SERIES PREVIEW

Astros vs. Twins: It's time to flip the switch

It's playoff time! Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tue, Sept. 29 - HOU: Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03) vs. MIN: Kenta Maeda (6-1, 2.70)

Wed, Sept. 30 - HOU: TBD vs. MIN: Jose Berrios (5-4, 4.00)

Thur, Oct. 1 - HOU: Lance McCullers (3-3, 3.93) vs. MIN: Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38)

STORYLINES

Flip the Switch: The Astros limp into the playoffs with a 29-31 record, definitely a beneficiary of the expanded postseason picture for 2020. However, once the postseason starts, all the teams are 0-0. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve started to show glimpses of turning the corner in the final series against the Rangers, while Kyle Tucker and George Springer carried the offense down the stretch. If those four can click combined with the ever-so-steady Michael Brantley, then the Astros have the opportunity to play spoiler in Minnesota.

Home Dreamin' vs. Road Demons: The Minnesota Twins played 24-7 baseball within the confines of Target Field, while the Houston Astros were 9-23 when they played anywhere other than the juicebox. It's certainly an ugly split, and the lack of home field advantage is definitely a factor for the Astros.

Who Chunks Up the Deuce: Zack Greinke is slated to start game one, while Lance McCullers looks poised to take the rubber in game three. One of Framber Valdez or Jose Urquidy will take the mound in game two. Urquidy was nails in the World Series last year. He's a bulldog that performs consistently and gives the team a chance to win every time he takes the hill. Look for Dusty to use Urquidy in game two, while keeping Framber available as a bridge to more trusted relievers.

Doors Open & Close: The series in Minnesota could be the last time that George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, and Yuli Gurriel ever suit up for the Astros. Three of those four have been key contributors in Houston since 2017, while Brantley joined the fray in 2019. World Series title or not, 2020 represents the close of the Altuve-Springer window in Houston. While it's possible Springer could come back, Altuve isn't going anywhere, and the Astros will still be good, future titles will come with a new-look roster on the backs of guys like Bregman, Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez.

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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