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ALCS Game 4 Preview. Astros @ Rangers

Jose Urquidy matches up with Andrew Heaney et. al

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Minnesota Twins
Houston Astros starting pitcher Jose Urquidy (65) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins during game four of the ALDS
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I’m wondering if this ALCS will be a replay of the 2019 WS. That is, the home team loses every game.

The Astros lost two games narrowly at home mainly because their bats were lifeless. No one knows why there is such home-field impotence for the Astros. IMO, the batter’s eye as an explanation is grasping at straws. That was the same batter’s eye the team looked at in game 5 of the 2017 WS. The Astros scored 13 runs that game, the Dodgers 12.

Still, the Astros offense came alive yet again on the road. Hitless-at-home Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker found new life in Globe Life Park, Altuve homering and missing two more homers by a few feet, Tucker doubling and walking three times. The team had more hits (12) in yesterday’s game than in the previous two combined.

Today, the Astros face Andrew Heaney to open. On the surface, he has had success against the Astros in four games this year, posting a 2.75 ERA in 19.2 IP. Digging a little deeper, his stats look a little bit shaky.

His xFIP is 5.95. A low BABIP of 2.45 and a high LOB percentage of 82.7 confirm he has pitched into some good luck in his limited time against the Astros this year. His K% is a relatively low 19.0, while his BB% is a relatively high 13.1.

Today would be a great day for regression. Maybe it’s already begun. In his last two starts against the Stros, he recorded ERAs of 5.79 and 5.40 after two scoreless outings earlier in the year.

Heaney’s ERA for the year is 4.15. Since August, it is 3.13.

After Heaney, the Rangers are expected to send Dane Dunning. If Heaney has over-performed peripherals, Dunning has underperformed. In two appearances facing 34 batters, his ERA against the Astros is 11.57, but his xFIP is actually lower than Heaney’s at 4.81. Bad BABIP luck, for sure, at .375. On September 5th in Arlington, Dunning allowed nine runs and three homers in only 5.1 IP.

It would be nice for the Astros to continue that streak, but it sounds too good to be true. Dunning’s ERA for the year is 3.70 and since August, 4.29.

Yesterday, the Astros sent out their playoff secret weapon, Cristian Javier, who got the first Astros win in this year’s ALCS. Today, they send out an even more venerable playoff weapon, Jose Urquidy.

Urquidy missed half the season due to injury and was not sharp upon his return — until a few weeks ago. For the season, he sports a 5.29 ERA in 63 innings, right in line with his peripherals. But in his last two appearances of the season, he pitched nine innings without allowing a run, and against Minnesota in the ALDS, he got the win, going 5.2 innings, allowing only two runs. A red flag is a .091 BABIP in the win.

Playoff success is a pattern for Urquidy. In seven playoff starts, he is 4-2 with a 3.64 ERA.

The Astros brought in their mighty 7-8-9 bullpen punch to close out yesterday’s game: Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu, and Ryan Pressly. They need a rest. And they were only just good enough last night, Neris and Abreu allowing three runs and Pressly walking the first batter and escaping with a game-ending double play. Let’s hope the Astros bats explode like they did in the September series so that these bullpen mainstays are fresh for Friday’s game, a likely rematch between Justin Verlander and Jordan Montgomery.

Game time is 7:03. See you on the thread.

Here are the lineups.