Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect heading into Game 1 of the ALDS. The Astros, after all, have struggled mightily at home this year. Inconsistency has been an issue all season long, in addition to some expected — and unexpected — regression from last year’s championship roster. The Twins also hit their stride in the second half, posting a .592 winning percentage in their previous 73 games, with an 18-9 record in September alone before eliminating the Blue Jays in the Wild Card round. On paper, this ALDS matchup had the potential of being a competitive series, and I think Game 1 reinforced that notion.
With Justin Verlander on the mound, it felt imperative for the Astros to capitalize against the Twins’ starter Bailey Ober in Game 1. I mean, only the Phillies received more value from their starting pitchers (17.7 fWAR) than the Twins (16.5 fWAR) this season. Ober had a solid season in his own right, posting a 3.43 ERA in 144 1⁄3 innings. But the Astros aren’t seeing the top two starters from Minnesota until Pablo López in Game 2 and Sonny Gray in Game 3. While a matchup of Framber Valdez against López may work out in Houston’s favor, it could easily not. Plus, the Twins theoretically have the edge in terms of starters in Game 3 with Gray opposite of presumably Cristian Javier. Never say never in postseason baseball, but it felt vital to the Astros’ odds to advance to the ALCS to take advantage of this matchup between Verlander and Ober.
Well, the Astros’ lineup did what we hoped, knocking Ober out of the game in three innings, scoring three runs. Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez were responsible for the early damage, with a solo home run and a two-run shot.
José Abreu and Chas McCormick would help pad the early lead, with a pair of RBI singles to push the score to 5-0 in the bottom half of the fifth inning. Despite some early traffic, Verlander pitched quite well, limiting the Twins to no runs on four hits and three walks, striking out six. 16 whiffs on 42 swings, with eight coming from his slider alone.
It would appear that the Astros were well on their way to cruising to a Game 1 victory. Alas, there was a bit of turbulence as Héctor Neris in the seventh inning had arguably his worst appearance of the season, allowing four earned runs courtesy of Jorge Polanco’s three-run dinger and Royce Lewis’ solo shot. Unfortunately, Neris was probably due for an appearance like that one based on his numbers from this season.
Héctor Neris in 2023— Astros Stats (@astro_numbers) October 7, 2023
1.71 ERA, 3.83 FIP
.219 BABIP (.280 career BABIP)
Yeah, he was kinda due for an inning like that one.
Thankfully, Alvarez hit another home run, a solo shot off the right field foul pole to provide a bit more breathing room in the bottom half of the seventh as Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly kept Minnesota’s bats at bay in the final two frames.
With a 6-4 victory in Game 1, the Astros find themselves in with an early lead in the ALDS, a vital development as Minnesota has their two best-starting pitchers scheduled for Games 2 and 3. Capitalizing on a win with Verlander on the mound was a good first step in Houston’s title defense. Let’s see how the next couple of games unfold.