Houston leads the series 1-0

Astros get a late rally to take ALWC Game 1 from Twins

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With a fresh slate in front of them, the Astros entered Target Field on Tuesday needing thirteen wins to get their second World Series win in franchise history. First, they needed to take two of three in the ALWC (American League Wild Card) round against the Twins. As with most playoff series openers, it shaped up to be a fierce pitching matchup. Here is a rundown of the game:

Final Score: Astros 4, Twins 1.

Series: HOU leads 1-0.

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez.

Losing Pitcher: Sergio Romo.

Greinke allows a run then gets the early hook

After stranding Michael Brantley on second base after a double in the top of the inning, the Twins put early pressure on Zack Greinke in the bottom of the first. They took advantage of Greinke struggling to find the zone, getting a one-out single, then back-to-back walks to load the bases. With some stellar defense behind him, though, he would escape unscathed.

After loading the bases in the first, Greinke retired the next seven in a row, not allowing a baserunner until two outs into the third when he would walk Max Kepler. That proved costly, as Nelson Cruz would drive him in on a long RBI-double, putting the Twins ahead 1-0. He would get the next batter out, then tossed a 1-2-3 fourth, but would get the early hook with his pitch count rising and the top of Minnesota's order coming back around in the fifth. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 0 HR, 79 P.

Valdez takes over then the Astros tie it up

One reason they were quick to take Greinke out early is that they were willing to use Framber Valdez, who took over in the bottom of the fifth. He would struggle against his first two batters, walking both before sitting down the next three to keep it a one-run game heading to the sixth.

The Twins also dipped into their bullpen starting in the top of the sixth, with another scoreless inning by Houston's bats. The Astros would tie the game and get on the board in the top of the seventh, getting back-to-back two-out singles by Josh Reddick and Martin Maldonado to set up an RBI-single by George Springer, before Maldonado would run into the third out trying to advance to third.

Astros blow it open in the ninth and take Game 1

The game remained tied 1-1 into the ninth with Minnesota going inning-by-inning with relievers while Valdez was dealing for Houston. In the top of the ninth, the Astros started the inning with back-to-back singles to threaten to go ahead. After outs in the air by the next two batters, an error by the Twins loaded the bases instead of recording the third out, keeping Houston alive and bringing Jose Altuve to the plate.

Altuve would get the go-ahead RBI, working a walk to put the Astros in front 2-1 for their first lead of the game. That brought Michael Brantley to the plate, still with the bases loaded, and would drive in two of them with a two-RBI single to push the lead to 4-1.

Houston would ride the hot hand into the bottom of the ninth, sticking with Framber Valdez to bring it home. He would maintain the lead and get the win, erasing two one-out singles to finish the Houston victory, putting them a win away from advancing to the ALDS.

Up Next: Game two of this best-of-three will start an hour earlier on Wednesday, with a 12:08 PM Central start. With Framber Valdez being used in Game 1, the Astros are expected to start Jose Urquidy in Game 2, while the Twins will send Jose Berrios to the mound.

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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