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World Series Game 4 Preview: Astros turn to a rookie

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Going down 0-3 would’ve been something close to death, but after last night’s José Altuve/George Springer-led victory the Astros have new life and now have a chance to even the series in Washington.

To do so, though, they will rely on a rookie arm, facing off against a veteran ace.

The GameWorld Series Game 4: Houston Astros vs. Washington Nationals
The Time: 8:07 PM Eastern
The Ballpark: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
The Network: Fox
The Starters: José Urquidy vs. Patrick Corbin

The Upshot:

The Astros could’ve gone with a bullpen game here and, if they had, there’s a good chance they would’ve started with Brad Peacock and improvised after that. Instead — likely due to the Astros needing to use Peacock and other relievers in last night’s game — A.J. Hinch is putting the ball in the hands of rookie José Urquidy. Hinch said last night that Urquidy will pitch until he shows that he needs to be yanked. There is no script here. No first inning or first two innings and out. It’s a regular start.

Which, while that is clearly Urquidy’s long-term future in Houston, has not been his role in his brief big league career so far. Urquidy was called up twice in 2019, first in July when he started five games and was not particularly effective. Then he was called up late in the season and, in two starts and two relief appearances, posted a 1.50 ERA over four outings. In the postseason he has appeared twice, out of the bullpen on both occasions. The first time came against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS, in which he tossed 1.2 scoreless innings after Hinch was forced to send in a parade of relievers following a bad Justin Verlander start. The second time came against the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS where he gave up one run over 2.2 innings as the fourth guy out of the pen in a bullpen game.

Urquidy has been pretty darn consistent as, mostly, a starter in the minors. He features a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and an excellent changeup. That changeup is probably the reason why, in an admittedly small big league sample size, he was actually more effective against lefties than righties.

Whatever happens tonight, I have to say I like the call to use him here. The Nats likely have way less scouting intelligence on him than the other Astros pitchers. Based on the random things I’ve read about him he’s got an unusual poise and confidence about him for someone without much big stage experience. The history of the World Series is littered with unexpectedly strong games from young, nearly unknown starters. The Astros are hoping that this is one of those games and that it serves as Urquidy’s big coming out party. And it’ll kinda have to be, right? Despite getting the win last night, Hinch had to use five relievers to finish off the final 4+ innings, including Will Harris and Joe Smith, each of whom threw a lot of pitches. If Urquidy gets blown up early, it could be a long night.

Washington’s starter is far better-known. Dave Martinez changed things up by using Aníbal Sánchez last night when, originally, it was expected he’d use Patrick Corbin. They lost, sure, but it was a defensible move. What it also does is allow him to use his third starter in the fourth game, with Corbin getting an extra day since his one-inning relief appearance in Game 1. His last proper start, in Game 4 of the NLDS against St. Louis, was not great (5 IP, 4 ER), but he did strike out 12 and, besides, it didn’t need to be great as the Nationals put up a seven-spot in the first inning and cruised from there.

It’ll be more on the Nats’ bats tonight, though. Last night the Nats had multiple opportunities to even up the game but failed in the clutch on multiple occasions. Maybe it was just a cosmic balancing of the scales at work, as so far in the postseason, the Nationals have been, as the BABIP-heads like to say, “hit lucky” with way more of the balls they’ve smacked finding holes than usual. The Astros, by the way, have been pretty hit-unlucky as those things go. Either way, you can’t waste opportunities like the Nats did last night in the World Series. Or any other game for that matter.

One hiccup in the lineup: it’s possible the Nats will be without catcher Kurt Suzuki. He left last night’s game after injuring his hip while blocking a Fernando Rodney pitch. It’s unclear if he’ll play tonight, but he seemed to be in a lot of pain last night. If he’s out the Nats can survive it on offense — his Game 2 homer against Justin Verlander aside his bat has been pretty quiet — but he’s lauded for his game-calling and receiving and serves as Game 5 starter Max Scherzer‘s personal catcher. If he can’t go the Nats will use Yan Gomes.

If the Astros win, it ensures that the Series goes back to Houston for a Game 6 on Tuesday. If the Nats win they can clinch a World Series championship on Sunday night.

Rays’ Erik Neander named Executive of the Year

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At the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona on Monday, Rays GM Erik Neander was named the recipient of Major League Baseball’s Executive of the Year Award for the 2019 season. The Yankees’ Brian Cashman was the runner-up while the Athletics’ Billy Beane and the Twins’ Derek Falvey tied for third place.

Neander has worked for the Rays since 2017 but has operated in his current role since November 2016, taking over for Matthew Silverman who was promoted to president of the Rays alongside Brian Auld.

The Rays had, by far, the lowest payroll in baseball at $53.5 million, according to USA TODAY. Neander’s peers voting him Executive of the Year on the same today the league had to curtail its awarding of a prize belt to the team that suppressed salaries the most in arbitration is… certainly interesting timing.

At any rate, Neander’s Rays went 96-66 in 2019, finishing in second place in the AL East behind the 103-59 Yankees. The Rays claimed the second AL Wild Card and defeated the A’s to earn entry into the ALDS where they lost in five games to the Astros. It was the Rays’ first playoff appearance since 2013 and their regular season win total was second-most in franchise history behind the 2008 team (97).