First Pitch: 6:07 pm CDT
Weather: Clear and upper 50s at first pitch, low winds
Series: Houston leads 2-1
The Twins will send Joe Ryan to the bump to start today’s win or be eliminated Game 4 against the Astros at Target Field. He will be opposed on the Houston side by right-hander José Urquidy. Where Urquidy will be making his 13th career postseason appearance (7th start), Ryan will make his playoff debut.
While Ryan has not pitched in the MLB postseason yet, he does have some experience pitching in pressured-packed, tournament competition from his time with the 2021 United States Olympic Team that took home a silver medal in Tokyo.
Joe Ryan has been the key U.S. pitcher en route to a gold medal showdown with Japan. He was traded from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Minnesota Twins while he ate breakfast in Tokyo. https://t.co/KbHE3iSLOy— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) August 6, 2021
Ryan served as the ace of the U.S. staff in the tournament, pitching six innings of 1-run ball to earn the win over Israel in the group stage, and adding 4.1 more strong innings in a semi-final victory over South Korea that pushed the Americans into the gold medal game. In total, Ryan’s Olympic line: 10.1 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K.
Of course, the level of competition in the Olympics was not nearly what Ryan will face tonight. And, Ryan himself has not been quite the same pitcher since suffering, and then trying to pitch through, a groin injury in late June. Ryan took a spell on the injured list in August after a seven-start stretch where he was bombed for 31 runs and 17 homers in just 32.1 innings.
He returned to make seven mostly useful starts down the stretch and showed glimpses of a return to his early-season form. A rough outing in the thin Colorado air to end the season put a sour ending on Ryan’s regular season and left everyone with a sense that he wasn’t quite all the way back.
Long-time readers of Twinkie Town know Ryan’s MO, of course, but for any new readers who might have joined us for the playoff run, he operates heavily with a seemingly magical four-seam fastball that he runs up in the strike zone repeatedly, despite velocity in the low-90s and below-average spin characteristics. It’s unimpressive in a traditional raw stuff sense, but Ryan’s fastball is one of the best in all of baseball (when he’s right) thanks to his unique release that makes the pitch approach home plate on a flat angle that often stays above hitters’ bats.
joe ryan's fastball deserves the hype.— parker hageman (@HagemanParker) September 2, 2021
how does 90mph get that many swing and misses?
ryan releases at 5.05 ft, one of the lowest for non-side-armers.
his attack angle is -4.08 -- one of the highest in mlb -- giving it a "rise" effect.
low release point + ride = above barrel. pic.twitter.com/zjzCTFNmhG
His breaking and off-speed pitches are league average-ish when they are going well, but he struggles to consistently locate them and he frequently can be homer-prone and limited to one effective pitch. It’s the fastball that stirs the drink and the Twins will be hoping that the 11 days of rest since his last outing will give Ryan a boost tonight.
Much as the Astros game planned for Sonny Gray’s array of breaking pitches yesterday, they will be looking for Ryan’s heater tonight and have no doubt been practicing to get on top of it in their pre-game work.
Ryan’s leash will undoubtedly be short if he gets into early trouble and it will be all hands on deck to keep the Twins chances alive. Fortunately, the bullpen is in decent shape to back him up, especially if they can get a lead:
On the Houston side, this will be the second time Urquidy will start an elimination game at Target Field. He started the Astros’ 2020 AL Wild Card Game 2 victory that eliminated the Twins, allowing a single run into the fifth inning while dodging his way through Twins rallies that didn’t deliver the big hit.
Urquidy has struggled mightily with injury (shoulder) and ineffectiveness this season in working to a 5.29 ERA and 5.38 FIP over 63 innings. None of that seems to matter when he takes the bump in pressure spots, however. His last time out, with the Astros needing to win to stay afloat in the AL playoff picture, Urquidy delivered six scoreless innings against Arizona and added another clutch outing to a career ledger full of them.
Urquidy works with a strong command of a five-pitch mix, but none of them particularly stand out. He’ll work primarily with a low-90s four-seamer, a changeup, and a curveball to lefties, and with a four-seamer, sinker, and a sweeper to righties. He operates from a high release point that is a bit unique in today’s game.
While Houston is in a stronger position than the Twins with the series lead, they’ll likely also be quick to pull Urquidy if he gives the Twins early opportunities. Rookie right-hander J.P. France will be waiting in the wings if the hook comes early and the Astros need some bulk, and their high-leverage bullpen options should all be available after yesterday’s light work.
On the Houston hitter side, the Twins must finally find a way not to let Yordan Álvarez beat them. Álvarez is 6-12 with 4 home runs, 2 doubles, and 6 RBI in the series, and he’s been on everything the Twins have tried to throw him.
Álvarez’s work in the first three games has him in company with Ken Griffey Jr., Juan González, and Reggie Jackson for postseason performances. For Minnesota, the best way to handle Álvarez right now is to get the guys in front of him (José Altuve and Alex Bregman) out and then avoid him altogether. How well the Twins pitchers can keep Álvarez from beating them will go a long way in determining the outcome tonight. Then again, the rest of the hitters in the Houston lineup are pretty good in their own right, too.
That all suggests the Twins are going to have to score to survive, and that will require them to come through with some big hits in clutch situations with runners on base. Generating rallies has not been much of an issue for Minnesota thus far in the series, but cashing them in was a struggle in Game 1 and Game 3, and they are just 4-27 with runners in scoring position in the series, and 5-37 in the playoffs.
The Twins hitters have a habit of getting ultra-aggressive at the plate in scoring chances and that showed up yesterday with Royce Lewis and Carlos Correa expanding out of the zone in big spots early. Forcing the Astros’ pitchers into favorable counts and laying off pitchers’ pitches in big spots will be key on offense.
They will be attempting to get their lineup going with the help of Byron Buxton, who was added to the roster before the game today in place of the injured Alex Kirilloff (shoulder). Here are the starting lineups:
In terms of projections, FanGraphs has Game 4 as essentially a coin flip, with Houston favored 51% to 49%. In one game, with the season on the line, anything can happen.
This Minnesota team has gotten up off the mat repeatedly in the second half of the season. It’s proven to be a resilient and stubborn bunch that does not quit. Let’s find out if they can muster yet another response and extend their season a few more days.
Let’s Go Twins.