ANAHEIM -- With a win over the Angels on Friday night, the Astros clinched home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. They ensured they’ll play either the A’s or the Rays in the AL Division Series. And they may have found a starting pitcher for a potential Game 4 of that series.
Rookie right-hander Jose Urquidy made an impressive statement against the Angels by throwing six scoreless innings, allowing three singles and a walk, to lead the Astros to a 4-0 victory at Angel Stadium. The Astros’ 105th win of the season clinched the best record in the AL and kept them one game ahead of the Dodgers for the best record in the Majors with two games to play.
“It’s going to be fun to be at home throughout at least the AL so far,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “We have got a few more wins to take care of, and if we do, then we’ll be at Minute Maid Park for most of our games. I was really happy with how we played today.”
The Astros will open the ALDS at home next Friday against the winner of Wednesday’s AL Wild Card Game between the A’s and Rays. Houston went 60-21 at home this year, joining the 1998 Yankees as the only teams in the last 40 years to win 60 games at home.
“We play really well at home, so the less travel, the better,” said Astros reliever Will Harris, who threw an immaculate inning in the eighth. “You get more home games for our fans back in Houston. When you get this late in the season and you're still playing for stuff, it’s nice to check boxes off and we were able to do it again tonight.”
Bregman continued to strengthen his American League MVP Award case by hitting his 41st home run of the season to lead off the second inning, extending Houston's franchise-record streak of consecutive games with a homer to 23. Michael Brantley later busted out of his slump with a three-run homer to straightaway center field in the eighth.
“He’s scuffled a little bit and he wants to contribute,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said of Brantley, whose homer was his first extra-base hit since Sept. 9. “It’s more than this swing or more than a homer. He just wants to contribute and do his part. That’s a big swing.”
Urquidy, who began his season at Double-A before getting promoted to Triple-A in May and to the big leagues in July, has posted a 3.95 ERA in nine outings with the Astros this year, including seven starts. That could be enough for the Astros to plug him into their postseason rotation behind Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke following the September struggles of Wade Miley (16.68 ERA in five starts this month).
“He’s adjusting and adapting well to the big leagues,” Hinch said. “We’re starting to see his poise come through and his pitchability and his creativeness -- the adding and subtracting of velocity, his ability to put away guys. He throws that fastball anywhere from 89-95 [mph]. That’s a very veteran approach, as opposed to some young guys who come up here and press a little bit.”
Urquidy credited catcher Robinson Chirinos for helping him along the way and admitted his confidence is building.
“I feel more comfortable and more relaxed at the moment,” Urquidy said. “I think it’s something important.”
Houston’s bullpen was also impressive, combining for three perfect innings. Ryan Pressly struck out two of the three batters he faced in the seventh, Harris followed with his immaculate inning and Josh James worked the ninth. The Astros have posted a shutout in each of their last three wins and didn’t allow a runner to reach third base in any of them. The Angels didn’t have a runner reach second on Friday.
And now, the Astros have AL Cy Young Award favorites Verlander (Saturday) and Cole (Sunday) lined up to finish out the regular season.
“We’ve got two big boys going the next two nights in J.V. and Cole, and we want them to finish their regular seasons strong,” Hinch said.