single to Marwin Gonzalez and then struck out Ryan Jeffers. With the top of the Twins lineup coming up, Astros manager Dusty Baker turned to his bullpen, bringing in the left-hander Raley to face the left-handed Luis Arraez and Max Kepler. Arraez walked and Kepler struck out but because of the new three batter rule, Raley had to face Nelson Cruz with two on and two out. After swinging through a hittable inside cutter, Cruz crushed a line drive to left off another cutter that got too much of the plate. Gonzalez scored easily but Arraez was cut down at the plate for the third out, ending the threat. The Twins wouldn’t have another runner in scoring position for the rest of the game.

After their fifth inning mini-rally, the Twins bats fell asleep again. Javier entered the game in the sixth and gave the Astros three innings much in the same vein as Valdez’s bulk frames yesterday. In the last four innings, the Twins recorded seven fly ball outs, none of which were hit hard, and struck out four times. Javier wasn’t sharp — he allowed two harmless walks — but he got the job done with weak contact off the bat and Pressly shut the door.

The Twins simply couldn’t make solid contact off any of the Astros pitchers. They put 17 balls in the air and only a handful had an expected batting average above .500 — their three hits and Alex Kirilloff’s lineout in the ninth. Outside of those four batted balls, it was a bunch of weak fly ball contact that led to their demise.

Twins Expected Batting Average
Player Inning Exit Velocity Launch Angle xBA Result
Nelson Cruz 1st 85.5 47 .010 Flyout
Alex Kirilloff 1st 88.5 26 .110 Lineout
Jorge Polanco 2nd 87.1 58 .000 Flyout
Marwin Gonzalez 2nd 72.2 42 .280 Flyout
Max Kepler 3rd 90.7 42 .010 Flyout
Eddie Rosario 4th 102.3 45 .100 Flyout
Miguel Sanó 4th 98 64 .000 Pop Out
Alex Kirilloff 4th 105.9 14 .700 Single
Marwin Gonzalez 5th 76 16 .770 Single
Nelson Cruz 5th 114.7 18 .860 Double
Miguel Sanó 6th 100.2 56 .020 Flyout
Alex Kirilloff 6th 89.1 47 .010 Flyout
Marwin Gonzalez 7th 91.5 40 .010 Flyout
Ryan Jeffers 7th 94.5 43 .010 Flyout
Luis Arraez 7th 91.9 44 .010 Flyout
Max Kepler 8th 84.5 74 .010 Pop Out
Alex Kirilloff 9th 96.3 5 .590 Lineout

The Astros took the lead for good off a Carlos Correa solo shot in the seventh inning. Despite posting a .119 ISO during the regular season — a 170 point drop from 2019 — this was Correa’s 12th postseason home run, an impressive accomplishment for the six-year veteran. Houston added an insurance run in the ninth for good measure.

Both teams had reason to be frustrated with the strike zone of home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez; there were some fairly generous strike calls on both sides. A called strike three in the fourth drew the ire of George Springer, who was loudly frustrated with Gonzalez’s call on a pitch that looked like it missed the outside corner by an inch. Numerous other calls inspired both benches to air their grievances. That bubbling frustration came to a head in the sixth when Eddie Rosario thought he had watched ball four go by (the pitch did catch a large portion of the top of the zone). He swung through the next pitch and made a comment to Gonzalez as he was leaving the batter’s box. Gonzalez tossed him from the game on the spot.

Jake Cave replaced Rosario in the lineup and had a chance to get a rally started in the eighth with a runner on first. In a full count, he swung through a pitch well above the strike zone killing any hopes of a late-inning comeback.

In something of a hollow victory for Twins fans, Alex Kirilloff showed off why he’s such a highly regarded prospect. He became the first player to make his major league debut by starting a postseason game and collected his first postseason hit in the fourth, a line drive single to right; in a fun statistical oddity, his first major league hit will likely come sometime during 2021 regular season since postseason stats are counted separately. He also made a few nice catches in right showing off good range and instincts in the field.

The Astros will await the winner of the A’s/White Sox series. That Division Series is scheduled to start on Monday, October 5 in Los Angeles with Dodger Stadium playing host to all five games.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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Joe Joe
Joe Joe

Javier lead all SPs (min 100 batted balls) in average launch angle. All balls batted in play against Javier had a launch angle of at least 40 degrees today. Best batted ball against him has a 0.020 xBA. He may regress some in pop ups, but hard to say a pitcher that tries to generate harmless flies isn’t sharp on a day like today even with 2 walks.