Jose Urquidy made a strong statement Friday night that he is deserving of a potential Game 4 postseason start for the Houston Astros.
Urquidy tossed six innings of shutout ball and the Astros didn’t allow a runner to reach second base in a 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels that secured homefield advantage for Houston throughout the American League portion of the playoffs. The Astros need just one more win in their final two games or a loss by the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch homefield throughout the entirety of the 2019 postseason and force the World Series to come through Houston.
As Wade Miley’s struggles continued in a loss Thursday night, the question of who might serve as the Astros’ fourth starter in the playoffs has loomed larger. Urquidy’s performance may have gone a long way toward answering that conundrum.
The Astros’ 24-year-old rookie allowed three hits and required just 79 pitches to get through six superb innings. Urquidy (2-1, 3.95) has struck out 16 batters over 14 innings in his last three outings and permitted only three runs in four September starts as the Astros search for someone to step up and stake a claim to the No. 4 spot in the playoff rotation.
He was staked to an early lead thanks to Alex Bregman, who furthered what was already a strong case for MVP Friday night when he started the scoring. Bregman began the second inning by crushing his 41st home run of the season, a 421-foot blast, to put Houston on the board.
Bregman is now just four homers behind Mike Trout, who’s tied with Jorge Soler for the AL lead, while also leading the AL in walks (where he’s four ahead of Trout). The marks Bregman has put up this season have been equaled by only four other players all-time.
Urquidy helped his own cause in the bottom half of the second by starting a double play on a chopper back to the mound that required replay for the second out. Bregman’s throw to Yuli Gurriel sailed wide of the bag, but Gurriel was able to get the tag down in time to beat the runner, which was confirmed upon review. Urquidy then struck out Matt Thaiss to end the inning.
Angels’ starter Patrick Sandoval opened the fourth with a walk to Bregman. The lefty, who was originally drafted by the Astros in the 11th round of the 2015 Draft, then struck out Yordan Alvarez before departing. Sandoval (0-4, 5.03) tossed 3 1⁄3 innings and allowed one run on two hits and three walks over the course of his 61-pitch outing. Jake Jewell came on in relief of Sandoval and needed just two pitches to get two outs when Gurriel chopped into a double play to end the inning.
Neither side produced much action offensively thereafter until Michael Brantley hit a three-run shot off Luis Garcia—who hadn’t allowed a run against the Astros in seven relief appearances this season—with two outs in the eighth to put the Astros ahead comfortably, 4-0.
The homer was Brantley’s 22nd of the season and will hopefully provide a much-needed lift for him heading into the postseason.
That's Brantley's first extra-base hit since he homered on Sept. 9.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) September 28, 2019
Will Harris pitched the bottom of eighth for the Astros in immaculate fashion.
Harris continued what has been a dominant stretch for him over the last two months, during which he’s served as one of the best relievers in baseball.
Including tonight, here is Will Harris’s numbers since July 30th:— Astros Future (@AstrosFuture) September 28, 2019
22 G, 0.90 ERA, 20.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 27 K#Astros
Josh James closed things out with a flawless ninth for the Astros, who won for a franchise-best 105th time this season.
The Astros have homered in 23 consecutive games, which extends the club record. Entering Friday, the Astros led the Majors in home runs in September and have gone yard in every game this month.
Yordan Alvarez was issued a one-out walk in the seventh inning and has reached base in 29 straight contests, three shy of the club’s season-high set by Bregman and George Springer earlier this season.
Ryan Pressly made his third appearance since coming off the Injured List and set down the heart of the Angels’ lineup in order, including two strikeouts, in the seventh.
Outside of Garcia, four Angels pitchers combined to toss 4 2⁄3 innings of hitless relief.
Box score and videos here.
The Astros will play their penultimate game of the regular season tomorrow when Justin Verlander makes his final argument for the Cy Young Award. Verlander (20-6, 2.53) leads the AL in Wins, WHIP (0.81), Hits/9 (5.52), IP (217), Win Probability Added (5.6), and WAR amongst Pitchers (7.8). He also ranks second in ERA, Adjusted ERA+ (183), Strikeouts (288), K/9 (11.95), BB/9 (1.74), and K/BB ratio (6.86), right behind teammate Gerrit Cole, who is scheduled to start the regular-season finale Sunday in Anaheim, in most of those categories. Verlander wasn’t his usual dominant self in his previous start, which was last Sunday in Houston against the Angels, but he earned the win, anyway. Over five innings, Verlander allowed two runs on six hits and struck out five to notch the second 20-win campaign of his career. In three starts against the Angels this season, Verlander in 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA and lifetime he’s 14-10 with a 3.19 ERA in 28 starts against Los Angeles. Verlander will be opposed by 21-year-old lefty Jose Suarez (2-6, 7.34), who has the worst ERA amongst AL starting pitchers with at least 75 IP. Suarez faced the Astros in his most recent start—which was also against Verlander this past Sunday—and lasted just two innings, though that was by design so he could experiment with a mechanical fix in his delivery. Suarez surrendered one run on two hits in his 34-pitch outing and will make the fourth appearance of his rookie season against the Astros. First pitch Saturday is slated for 8:07 CT.