The Houston Astros are one win away from the divisional round of the 2020 MLB playoffs after beating the Minnesota Twins 4-1 Tuesday at Target Field.
Framber Valdez stole the show as he replaced Zack Greinke ahead of the fifth inning and held the Twins scoreless over the final five innings. With runners on first and second, Valdez induced a double play from Willians Astudillo to end the game.
Nelson Cruz doubled home Max Kepler in the third inning for Minnesota's only run.
George Springer tied things up in the seventh with an RBI single to center.
Sergio Romo walked home the winning run in the top of the ninth. Jorge Polanco committed an error on a ground ball by Springer that allowed the inning to continue. Michael Brantley provided two insurance runs with a single to center.
Kenta Maeda, SP, Twins: 5.0 IP, two hits, zero earned runs, three walks, five strikeouts
Zack Greinke, SP, Astros: 4.0 IP, two hits, one earned run, three walks, one strikeout
Framber Valdez, RP, Astros: 5.0 IP, zero hits, zero earned runs, two walks, five strikeouts
Michael Brantley, DH, Astros: 2-for-5, one double, two RBI
Astros Pitching Leads the Way
During the 2019 postseason, the Astros leaned on one of the best starting rotations in baseball. They had a pair of Cy Young winners (Greinke and Justin Verlander) and the ERA champion (Gerrit Cole).
Now, Cole is gone, and Verlander made one start in 2020 before requiring Tommy John surgery. Houston will need a stronger collective effort from its staff to return to the Fall Classic.
Game 1 provided manager Dusty Baker with the blueprint. He had a quick hook with Greinke before the Twins could jump on the 36-year-old as they cycled through the order. Valdez then took care of business to finish the game.
Houston's lineup didn't really deliver, going 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Polanco's miscue completely changed the complexion of the final inning or more attention might have been paid to Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve going hitless.
That is a clear concern looking forward. On Tuesday, the Astros were narrowly better than the Twins, who were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, and that was all that ultimately mattered.
Anemic Offense, Costly Mistake Prove Losing Formula
Josh Donaldson's absence will loom large in the series and potentially in the upcoming rounds should Minnesota advance.
The Twins released their wild-card series roster Tuesday morning, and many immediately noticed Donaldson, who has been battling a calf injury, was missing. The 2015 American League MVP was sorely missed as Kepler, Cruz and Eddie Rosario combined to record one hit from the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 spots.
The Twins offense didn't provide their pitchers with much run support, thus wasting a strong effort from Kenta Maeda. The 32-year-old wasn't a model of efficiency, allowing three walks and watching his pitch count climb to 91.
Still, Houston couldn't capitalize on its opportunities when it did manage to get runners on against Maeda. A walk to Carlos Correa loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth, but he struck out Josh Reddick on five pitches.
The thing with a best-of-three series is that losing once is cause for panic to some extent, especially when a team was unable to win the one game in which it could utilize its best starting pitcher. That Maeda did so well in a losing effort doesn't portend good things for the Twins.
The teams return to the field Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET.