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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.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: